I think we can officially say that “self-care” has been elevated to buzzword status in the past couple years, but it becomes an especially hot topic this time of year, when cabin fever and lack of sunlight begin to erode our work ethic and enthusiasm. In a recent Instagram post, elite marathoner Shalane Flanagan referred to February as “the month of abandoned resolutions, dodgy weather forecasts and expired motivation.” It shouldn’t surprise everyone that February has remained Americans’ least-favorite month of the year for decades. And now, here we are.
The response to the midwinter doldrums is usually a blitzkrieg of self-care advice from the blogging and self-help communities, emphasizing little things you can do to relax, pamper yourself, and take a time-out from the demands of life.
And it’s usually great advice, but I often feel like it’s tailored toward a different personality type and isn’t something I can apply to my own life. With all due respect to the burgeoning self-care industry, advice like “take an epsom salt bath,” “unplug for the evening,” and “snuggle up with a blanket and hot tea,” isn’t really helpful to me. I’m not a Type A personality who has trouble managing a busy schedule and competing demands on my time and energy, so I don’t really need advice encouraging me to slow down. The opposite, in fact.
I suppose this puts me in the minority in Western culture, but I do not have the problem of being busy, overly productive or stretched too thin. I would argue that I’m probably not busy enough, actually. I feel stress, but it comes more from boredom and monotony and spending a little too much time in my own head. I say this with a twinge of shame, as I realize how incredibly privileged I am to be so insulated from the world around me that I can have the problem of being bored and feeling unconnected to things. Paradoxical as it seems, however, a life that is too slow can be stressful in its own way. This time of year especially it can lead to feelings of depression, isolation, and lethargy. In other words, those of us who are more on the Type B side of the spectrum need self-care, too.
So, what does that look like, then? What self-care tips do I find helpful?
Self-care, for me, means doing what needs to be done for myself. It means a few more chores and a little less free time in the evenings. What? Why?! In my January Recap, I mentioned taking some time off for self-care in which I stayed “a healthy busy”, as I like to call it. “Healthy busy” is the self-care I need.
It means, for example, that I force myself to run that errand over lunch when I’d rather just sit here, that I come home and prep/cook dinner, throw in laundry, and go for that 5 mile run, no matter how much I’m aching to just sit on the couch and be a vegetable and go to bed at 7:30 because work sucked and I’m tired and all that stuff can always wait until tomorrow.
I force myself to do these things because while they are unpleasant in the moment, I know they are good for me. It’s good for me to eat healthy and cheap, to have clean clothes and a clean house, to exercise and keep up with my training and get my fitness back, to stay on top of my responsibilities, and to develop discipline. Taking care of myself is often about doing things that don’t feel relaxing or comfortable in the moment but are necessary for whole, big picture self-care.
Of course, I must choose carefully – not all items I could add to a checklist and scramble to complete are necessary for me to take care of myself. But when it comes to health, home, and responsibilities, it seems that a little busy work and a few chores are among the best ways I can practice self-care.
In addition to being necessary for my well-being, getting things done and being productive and active give me a sense of accomplishment that boosts my mood. Staying busy at work and at home makes the work weeks go by faster, and I always remind myself that doing the work now means I will enjoy it so much more when I finally do take a couple hours to veg out with a Law & Order marathon or go to bed early on Thursday night, because it will feel like a treat. The time spent lying on the couch will feel earned, not wasted. The habit of healthy productivity pays dividends, too – the more you do, the more you want to do. I’ve often felt my most energetic and productive during “busy” periods, for all of these reasons.
There is of course some overlap between my version of self-care and what I see in the popular listicles geared more toward my Type A friends. The reasoning, however, is slightly different.
Reading is a must for my self-care, but not because I need to wind down and relax, but because getting out of my own head/life for a while is a necessary stress reliever for me. It helps me feel refreshed, allows me some perspective, and gives my overactive “monkey brain” a break for a while. For example, for the past 2 weeks I have been forcing myself to get up from my computer and spend my lunch hour reading while eating in the break room. Not only is this consistent reading time necessary for me to meet my 36 books in 2017 goal, but giving my mind and eyes a break from the computer screen is relaxing and will often result in me being more, not less, productive in the afternoon.
Unplugging is also a self-care technique I share with my friends of different lifestyles. I find social media to be ironically isolating, and the constant noise clouds my ability to think clearly about anything and everything. It’s not the least bit coincidental that I feel a thousand times better and more like myself when I have some distance from Facebook and Instagram. In fact, simply unplugging for a few hours a week isn’t enough: for my self-care, I need to consistently spend less time online.
All of that said, it’s important to remember that things can and will change in life, and it’s very possible that one day soon I’ll find myself on the other side of the equation: overly busy managing a schedule of demands and commitments that is bursting at the seams, and needing that time-out for a lavender epsom salt bath and a hot cup of chai tea. Finding the appropriate form of self-care is important, but the definition of that can and will change as life goes through seasons!