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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Saber

A New Perspective on Self-care

Why self-care is actually hard work.

The idea of self-care is not new. It’s apparently been a trend since 2016, when “‘self-care’ rose as collective social practice alongside national stress levels,” and over the last few years, I’ve heard about its importance in almost every facet of my life.

Teachers, Moms, Every Person Living through the Pandemic: be sure to make time for self-care so that you can be available / show up / survive.

Frequently with that advice would follow a list of suggestions - bubble baths, meditation, knitting, exercise. With so many suggestions to sift through, it was difficult to zero in on something that might actually work for me. For way too long, I kept thinking, Oh, if I would just make time for one of these, I bet I would feel so much better. But the truth is, for someone like me, it’s hard to enjoy going out to get a pedicure when I know it means the two loads of laundry are still waiting for me back home. Or starting a new chapter of a book at 10:00pm when I finally get in bed just means 20 less minutes I might actually get to sleep. These little respites and attempts at rejuvenation not only don’t work in the moment but also don’t seem to have much lasting impact.

A few weekends ago, I met a dear friend for lunch. I hadn’t seen her in about 2.5 years, nor had I gone on a “social call” in almost as long. We had over two hours of no responsibilities, no screens, no interruptions. Pure joy. And as soon as I returned home, it was a return to chaos. My toddler had a sudden burst of energy when I walked through the door, and when my one-year-old sees me, suddenly no one else in the room matters. The house, the dishes, the toys. They were just as I left them: everywhere. My body started to tense. The noise felt enormous. The hours-long break melted away.

It wasn’t until I came across an article just last week as I was researching this very topic for a client that I was sort of hit over the head with a new perspective: “True self-care… is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”

Wait, so you’re saying self-care isn’t just taking a few minutes each day to do something I enjoy?! While that is important to do also, I’m realizing that in isolation it’s not going to tackle the underlying causes of the stress in the first place. If anything, the pressure to ‘make time’ - which is impossible, by the way - just adds to it.

Real self-care is actually really hard work. It involves evaluating your current lifestyle and responsibilities to find ways to edit the parts of your story that are not working for you. That means figuring out how to lessen your load, tap into your community for support, and seek help when you need it. It also often requires pushing yourself to do things you don’t really feel comfortable doing. It might be physically, mentally, or emotionally UNcomfortable, but it is in discomfort that we grow.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Ask a friend to watch your kids so you can go to Book Club (or a gym class or a movie) .

  • Offload a household task onto your partner so that you can go to bed 15 minutes earlier.

  • Analyze your spending habits so that you can create - and stick to - a budget to keep money-related anxiety at bay.

  • Prioritize your mental health and say “No” when a coworker asks for a favor.

  • Have that really hard conversation so that you can finally let it go.

Thinking about self-care as something we need to add to our lives sets us up for failure. Instead, self-care is about designing a life that can ebb and flow in a rhythm from which you don’t need to consistently break away.

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