I like to pretend that I’m good at “self-care” because I can easily come home after a long day and treat myself to a bubble bath, a good book, and a glass of wine. I have no problem carving out the time or feeling guilty for doing so. In fact, you could say that this self-care has become a nice little routine I’ve fallen into and quite enjoy.
A few weeks ago I picked up a book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg. I found it incredibly eye-opening. It delved into how our brains work and just how frequently they rely on habit to get by. Basically – large portions of our day are entirely automated and we don’t even notice. Moreover, it diagrammed out how we form habits and how over time, we unknowingly fall victim to them. I spent a few nights sunk deep in a hot bath, reading this book, sipping wine and suddenly I realized — I’m a victim to myself. While relaxing bathes are self-care, they are not (and should not be) the only form of self-care that I participate in. In fact, if this is truly the only way I care for myself as a busy mom and wife (and it currently is), well — I’m really failing in the self-care department.
With the help of the information in Duhigg’s book, I think understand how I ended up in this mess:
Before Holland was born, I worked full-time but still had all the free-time in the world. I ate what I wanted to and seldom worked out. I never meditated or took any quiet time for reflection. But, I was in my twenties and my body was kind to me. And while I did have stressors at work or home, I never felt overwhelmed by any of it really. All of that changed when I became a mother.
After Holland was born, life was chaotic for six months. It was a hard six months of learning as I went and just barely getting by. I was sleep-deprived and overweight. I stressed about milk production and ate anything the internet told me to eat to boost said milk production. By the time Holland was six months old, I felt fat, frumpy, and quite honestly, very low emotionally. I barely recognized myself in photos so one day, I woke up and set out to create new habits and routines. Amazingly, I did! Maybe it was sheer luck and the fact that Holland started sleeping at night — but I found a new inner strength and motivation that I didn’t know I possessed. Not only did I lose all the baby-weight, but I lost an extra 10 pounds! I also got physically stronger than I had ever been before. I could lift weights. Run a mile without stopping (perhaps not impressive for some, but for me this was a miracle). I slept better at night. I focused better at work. I was eating healthier throughout the day. I was ticking all the boxes.
And then in May 2017 I was in a car accident. It was not a “major” accident by most standards, but my SUV was totaled and I injured my low-back. I was in and out of PT for months with no one being able to clearly articulate why I was in pain. I stopped working out. I stopped eating right. I stopped taking time for myself in any other form than “resting” or “relaxing”.
When I felt stressed or was in pain, I relaxed in hot baths because they would soothe my back. I’d often throw in a glass of wine for good measure. Maybe a good book too. And for that little bit, I’d forget about my aching back. I’d forget about the stack of things at the office I needed to do. I’d forget about stressors in my marriage, my family, my life… I’d just… relax. I’d forget it all and in that moment, I felt like I was truly taking care of myself.
My low back injury was followed by a broken tailbone in the summer of 2017. And then broken ribs in the spring of 2018. With each of these injuries, I retreated further into my newfound habit for self-care… relaxation. Soon, each time I’d feel stress creeping in, I’d find myself longing for a quiet hot bath, a good book, and a glass of wine. Of course, I didn’t always get to indulge in those things but in my mind, those became the only things that could possibly unwind me. The only way to take care of myself. I now see that I developed a poor self-care habit.
The other day I came across a graphic that said: “Take time for yourself: Mind, Body & Spirit.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’m bad at self-care.
I never prioritize time for myself outside of a hot bath. You know, holistic self-care at least. Once I take a hot bath and drink a glass of wine, I mentally check off the “to-do box” for self-care and shift my focus to other obligations.
But… what about my mind? My body? My spirit?
I’ve been neglecting these because those forms of self-care aren’t well, as self-indulgent as I’d like for my self-care to be. Those forms of self-care take more effort than simply blocking off 45-minutes alone for a hot bath. Those forms of self-care come with aching muscles, uncomfortable self-reflection and yes — less baths and wine.
So I’m trying to redefine self-care. I want to do something for myself every single day.
That means carving out time to go to the gym. Consistently.
Or choosing the healthy snack over the chocolate one more often than not.
That means waking up early to meditate or journal even when the snooze button seems most appealing.
That means challenging myself to learn something new and quite possibly, hard.
That means risking failure but choosing consistency.
That means drinking plenty of water during the day and chamomile tea before bed.
And yes — that can also mean hot baths and wine albeit, not with the frequency either currently occurs.
I think that true self-care isn’t solely about seeking out the things you desire. It is about consistently making time for the things that you need regardless of whether you want them or not. Our needs and our desires are not always aligned. In fact, the Power of Habit made it clear that sometimes we cannot even see our own needs because our desires are driven so much by habit.
But I want to break those habits — I want to redefine self-care.
Even though I really don’t want to, I’m starting now.
And really, that’s half the battle. So on to the second-half.