“Treat Yo Self!” 10 Self-Care Tips from a Recovering Self-Ignorer

Treat Yo SelfFor busy people who pour ourselves into family, jobs, service, and other legitimate priorities, self-care is often the last thing on the to-do list.  (Or is it just me?)

Historically, I’ve been TERRIBLE at self-care. Truly terrible; I am not exaggerating.  I would give up sleep, food, and forget anything less basic like nurturing my interests or feeding my mind because I was prioritizing everyone else’s needs and plans for me. More often than not, I couldn’t even verbalize what my needs were!  But that had to change.

The truth is, when we are not engaging with ourselves and addressing basic physical, spiritual and emotional needs, we become far less effective on every other front.  Trust me, there is no “hero award” for being unkind to your body, heart and mind. No one else is going to carve out space and time for you to watch over your health and recharge.

For me, failing to engage in proper self-care only resulted in being irritable, depleted, lonely, and unfulfilled… eventually even sick, depressed and so very far away from the person I wanted to be.

Maybe…probably… I am not the only person who struggles with self-care.  So I’ve compiled a few ways you can begin to nurture your deepest self.  I hope this list of self-care tips – big and small –  will get you started thinking of ways you can find a way to care for your much-loved, extremely valuable self. (And stick with me here, because some of this stuff is basic…yet still, we need to remember!)

  1. Feed your body well.  Are you hungry? Feed yourself just as you would feed your dearest love – or even a child – with foods that are nourishing, delicious, and leave you feeling better, not worse. Then savor that nourishing goodness without rushing at every possible opportunity.
  2. Stay well-hydrated. When your soul is thirsty, chances are that your body is, too. Make yourself a huge glass of your favorite good-for-you drink. (I’m a fan of water with a fresh orange slice floating in it, all-natural ginger-ale, or herbal tea.)
  3. Keep important self-care-related appointments.  I have a bad habit of canceling (or never making) medical check-ups, dentist appointments, massages, and even hair appointments because, “I don’t have time for that.” (Or I didn’t want to spend money.) But what is more important than basic upkeep?!  If we don’t want to be sick, toothless, in pain or hideous, let’s agree not to ignore those basic items of upkeep?
  4. Yoga. I used to think it was weird — something only a certain kind of people (people unlike myself) could take seriously. But when I tried it and felt an almost-instant decrease in my body’s  aches and pains, I started paying attention.  I now find yoga to be an incredible gift to my body, and also to my mind (calming it and feeding my brain some oxygen) and even to my spirit. You can find very affordable DVDs on Amazon (here is a box set with morning, evening and stress relief routines) classes and online yoga routines that are helpful for getting you started.
  5. Focus fully on this moment. Living in the future, or in the past, or even stressing about a meeting later today, are fruitless activities that will never allow you peace-of-mind. If you are constantly counting hours, anticipating what is around the corner, or even wishing for yesterday, you are unable to engage in the one moment in which you can actually do something — this moment. We all have to manage calendars, plan for the future and make good long-term decisions, so do that.  But planning for the future and living in the future are very different things. Embrace now. It’s the only moment in which you can actually do anything or make positive changes.
  6. Rest.  If your body is exhausted, find a way to get a little sleep. (If you have a newborn, there is no shame in having someone you trust come over to keep an eye on the little one so you can get a nap.) My family tries to make Saturday morning a “no plan zone” so we can have one morning in the week to get up whenever our bodies wake us.  Sleep is good and your brain needs you to sleep in order to function at its highest possible level. Michael Hyatt has a good blog post and podcast on sleep, which you can find here.
  7. Take inventory on commitments.  Do you need to resign from energy-draining committees or other commitments that are not in alignment with your priorities?  You might be one phone call away from huge relief! Or perhaps you need to start a class that focuses on a special interest or skill you want to grow.  It is amazing how addressing your passions will make you feel valued and nurtured.
  8. Maintain realistic expectations.  It is monumentally important to identify areas of your life where you are constantly disappointed.  If you end every day disappointed because you didn’t get enough done or because someone else disappointed you, maybe…just maybe…your expectations are not in line with reality.  Just sayin’.
  9. Be kind to yourself.  Give yourself a little grace. Positive self-talk is a powerful gift to yourself, to help to move your life in  a positive direction. On the other hand, giving yourself negative messages (“I’m an idiot,” “I’m so lame,” etc.) constantly tears at the fiber of your soul, even when you don’t realize it.  If you are having one of those days (or weeks, or seasons) when you just can’t win for trying, it probably isn’t because you’re an idiot. It could mean that you are living in a shadow of self-doubt, shame, exhaustion or depression and that you need a healthier perspective.  Remember your value.
  10. “Treat Yo Self!”  This idea (adopted by my family from the sitcom Parks And Rec) goes a step beyond just being gracious to yourself. It’s a chance to reward yourself in simple ways.  Sometimes a special treat, a self-care gift to yourself “just because” is a way to remind yourself that you are worthy of specialness.  A couple weeks ago, I bought myself a beautiful book called Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, and I have SAVORED every moment I’ve spent reading it.  It was such a simple thing. It wasn’t expensive or elaborate.  But it has brought me so many wonderful moments getting absorbed in a book that really feeds a part of me that is important.

