One of the biggest goals of this blog is to remind busy women that the most important aspect of being able to live a full, content, and enjoyable life is to show up for yourself first. We are constantly hustling and striving to take care of all the things and be everything to everyone. For most women, this means that our own self-care constantly falls to the bottom of the list.
We rarely get a decent night of sleep, we survive on coffee and fast food, we constantly feel guilty about not exercising, but never have the time. We never give ourselves a few minutes of quiet to think. Reading our Bibles is maybe something we did when we were teens and young adults, but this season of life is far too busy. We pop all sorts of pills, but never give ourselves a chance to think, process, or talk about our feelings and mental concerns (this is 100% not against pills, just pointing out that pills also need to be balanced with actually working through our mental health issues not just numbing ourselves to them).
Over and over again, all throughout our days, everything and everyone takes precedence over our own selves. And this is the prime reason why so many women struggle with exhaustion, burn out, anxiety, depression, loneliness, discontent, and the like. We never make time for self-care.
Self-Care is Not Selfishness
We think we are being noble and good. We think this is the unselfish way to live.
But God never called us to be a martyr to our own lives.
God actually called us to love ourselves.
God actually tells us to take care of our bodies and to steward the resources and blessings He has given us.
You budget your money carefully and track all of your spending to a “T”. You save, you work extra hours, and you set goals to push yourself into new areas of freedom with your money.
You schedule your time. You create goals and to do lists. You have a sophisticated calendar system to track all of the events for all of the people in your family.
But your health? You’ll get to that someday. When the kids are older. When you get a new job. When you pay off your credit cards. When a health crisis scares you into action.
Self-care needs to come first. When we take care of ourselves first, we are able to bring our strongest, healthiest, most energized self to our lives. We show up with a full cup, overflowing with abundance and life and joy that spills all over the people around us. When we show up for ourselves first we find the wisdom, the knowledge, and the understanding we need to tackle everything life throws our way.
What is Self-Care?
It’s important to recognize what self-care is and what self-care is not. Self-care can certainly look different for each person, but there are some similarities.
One of the most important things to remember is that self-care encompasses activities that you do to support your physical, spiritual, and mental health. If you focus only on one of these areas, you are missing a key component to your overall health and wellness and therefore your overall ability to show up well in the world. Be sure to develop self-care habits that address each area of your wellness.
Another aspect of self-care to keep in mind is that self-care fills you up and fuels you. It does not make you more miserable, exhausted, and burnt out. If you are doing something that you are calling self-care, but you dread it, or it makes you feel worse, that is not self-care, that is torture.
For example, if you start running and realize you hate every moment of it, you are constantly struggling with injuries and you end your runs feeling exhausted and awful. It doesn’t matter how healthy you think it is to run, for you, running is bad. So you shouldn’t do it. Find a form of exercise that you actually do enjoy.
Here are some guidelines on what self-care actually looks like:
- A proper night of sleep, each and every night. At a minimum, you need to be getting 7 hours of sleep each night, but some people need closer to 9. Figure out what feels best for your body and make sleep a priority.
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods.
- Consistently move your body. I’m purposely using movement over exercise here because some people get all stressed out about the word exercise. You don’t need a gym or a group fitness class, you don’t need a garage full of fancy equipment. You just need to move your body in a way that is enjoyable to you. Take your dog for a walk, turn on some fun music and have a dance party in the privacy of your own kitchen, play tag in the backyard with your kids. It doesn’t really matter what you do, just that you do it, and key point – that you enjoy it.
- Going for regular checkups with your medical professionals (doctor, dentist, eye doctor, counselor, gynecologist)
- Spending time with God. Your spiritual health is one of the most important pieces of your life. God is your strength. God is your hope. God is your peace and your love and your joy. Regularly make it a priority to connect with your source of all good things. Read your Bible, pray, sing worship songs, meditate on scriptures, etc.
- Regularly finding quiet. Even extreme extroverts need to make space for quiet. Get in the habit of giving yourself some time and space to think, to dream, to meditate, and to relax and be fully present. Our brains are constantly bombarded with stimulation, it’s important to give them a break once in a while.
- Processing emotions, thoughts, and feelings. Our culture tends to tell us that emotions, particularly “bad” emotions, are weak or wrong or scary. But emotions are extremely valuable clues and information. As a society, we tend to numb, withdraw, bury, or run from our emotions. The problem is that emotions don’t just disappear. Give yourself the gift of feeling your emotions, being curious about them, and allowing them to teach you and guide you. Emotions are completely harmless, but ignoring or numbing them can cause all sorts of distress and trials.
