I know I need to focus more on self-care, but just getting through the day with two kids and a job can often be overwhelming. Adding in self-care? Who has the time and energy for that?
I think most of us think of self-care as occasionally hiding away in the bedroom, reading a novel with the door locked so the kids can’t bust in and interrupt. (Maybe that’s just me.) Or, going to get a pedicure, the pleather massage chair going full-blast, catching up with the latest celebrity gossip magazine. (Again, maybe that’s just me.)
Turns out, self-care can be those things, if that’s what floats your boat, but it’s much bigger than that. With the holiday stress here in full force, it’s important to know what self-care really means, and how to integrate it into your life.
Defining wellness and self-care
Since self-care helps an individual achieve wellness, let’s start with defining that word, wellness.
I spoke with Blue Cross NC’s Chief of Behavioral Health, and psychiatrist, Dr. Kate Hobbs Knutson. She likes the World Health Organization’s definition of wellness.
Dr. Kate says, “Basically, the World Health Organization lists five main categories of wellness: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and financial. If you’re doing okay in these categories – and therefore able to contribute at home, work and in your community – then you’re experiencing wellness.”
She continues, “And when you’re doing activities that support your overall wellness, you’re practicing self-care.”
Dr. Kate’s recommendation for integrating self-care into your life
“Self-care is easier when it’s integrated naturally as part of everyday life,” says Dr. Kate. “However, if self-care routinely is pushed to the last item on your to-do list, or worse, you don’t do it at all, then I recommend scheduling self-care on your calendar.”
I’ll admit it. Scheduling self-care sounds like a chore. However, if it helps me get through the endless to-do lists and awkward family get-togethers of the holidays without a meltdown, I’m in.
Here’s what she says to do:
Step 1: Make a list of potential self-care activities that you enjoy
For the five categories of wellness (physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial), think of at least 3-5 self-care activities that could support stability within some, or all, of the categories. Write them down.
Dr. Kate says, “Identify self-care activities that you actually enjoy. Many people make a mistake by listing things that others have told them they ‘should’ do for self-care – or things that they ‘should’ enjoy – but that they actually don’t.”
Take, for example, exercise. Sure, it helps us achieve physical wellbeing, but it’s akin to torture for some people. Personally, I’m not a fan of the gym, but I enjoy walking outside, so I’d add that to my list.
Another example is spending time with certain family members. Yes, you know who I mean.
Dr. Kate says, “Be honest with yourself. If time with your family does not support your emotional, social, or spiritual wellbeing, don’t put it on your self-care list! The holidays and family gatherings can be quite challenging for some people. To get through all these visits, you’re going to need the real self-care activities – those that are actually fun and bring meaning to your life.”
Think of it in Marie Kondo’s terms – if it doesn’t “spark joy,” it shouldn’t be on your self-care list. That doesn’t mean you get to neglect all of your obligations, but when it comes to your list, you rule it.
Step 2: Schedule at least three of these self-care activities from this list, per week
Like, actually put it on your calendar for a certain time on a certain date. Be very specific with the activity that you’re going to do (i.e. take a walk with Sue at 3 p.m. next Saturday), and give yourself enough time to really do it and enjoy it.
Step 3: Follow through. Don’t ignore those calendar notifications
Do not put yourself and your wellness on the back burner. You are way too important!
Here’s how I did it
I’ll be honest. When I shared a draft of this blog post with Dr. Kate she suggested that I include my own list. I think she knew that I would procrastinate and not really schedule anything at all, feeding into my perpetual cycle of not enough self-care. Man, she’s good.
Some potential self-care activities for the next few weeks that “spark joy” for me:
- Take a walk on the Eno River with my family.
- Send family and friends holiday greetings by mailing my stack of cards.
- Put on my dogs’ new holiday scarves (they’ll be thrilled) and take some pictures of them.
- Listen to a podcast my co-worker recommended.
- Get a manicure. Maybe even a pedicure if I’m feeling fancy.
- Start a new book, preferably cozied up by the fireplace.
- Reach out to a friend I haven’t heard from in a while.
- Have a doggie playdate with my 7-month-old golden retriever’s “puppy class” friends.
- Celebrate my husband’s birthday by baking a cake with my kids.
It took me a minute to get going with the list, but then it became easy. The hardest part for me was actually taking the time to schedule them on my calendar. But that was easy too, thanks to my iPhone.
Point is: if I can do it, so can you.
So make your list, check it twice, schedule your activities, don’t ignore your calendar notifications for them, and fill up your self-care bucket. When you’re taking good care of yourself you’re better equipped to deal with whatever obstacles come your way.
Even when the obstacles include detangling strands upon strands of lights that won’t stop blinking, sold-out but begged-for toys, or off-color comments from great-aunt Bertha. You’ve got this.