“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
— Jack Kornfield
It can be a challenge, when you are already stressed with work, family and outside obligations, to find time for self-care. In fact, sometimes it seems like self-care is just another item on a never-ending to do list. For many years I struggled with the idea of self-care. I would wonder if I was just being lazy or perhaps it is another way of being selfish. I found myself pondering what "self-care" even means. So in true fashion, I decided to do a deep dive on what self-care is and what it is not. Here are the key secrets I learned that have helped me to effectively utilize self-care on a regular basis.
According to the dictionary self-care is, "the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress". A trusted mentor offered this thought, "self-care is less about what helps you rest right now, and more about what will let you rest at night". Armed with these two pieces of information I have been able to determine exactly which type of self-care will best provide the rejuvenation I need. My hope is that it will help you do the same.
True self care can be broken down into two parts; finding rest and doing the hard thing. Let's explore each part a little deeper.
It can be difficult to find rest in this busy world. Children, friends, work, church, it seems like everything is clamoring for your attention. So, how do you quiet the noise and find rest? One word really sums up this first tip: BOUNDARIES. Yep, the "big B". Everyone has limited time, energy, and resources. In order to find rest you must protect those valuable commodities. The way you protect them is by placing boundaries around them.
Recently, I experienced a time where I was working my full-time job, trying to start a
business, volunteering at church, and trying to plan things with and for family members. I would work every waking moment to accomplish everything that needed to be done. I really wanted to do it all and I felt that everything was urgent. As I continued at that pace, I could feel the toll on my health. I was an emotional basket case and physically I was exhausted. I was in way over my head. As I tried to dig myself out of the hole I had created, I realized that I was going to need to place a high priority on my own needs in order to accomplish all the other things. I needed some non-negotiable routines around basic needs like sleeping, eating, devotions/meditation and movement. My first and foremost self-care advice, create routines around your basic needs and stick to them.
Sometimes, it isn't the work that is draining you....it's the people. Have you ever known someone that is an energy drain? Maybe they are the negative or complaining type. Perhaps there is someone who is demanding or needy and won't leave you alone. Or it could be they contain more drama than a reality tv show. You name it, there could be any number of reasons a person can sap your energy. If this is the case, it may be time to place limits around your contact with them. To do this, you limit the amount of time you have available for them and stick to the limit, even if it seems rude. You may need to cut a conversation short, not answer a phone call, or exit a room, but it will be worth it for the peace with in your soul. I can almost hear the rebuttal, "but isn't that mean?". Let me use a prime example of someone who would often times "draw away to a secluded area" when pressed with people and needing to recharge...Jesus. Yep, that's right. Jesus would often go off to a secluded area when he was "peopled" out. Check it out for yourself, Luke 5:16. His limits and boundaries didn't mean he didn't love or have compassion for people, it simply meant that he knew that he needed to rejuvenate ahead of time so he could effectively meet the needs of the people who were placed in his life.
Doing the hard thing
The hard things can be defined as the things that you dread, the things that nag at you and ruminate in your mind when you are trying to rest and relax. If you decide it is time for a break before you even begin the work it is likely that you are practicing avoidance rather than self-care. Sometimes self-care is doing the very thing you've been avoiding or putting off, the thing you dread. In my case that would be putting away laundry, exercising, making that necessary phone call. Once those things are done it is so much easier for both my mind and my body to rest.
A clear indicator that "doing the hard thing" is the type of self-care you need is when you can't stop thinking about the event or situation; or you have a sense of the task lingering over you. Think about if over indulgence or laziness has created some other issues for you. For example, if your health is failing, or are you having issues at work/school/or in your family from avoiding difficult conversations or completing tasks. If any of these things are the case it is likely that your best form of self-care is buckling down and doing the hard things.
Often times if you avoid doing the hard things they will just get harder. On a small scale, I can tell you for a fact that if I avoid doing the laundry, more laundry will pile up and the task will become even more daunting. On a larger scale, think of the consequences of putting off ending a destructive habit, pattern or relationship.
Some tasks may be so overwhelming that you may need to break them down into smaller portions to make them more manageable. Creating a balanced system of doing and resting may help you achieve your goals without completely wearing you down. As the saying goes, "You eat an elephant one bite at a time". Obviously, this will mean the task will ultimately take longer, but it will be worth it if it gets you consistently moving in the right direction.
So, how do you know how to choose where to begin when doing the hard thing? I would suggest creating a list of the things you know need to be done that have been nagging at you. Once you have the list, number each item according to importance of getting it done. Items that are causing you the most distress are listed first. Once you have the list, tackle the item that you have listed as number one. If you need to break it down into sections or time segments, then go ahead and do that prior to starting. For example, I will spend 30 minutes folding laundry, then take a 5 minute break to check my phone. When you have all of that listed out, you are ready to begin. Getting motivated to start can be hard, but remember the rest and reward you receive upon completion will make it all worth it. Typically, once you have "done the hard thing", you will feel much more at ease, at least in the long run if not immediately. As a result other tasks or rest will come much easier.
True self-care is a balance of work and rest. Biblically this principle can be found in Genesis, the description of creation includes a flow and a rhythm that God followed, work and then rest. As scripture continues, you read in Ecclesiastes there is a "time for everything". This is God's provision that we don't become overworked, overloaded and over stressed. It is also his provision to not become lazy or avoidant. Self-care is part of the God ordained rhythm of life. So, take some time to tune into your inner world, listen to the Holy Spirit, and then you will be able discern which type of self-care is needed at which time. If you are running on empty, giving everything to everyone, then you may need rest. If you are spending all your time doing "busy work", or small tasks, to avoid the larger, more important things because they are difficult or less enjoyable, then you may need to buckle down and do the hard thing.
So the question is which type of self-care is what you need at this moment? How are you going to make it happen?
Feel free to leave a comment below.