I have a confession to make. Maybe you can identify. My self-care is taking a hit. I’m not talking about the big things like working out or going to therapy, and I’m not talking about the indulgences we call self-care but don’t really address our true needs or future selves. I’m talking about the little things that keep us on track with the goal of doing what’s best for ourselves, for our overall well-being. They’re perhaps the easiest things to let go as we get busy, stressed, and overwhelmed. After all, we can schedule and plan around eating healthy and going to doctor’s appointments, even cleaning and budgeting. They are the tasks we know are necessary to maintain our physical, mental, and emotional health, but they don’t always take into account the small habits and activities that can add to or chip away at our well-being. I’m thinking of things like finding time for pleasure reading, working on a hobby or craft, or even just remembering to put some lotion on your dry, winter skin. Here are five strategies I’m using to fit them back in my life, that might help you too:
Don’t be ashamed of failing at self-care. It’s too late to change the fact that we haven’t been doing these things. The best time to start again is, after all, today, because we haven’t yet invented time travel. Feeling shame about messing up like everybody messes up at some point or another only makes it harder to pick up the pieces and try again. I suspect this is a really hard one for a lot of us, especially perfectionists, and it’s not nearly so simple as my statement seems to make it. Getting to the point where you don’t have shame surrounding your inability to do something or your failure to do it can take a lot of work. Step one, though, is deciding that you’d like to make this an area where you’re okay with slipping back and climbing up and slipping back again only to climb back once more.
Don’t stack guilt on top of guilt. It’s a closely related issue to shame, but somewhat less intense and internalized. Here, it’s a little less of “I’m a terrible person because I can’t take care of myself and I need to self-care so I don’t feel like a terrible person” (PS: you aren’t), and more of “I really should stop wasting money on self-care I don’t even do or isn’t all that helpful.” Here’s where I’d suggest that it’s useful to re-start your routines by looking at and using what you already have. Instead of engaging in avoidance by spending your resources on preparing to care for yourself, jump right in with the books you’ve already bought, the hobby equipment you already own, the spa supplies you already have in a cabinet, or whatever else it is that you’ve tried and liked before. By doing so, you can not only re-start today, you can also feel a little less guilty about having wasted past opportunities because look, they’re here for you now, when you need them.
Lower the barriers. One of the reasons we don’t do these things for ourselves is because they can seem to take an impossible amount of effort. It’s just so hard to carve out the time to settle in for a journaling session, and it’s such a hassle to pull out a musical instrument and get set up to play. If we make it easier, though, we’re that much more likely to sneak in those few moments for ourselves. Me, I put a journaling app on my phone because it’s is right there with me all the time, so I can drop in a few thoughts here and there whenever I have a pause. Similarly, you might put all of your crafting supplies into a basket so you don’t have to chase all over your home for them, or make sure you keep a pen with your paper journal instead of having to dig one up every time (and make it a nice one that you really enjoy while you’re at it).
Tie self-care to other parts of your day. Much like lowering barriers, this is about placing obvious reminders to do the thing into your daily path. It’s putting the hand cream on the coffee table so you remember to put it on when you’re sitting on the couch in front of the TV, instead of zoning out to the latest trending special on streaming. It’s keeping your “to be read” book pile on your nightstand so they’re right in your face as a before-sleep option. It’s keeping your meds next to your coffee machine so you take them every morning instead of deciding that you can get away without them one more day because you forgot them in your bedroom.
Decide that small bites of self-care are worthwhile. We are, after all, talking about the small things we do to take care of ourselves, the ones that are hard to block out our schedules for. By their very nature, they don’t have to take up as much time as the bigger commitments to ourselves like going to that doctor’s appointment or spending a weekend at a spiritual retreat. Why, then, do we think that we need to find 30 or 60 minutes at a time for some of them? It’s okay to not finish reading that book in one sitting or one week or even one month. It’s okay to only do the fast version of your skincare routine so you feel better about how you feel and look, without doing a full cleanser-exfoliator-toner-serum-oil-mask extravaganza before bed every night.
These are all the things we know we should do, to be kind to ourselves and to improve our lives, but for whatever reason, we don’t. It’s important that we don’t let these more minor efforts at self-care go, though, or only let them go with intention, because self-care isn’t only about the grand gestures or the full-scale lifestyle changes. It’s about the small ways in which we take care of ourselves every day – or in which we should. If you’ve given up a few of them lately, what are they? What will you do about it?