I recently made a post on Instagram related to the importance of self-care in my life. Within the photo, one sees my journal, a book of liturgical prayers, a mug full of hot water and lemon, a small portable heater, and my laptop illustrating the Yogaglo homepage. I talk about my morning routine, and explain that I spend the early hours of each morning journaling, praying, and moving my body.
I felt so proud of myself when I made this post. I mostly use my Instagram account to portray my ideal self, and this post nailed it. For an entire week, I woke up early, actually got out of bed instead of scrolling through my phone, and took care of myself. It felt so exhilarating to know that I was honoring my body well, and it propelled me to care for my daughter at home and my clients at work without becoming overwhelmed each day. The following weekend, I experienced an unanticipated stressor. My “yoga room” returned to being what my family refers to as our “dump room.” Now, if you look carefully, you can still see the book of liturgical prayers squashed in the corner underneath a pile of dirty laundry. It has been nearly a month, and I still haven’t cleaned it. Lately, when I exercise, I have switched rooms and seldom last more than twenty minutes.
As a professional counselor who regularly facilitates groups on the significance of self-care, I frequently struggle with the reality that I have yet to successfully navigate this skill. I returned to work outside the home full time a little less than a year ago after a full year working as a stay-at-home mom. I currently work two jobs, balancing life between a private counseling practice and an agency job where all of my clients are experiencing varying degrees of post-traumatic stress. Some days, my self-care routine seems flawless. Other days, I put my daughter to bed, sit in a pile of crumbs on my sofa, and drink gluten-free beer while binge-watching The Bachelor and ignoring my spouse.
It is true that my professional and personal pursuits have equipped me to have a high level of education and insight regarding self-care practices. I could tell you what has worked for me over the past three to four years. I could make a well-organized list of bullet-point tips exhorting the virtues of acupuncture, massage therapy, daily exercise, reduced sugar and processed food in the diet, date nights, seated meditation, outdoor activities, or essential oils. But then I wonder, do working parents really need another list of things do to? Aren’t we already overwhelmed by the balance of child-self-work? It’s hard enough during the day for me to simply get the right balance between caffeine and water!
So, instead of giving you a list of new self-care activities to try, I’d like to start smaller. Earnest self-care cannot begin until the individual believes that he/she is worthy of kindness and care. I have been reading a book called Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, where the author states, “self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on Earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.” Do you believe that your body and life, even in its inactive states, is a gift? For many, creating shifts about the value that we bring to this planet is the most challenging part of self-care. Furthermore, it challenges the notion that we are only serving others well if we are busy. If you are new to the concept of self-care, I encourage you to pause once or twice this week and ask yourself, “am I worthy of care right now?” If your answer is no, it might be interesting to explore the reasons for your opposition. For some, this can be done in solitude or even with a close friend. For others, this could be a good time to consider speaking with a professional counselor or spiritual advisor. If your answer is yes, my challenge to you would be to take one minute for yourself. This could mean that you notice your breathing for five breaths or that you take time to re-adjust in your work chair or that you stand up and walk one lap around your office building. Self-care starts first with the belief that the practice matters. The practice itself begins with small and attainable steps.
Self-care is a difficult practice, and it is not easy. At the same time, I am convinced that it is a worthwhile pursuit, not only in creating the best version of one’s self, but also in creating better care for one’s romantic partner, child, and professional work. My child benefits when her mother has a higher quality of mental health. When I am thriving, I am able to care for her in a manner that positively enhances her development. Likewise, there is a positive correlation between my health and my ability to thoughtfully and efficiently complete tasks at my office.
As one begins the practice of self-care, I’d like to encourage the reader toward honesty. Can you be honest with yourself about your needs? Similarly, can you be honest when you aren’t able to meet them as well as you had hoped? A few days ago, I turned to my spouse and said, “well, I did a lot more today than I thought I was capable of. I didn’t accomplish everything, but I did some things well.” In this honest moment, I felt freedom to celebrate what I had done well while also naming that I desired more for myself. It was in this tension that I was able to greet myself with compassion.
Are you starting a self-care practice for the first time? Have you been practicing self-care for years, but often feel bogged down with guilt when you can’t accomplish all of your self-care activities on top of your work and parenting requirements? Below are four attainable steps and questions that any working parent can utilize when practicing self-care.
BELIEF: Do I believe that self-care is important? Why or why not? Am I worthy of care?
START SMALL: Is there one small way in which I can demonstrate care to myself in this moment?
COMPASSION: Self-care is hard. Can I be kind to myself when my self-care does not go as planned?
WHEN IN DOUBT, RETURN TO STEP 1: The practice of self-care is a lifelong journey.
Self-care is challenging. Self-care is worthwhile. May you be kind to yourself as you practice good stewardship of the best gift you have to offer on this Earth—Yourself.
Christian maintains a counseling practice in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver, where she works primarily with adult survivors of trauma and women navigating various life transitions. Additionally, she enjoys speaking with various churches about ways to meaningfully care for trauma survivors within a community context. When not working, Christian loves performing music, snowboarding, traveling, and spending time with her husband and daughter. To learn more about her work, visit www.counselingdenver.org.