Hopefully these ten tips for self-care will at least get you started thinking of ways you can be good to yourself!  And please, please share your own tips and ideas in the comments.

A Blog From This Valley

The Civil Wars sing a song called “From This Valley” that has been rolling around in my head for days.  And while its fun, lighthearted melody “rolled around” it, actually began careening into the deeper folds of my heart, where things are not quite as lighthearted at the moment.  The title “From This Valley” pretty much describes the place from where I am writing right now.

The other day my sister inquired ever-so-gently if this valley I’m in might have anything to do with the recent passage of another birthday, to which I replied, “Whatevs.” Then I secretly took her keen observation to heart.  (She knows me too well.  I love that.)

It’s not only about turning 43, though. I am adjusting to a new stage of life.  It’s the stage where I am no longer raising children. I am raising teenagers. TWO teenagers. (Artistic, busy teenagers with opinions.) And it’s a stage when our family schedule depends on a very carefully timed taxi service, fewer meals together (which have been non-negotiable in the past) and mind-reading skills which I do not possess.  And, sure, every birthday reminds me that I have one less year in which to help them fly with their own wings;but add to that ticking clock the sudden tragic death of an artist friend, Stephen Hill, this past week (who was only 55) and I start asking myself some hard questions.  Am I making the most of this stage of life? Or do I need to set my expectations lower and just get through it with my head on?

Over the past 15 years I have made a long series of sacrifices — professionally, socially, and I’m sure I don’t have to mention financially —  to give my kids every possible chance to learn from me what only a mother can give them. And right now, the payoff is coming in extremely small increments. Extremely. Small.

I’m grateful for a husband who is in this with me. At times, after we have unintentionally said the wrong thing (again) or hit an emotional landmine, we will look at each other with that knowing look that says, “We have no clue what we’re doing here!”

So, back to this Civil Wars tune that I keep singing. This verse particularly strikes me:

Oh, the caged bird dreams of a strong wind that will flow ‘neath her wings.
Like a voice longs for a melody, oh, Jesus carry me.

YES.  That! My voice longs for a melody.  My “wings” long for a strong wind to make the flying – or whatever this is – a little less laborious. I am grateful for constant reminders that is Jesus carrying me, and you want to know what I’m noticing?  We can’t teach our kids to fly while we’re standing down on the ground.  We show them how.  So…please send some wind over this direction, Jesus! The chorus of “From This Valley” says…

Won’t you take me from this valley to that mountain high above?
I will pray, pray, pray until I see your smiling face.
I will pray, pray, pray to the one I love.

I’m definitely praying more than ever lately. It’s the only way I know to live inside the knowledge that the One I love is with me constantly, even when everything else feels out of sync and I am not feeling the love.

I understand that valleys are where character is developed, trust is deepened and we learn what we can’t learn any other place. So with that in mind, I certainly don’t mean to wish a moment of this season away. And there are redeeming moments. But this simple little song has offered me the refreshing reminder I needed this week.

Thank you, Civil Wars.

Just for fun, I’ve included here a video of Joy Williams and John Paul White singing “From This Valley” live.  Enjoy.  In the comments here, feel free to let me know how you survive the valleys!  I’m open to any and all suggestions.

Re-post: “Busymess” Truths for the Long Haul

I used to think being busy was a badge of honor that announced, “Hey, everyone, look at how important I am. At this rate I might just become irreplaceable… invincible, even!”

It sounds so silly and embarrassing now that I’ve learned just how ineffective I became when I tried to carry too much.

The workaholic mentality deceives us with promises of feeling awesome and esteemed… and, of course, with hopes of success. But years of constant busyness, late nights, overcommitment, I’ll admit some resentment, and a constant awareness of my own unmet expectations did not give me nearly the satisfaction I had hoped.  Instead, overcommitment and constant busyness succeeded only in making my life a busy mess and placed a wall between me and what I needed most.

