Self-care often seems counter-intuitive when there is so much “other stuff” to be done, and when the need for that other stuff seems so urgent. But no real change can be made without both a clear vision and a belief that change is possible. Both vision and belief have a positive, expansive energy, and grow naturally from emotional states like gratitude, pleasure, and appreciation. If I’m not in one of these states on a regular basis, I start losing my sense of possibility, and then I literally can’t see clearly, even if the answer is right under my nose.
Silly example, but a true story: More than once, I’ve failed to find my keys on a shelf, bench, or table, truly in plain sight, simply because I was convinced that I had left them in a purse or backpack. I tend to spiral myself into an anxiety whirlpool when this happens. My partner Isaac, always calm in a crisis, and of course under no such delusion about keys being exclusively lost in bags, finds them every time.
Shifting our emotional state really does help the mind to see clearly and form ideas that move it closer to its stated goal, whether that goal is finding lost objects or unrestricted abortion rights. And maintaining a base level of gratitude, appreciation, and pleasure is what allows us to keep reconnecting with the possibilities we envision and strive toward.
I know this with more certainty than I used to because I’ve been watching myself slip out of hopeful states again and again for weeks now, and I can see that what I do with my fear or my anger makes an enormous difference, and that I need a strong self-care practice to manage it. If I sit at my desk all day and imagine apocalyptic scenarios, then I waste a lot of precious time. I don’t do much at all, in fact. Not my own work, not helping others, nothing.
On the other hand, if I go out and pull some weeds in the garden, paint in my art studio, and remind myself of the incredible life that I am living right now, then I will reliably finish my own to-do list and reach out to others. When I respond by stepping up my self-care, I compassionately manage my emotional state and stay motivated.
Taking care of yourself, though, especially if you’re a woman, can feel very wrong. Often, when I move to step up my ways of caring for myself with time, treats, or nourishing activities, alarms go off in my head that scream variations of “Stop being selfish – you have plenty to eat and you’re safe, so put your head down and do some work” or “You don’t need anything, help someone else.” For a long time I believed these voices. It’s true that I live an enviable existence compared to most people in the world. It’s true that work is valuable, and that helping others is rewarding and healing in itself. However, listening closely to these voices, I hear the same pattern that is responsible for even the most extreme oppression around the globe. The common message is that my needs, desires, and wishes are invalid or unimportant. By extension, I am unimportant. The only thing that is important, rather, is that I work or that I serve some invisible other. That’s not an uplifting, life-giving message. It’s not humane. If you really take it at face value, it’s thinly-veiled slavery.
Only you know what your optimal self-care activities are and how much of them you need and when. Here are some guidelines for recommitting to honor your own desires, whatever they are:
Self-care is not a to-do list. It must bring you delight, calm, pleasure or other feelings of expansion, even if it’s just 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea. Really. Enjoy that cup of tea!
Your self-care is YOURS. No comparing with other people’s self-care. Read vampire novels, eat a bowl of raspberries, run 10 miles, or meditate. Whatever brings you feelings of joy, gratitude, and pleasure, dedicate some consistent time to that thing.
Acknowledge and accept any dissenting voices in your head. Welcome them and then kindly ask them to take a seat in the corner, or lie down under a shady tree in your mind, while you go about your delightful business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: SHARNA FABIANO
Sharna is an artist, coach, and educator. Both her individual and professional programs are designed to support whole person growth with compassion, elegance, and pragmatism.
Inspired by mindfulness practices, Sharna’s abstract paintings are intuitive explorations of color, shape, and texture. A former dancer, her creative process reflects her training in movement improvisation and choreography.