I’m thinking a lot about asking questions lately, about certainty, doubt, what I know that I know, what may stand some adjustments. Some of this has to do with my lifelong habit of thinking in terms of What If? (This is both a blessing and a curse, a subject for another post).
So I’m trying to keep track of my questions, and one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the nature of Self-care.
So many times, when I’m especially tired, I restlessly seek a quick fix–a scroll down Pinterest, a bowl of chocolate ice cream, magazine fodder. Escape.
But what I really need, what actually nourishes, takes a bit more time, more intention. It requires margin. And it’s tuning in, rather than tuning out. It’s taking the time to notice why I’m feeling depleted, and ask myself what I most need at this time. So many times, though, I am like a caged animal anxiously seeking any escape possible. Escape is not the same as self-care. Escape is about tuning out my feelings, my circumstances, the ones who need me and only leads to further retreating, and further selfishness.
I’ve found that true self-care, though, leads to care of others. When I choose things that are truly renewing, that refill my emotional, physical, and spiritual reserves, they contain the common element of tuning in: to myself, to others and to God. From the simplest of activities–a walk in nature, a hot bath, reading a good book; to the most luxurious, say, a massage– silence and space are often involved. The opportunity to inhabit my body, my emotions, my circumstances, and relationships. Space to question, listen, and receive. When I take the time to notice the true need beneath my restlessness and anxiety, I can better take care of myself. And once I’ve helped myself recharge, I can tune into those around me and help take care of them.
Along these lines, for me, watching a television show, for example, is usually a way of tuning out; it leaves me more depleted than recharged, and results in my being more selfish as I grasp at anything that seems like an escape, unwilling to relinquish any more of my already dwindling energy and time. Like getting caught in quicksand, thrashing about to get out of the discomfort as quickly as possible only results in more sinking and more panic. But if I find the strength to slow down and relax with intention, I can slog out of the pit.
So my first line of questions when evaluating whether an activity is actually self-care or an attempt to escape:
Does this tune me into my self, to my relationships, and to Christ? Or does this attempt to tune out those voices and needs? What is the underlying need for me to address here?
The second question that I want to ask:
Is this what I want to teach my kids about taking care of themselves, the example I want to set for them?
I want them to learn healthy ways to take care of themselves, to take time for being outside, for resting and exercising, for getting their cup filled so they can continue helping others. So, in practical terms, if exercise, for instance, becomes a way to escape my family and responsibilities–going to the gym every day by myself for hours, for example–then maybe that’s not the example I want to give them. Getting us all out the door for a walk in the neighborhood when tensions are rising, on the other hand, is always a good choice.
And so, a question for you: What qualifies as self-care for you?