I eventually came to 3 important realizations (and just so you know, these apply to you, too)…

1. I am not important.  Each human life is valuable beyond measure. But mine is no more valuable than another. Human value doesn’t lie in the amount of “stuff” we take on or how many people know our names. Realizing I am not important freed me to effectively deal with the overcommitment and helped me approach life with a more healthy mindset.

2. I am not irreplaceable. Pride is ugly, and I hate to admit that there are many, many people in this world who may be better suited to carry a number of the responsibilities I have tried to shoulder alone. But eventually, coming to grips with this fact brought tremendous relief and freed me to reorganize my life without the pressure of my own unrealistic expectations.

3. I am not invincible. I used to tell myself (and others) that I didn’t need as much sleep as other people, or as much food and water, or exercise, or encouragement… the list goes on. I really had myself convinced that I didn’t need all the nurturing that others need in order to spin all my overly full plates. The reality is, I need all that and more because I am human. Humans need refueling. We need ebb and flow… balance… input… and a realistic awareness that we are not superheroes. This reality does not mean we lack drive or determination.  In fact, the opposite is true. Being effective for the long haul means making intentional decisions so we don’t fizzle out… pacing ourselves so we don’t burn out.

Each moment of life is truly a gift. Moments only come to us one at a time. Some call for us to work hard and produce great stuff. Others offer us the chance to refuel. But they don’t always introduce themselves or wear badges that say, “I’m your moment to breathe and refocus.” Prayerfully consider how your moments are best spent in the grand scheme of things. You may be surprised with just how life-saving, success-building and relationship-strengthening your moments can be when they aren’t all about you. Trust me, I’ve tried it both ways.

Anyone out there in the middle of a busy mess?  Or perhaps you’ve learned some things about life balance you can add below in the comments?  I so love hearing from you.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

people-tshirt1The days leading up to Thanksgiving were hectic and I was fighting a cold (which, no doubt, everyone in my life is tired of hearing about).  So the warm feelings that usually rise up as my favorite holiday approaches were squeezed out by deadlines, proofreading, exhaustion and that ever-loving cough.

 

By Wednesday evening, I had finally come to a good stopping point with all the work stuff and it was time to begin preparing to host the Thanksgiving meal.  After we finished up our own last minute grocery shopping, my husband and I met my sister at Super Target and helped her round up a load of groceries, too.  She has been on bed rest most of this pregnancy and she will be flat on her back at least another month.  She is only allowed to shower and go to the doctor.  But in the midst of the Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving bedlam, we got her loaded onto a motorized cart and followed her with two push carts (one carrying her two children and one for groceries).  We caravanned around Target in a rolling island of chaos, attempting to move in and around the mobs of people and holiday displays while keeping her two children entertained, answering cell phone calls and finding the items she needed.  People tried not to stare, bless their hearts. We must’ve been quite a sight.  We didn’t even care.  It was about sticking together.

 

That shopping trip gently woke the grateful spirit that had been camouflaged by busyness.  I began thanking God that we live near family, that I have a sister who would do the exact same thing for me if the tables were turned, and that her baby is still okay. 

 

As I rolled out pie crusts later in the evening, I was overcome with gratitude that my husband’s grandmother lived long enough to endow me with her pie-baking skills (among all the other good things I Iearned from her). Everytime I roll out a pie crust, I remember how her hands looked doing that very motion.  That’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

 

Thursday morning, while watching the Macy’s parade all snuggled up with my family, two commercials played that made me cry… one for St. Jude’s Hospital and one for Riley Children’s Hospital.  These commercials called to mind two young friends – one who received his cancer treatments at St. Jude’s just a few years ago and another friend’s daughter who received her cancer regimen at Riley this fall.  Both kids are now cancer free, but what they went through to fight for their lives… I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  That reminder – that health is a blessing not to be taken lightly – literally took my breath away.

 

As Thanksgiving Day unfolded, I was thankful for rest and family time.  But then I began feeling a surprising sense of gratitude for the busyness that had led up to the day. During a time when so many people can’t find work or perhaps don’t have the option to work for health reasons, I have more than I can handle. How ungrateful I have been.  To be overwhelmed with work during this time in our nation’s economy is a good thing… so I thanked God for everyone who ever believed in me and gave me opportunities.

 

I guess in all my rambling-but-grateful thoughts, this Thanksgiving just brought to the surface dozens of reminders that  abundance has surprisingly little to do with finances and everything to do with people. Dollars and investment portfolios can never replace the miracle of lives intersecting.   I continue to be changed and moved by people… not stuff.

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