It’s been a year. We’re limping into December all weary and depleted, just when we’re supposed to be making merry and sharing all the Christmas cheer. Our bodies, minds, and souls are sending out warning signals to slow down and replenish. We need rest.
But instead of tuning into our needs (and maybe taking a long winter’s nap), you and I both are likely pushing through anyway, running at breakneck speed to do and be all the things for all our people.
So, let’s talk about self-care. Because I know how much I need to reset and refocus and reclaim some of my joy at the end of this year. And I bet you do, too.
Ok, you’re saying. But isn’t self-care just like getting a manicure or maybe a venti peppermint white hot chocolate?
That’s just the surface, my friend, and pretty nails and coffee won’t really fill us up when we’re running on empty, at least not for long. So let’s take a closer look at what self-care is, what it isn’t, and how to make it a reality in your life (and mine!). I’ve got 5 challenges for us to implement together this season.
Challenge number 1: Reframe your vision of self-care.
Let’s start at the beginning: what is self-care?
I like to define it this way:
Authentic self-care is the act of both recognizing and tending to my own needs by intentional acts that nurture my whole person.
No matter who you are and what your specific needs are, self-care will be something that deeply nourishes you and sparks life in your soul.
What is self-care not?
True self-care is not laziness. It is not selfishness. It is not weakness.
There’s a myth that seems to have infiltrated the minds of American women (especially moms) far and wide. And it goes something like this: “I should have it all together. I shouldn’t need a break. If I just loved my life more, or if I just tried harder, or if I just prayed more, then I’d be able to handle it all. Something must be wrong with me if I’m not happy.”
If this resonates with you, don’t worry — it was my mindset for a long time, too. But if we’re gonna get anywhere in learning to practice regular self-care, we have to throw this lie to the curb right now.
The truth is, real self-care is a very good thing. Even Jesus rested, took time alone to pray, nourished His body with healthy food, and cultivated deep friendships — and we would never think any of this was selfish. At the very least, we should do the same for ourselves.
We need to reframe our vision of what self-care really is. Ask yourself what you think about self-care. Is it positive or negative? And what are some concrete ways you can begin to view self-care as a good? Let’s put away any guilt or negative thoughts about taking time to care for our own needs, and give ourselves permission to practice authentic self-care.
Challenge number 2: Identify your needs.
Once we’ve said yes to self-care, we can look at our lives and evaluate our needs.
I like to think of our needs falling into three categories. Humans are body-soul composites, and speaking simply, “soul” kind of means our minds and our hearts together. So I like to say that we have three categories of needs: physical needs — those of our bodies; mental needs — those of our minds; and spiritual needs — those of our soul.
Ideally, we want to practice holistic self-care. “Holistic” meaning whole person self-care — tending to the needs of every part of your person. What does my soul need in this season of life? In what ways does my body need support? How can I nourish my mind? Recognizing our needs is something that can take some work. But we have to know them before we can truly embark on a road of nurturing ourselves.
Spend some time looking at your life honestly, and noticing the deficits you see in how you care for yourself. Ask your loved ones to help you if you can’t think of any yourself! Write down the needs. Then write down the “remedy,” if you will. What would truly fill the need?
Challenge number 3: Take the “remedies” to your needs and make them into self-care goals.
I’m a firm believer in goal-setting. And not just dreaming of goals — actually writing them down, one by one. Why? Because there’s power in the pen.
We might have ideas in mind about how we want to practice self-care. We might have all the best intentions in the world. But science shows that success often depends on having a written goal. Writing brings clarity and purpose.
When I write down my goals, for anything, I find that it’s super helpful to start with WHY. What’s my motivation? What’s my purpose?
When it comes to self-care, this may be something like, I want to make self-care a priority so that I will still be alive in 10 years to see my kids graduate. 🙂 Or it may be as simple as I want to practice self-care because I want to learn to love myself again.
So write down your WHY. Then make your specific goals, at least one for each category of needs (body, mind, and soul).
Challenge number 4: Prioritize your goals, and write down the specific steps you’ll take to reach them.
Take a look at those written goals and prioritize them. Our self-care needs will change depending on our life circumstances, and we need to be attune to them and learn to prioritize what’s going to have the most impact on our whole person. Prioritizing can enable you to make choices now to focus on nourishing yourself where you are the neediest. Right now, for me, that’s simply extra quiet time (boring, but I’m introverted mom of 5). 🙂
Now we need to consider how we’re going to achieve each goal. Write down the steps you need to take for self-care to become a reality. This is the same principle as SMART goals. It’s effective, so use it to help yourself succeed!
Challenge number 5: Make it a habit.
Ideally, we want self-care to become second nature to us!
There’s some debate about how long it takes to form a new habit. Some experts say 21 days, others say it’s (more realistically) 66 — still others say it may even take close to a year! The time it takes to form a habit also varies widely depending on your personality and your circumstances.
Whatever amount of time it takes, each of us has to put in the work, to keep practicing self-care until it is a well-formed habit.
Personally, I would love for my self-care plan to turn into a real routine — something that I don’t think twice about doing, like brushing my teeth!
But how do we do that?! This is the million dollar question, my friends. And the answer will look different for each of us. (Sorry if you were expecting me to give it to you 😉 )
But we can start with these 2 principles:
1) Self-care is a way of loving myself and others — a way to practice charity. Therefore, self-care is a virtue. And like all virtues (which are by definition habits, by the way), self-care takes effort to master. But the effort is good because what we get in the end — the habit of virtue — is good.
2) We will never be perfect at self-care. Because life isn’t perfect. The last thing we want is for self-care to become another burden for us to shoulder. So, take a deep breath. And keep on trying.
Here’s the thing. We can always come up with excuses for why we shouldn’t take care of our own needs. There will be days or even seasons when life wants to swallow us up in busyness or hardships. Maybe it’s not seasons, maybe it’s just life in a fallen world.
But, I believe that keeping our minds focused on self-care as a good can go a long way for our resolve.
Rather than give up on self-care during difficulties, we should try all the more to make the time to nurture ourselves — because it’s during the hardest days and months and years (hello 2020) when we actually most need to.
We have to actively give ourselves permission. And we have to choose to love ourselves, so we can love others better.
Let’s enter into Advent and Christmas with hearts ready to receive grace and mercy — and let’s start by giving ourselves permission to intentionally nurture the beautiful creation we are.