When I started my MSW last year, nearly every class began with the same question:
What are you doing for self-care?
Uhhh...I definitely knew the phrase, and I vaguely knew what it meant, but I always pictured self-care in same way:
Drinking a glass of wine while getting your nails done.
While this can be self-care, I now realize the true definition of self-care is much more than this.
Self-care means becoming your own parent and looking out for your best interest.
Self-care extends beyond manicures and pedicures, bubble baths and having a glass of wine to relax after a hard day. Self-care means ending a toxic relationship. It means making sure you get enough sleep the night before a big day. It means going after the job of your dreams and giving yourself a day off when you need it. Self-care is having your own back.
Often, we think self-care equals self-indulgence. Eating a pint of ice cream (or two) after a breakup or sleeping until noon every Sunday becomes justified because it’s our self-care. Sometimes this is necessary and can be classified as self-care, but when your self-care isn’t contributing in a positive way to the person you’re aspiring to become, it may just be a bad habit in disguise.
Conversely, when you’ve spent most of your life in competitive athletics—or are still competing—the self-care needed for a balanced life is sometimes pushed aside in favor of work or training. Spending time with friends, developing hobbies away from your sport or taking the necessary day off when your body is screaming that it’s had enough seems indulgent. No pain, no gain can become your go-to phrase, making slowing down to listen to your body seem “soft.”
Indulging when you need it, and, conversely, pushing your body to the max can, at times, be necessary. But it’s also necessary to pause to make sure you’re actually giving yourself what you truly need and not just falling back on your go-to patterns of behavior. Pushing yourself to get out of bed and tackling the tough stuff in life is part of looking out for your best interest. Likewise, taking a break from training and listening to your body as an athlete doesn’t make you soft; it makes you smart.
Self-care is an ongoing, daily practice, and it can be challenging at times. It requires you listen to yourself and think long-term, to the person you aspire to become. It requires you to take control of your life and own that you are worth being kind to. Practicing self-care means you might have to challenge old beliefs and push against your natural inclinations. But it is the main ingredient when it comes to living a full, well-rounded life: the life you deserve.