- Do fun things. Find a hobby or two and pursue them regularly. Reading, crafting, hiking, baking, painting, golfing. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but make sure that you spend some time each week doing something that is just for fun.
- Get social. Not just be around people, but actually, spend time connecting with others. Your husband, your kids, and your friends. Purposely pursue relationships.
- Laugh. Because life is too short to be serious all the time.
How to Make Time for Self-Care?
For many of you, that list sounds lovely and everything, but your calendar is already filled to the brim and none of those things are on it. There is most definitely not time to do all of it. You have responsibilities, a job to keep, kids to take care of, a house to clean, and a million other things constantly yelling for your attention.
The truth is you make time for what is important to you. We all have the same 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What we choose to do with that time is one of the most important parts of life.
No matter how many responsibilities you have, how many kids you have, or how important your job is, fueling yourself should always be the first priority. Always. Because that is how you will be able to be truly successful in your busy important life.
I’m sure you have a general routine for your mornings. But it might look something like hit the snooze button 4 times before you finally jump out of bed in a panic. Immediately run for the coffee pot as you start screaming down the hall for your kids to get moving. Jump in the shower and throw on your clothes and makeup while tossing bowls of cereal in front of your kids and passing out lunch money. Make a mad dash through the drive-thru to grab a sugary muffin and an equally sugary extra giant coffee on your way to work.
What if you woke up well-rested and didn’t need the snooze button so often? You even woke up 15 minutes earlier so you had a chance to start your day with some quiet and peace. You can still head for the coffee pot, but then you sit on the couch and sip your cup while you read a few scriptures and journal your thoughts. You wake your kids up with joy and calm to help them get started on their day. And you take 5 extra minutes to scramble up some eggs for everyone and then sit down to enjoy them yourself, chatting with your kids about their upcoming day.
Which sounds better to you? Don’t tell me you don’t have time. If you want the peaceful morning instead of the crazy morning, you just have to decide to make it that way. It won’t always be perfect and peaceful. A kid might wake up too early, you still might find yourself raising your voice at the child who can never find their shoes and the one who always forgets to do their homework. But your morning can probably be better than it is right now.
Take some time to develop some routines that build in time for self-care. Morning routines tend to be the most popular and powerful ways to start your day on the right foot, but also look at creating an evening routine, and maybe even a lunchtime routine.
You don’t need to start scheduling an hour at the gym, seven days a week to start prioritizing your self-care. You also don’t need to wake up two hours earlier than usual. It’s amazing what just five minutes could do for you.
Start by setting your alarm for five minutes earlier or maybe you quit mindlessly scrolling on Facebook ten minutes before you turn out your lights and give yourself a chance to read a good book before bed instead. Maybe you decide to go on a brisk walk around your office building before you head to the break room for lunch each day.
It doesn’t take much to make a big difference. Look for small pockets of time throughout your day that you can use to nourish your own self. The book The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner can help you find these small bits of time and learn to use them well.
Learn to say no.
Whether you are saying “no” to your child who wants to join a 3rd travel sports team, your boss who wants you to take on another project that will add at least 10 hours of extra work to your week, or that new committee that is forming at your church. Saying “no” is one of the most powerful, and yet most difficult things we can do to help us prioritize what matters most.
It will be uncomfortable at first. You might disappoint some people, even some people you really care about. But just because something is hard or uncomfortable doesn’t mean it is wrong. Develop boundaries and give yourself the gift of sticking to them.
Put yourself on the schedule first.
900 days ago I was just as busy as I am now. Actually, I was probably even less busy. But 900 days ago I decided to make a commitment to myself to go for a run every single day. I only planned to do this for 41 days, but somewhere along the way, I realized how amazing it was to make my self-care a priority and now I’ve gone for a run every single day for 900 days straight.
If you would have asked me 900 days ago if this was possible I would have laughed in your face. I don’t have time for that! I’m a busy working mom of two! My schedule is already crammed full.
But I’ve learned over the last 900 days that you make time for what is important to you. Recognize that you being the healthiest and best version of yourself is the most important thing in all of life. And then create your schedule accordingly. Put your self-care on the schedule first and then honor that schedule.
Start with the most important for you.
We are all at different places in life. You probably have some aspect of self-care down already. Maybe you always make time for relaxation and fun things. Or maybe you have mastered eating healthy food on a regular basis (okay, I don’t know anyone who truly has this down all the time). Or maybe you’ve got a rock-solid routine for keeping a regular quiet time with God.
But I’ll bet there is at least one area where you are really struggling. Maybe you never get enough sleep at night. Or you can’t remember the last time you actually got more exercise than the walk to and from your car in the parking lot each day. Or maybe you have thought you needed to set up an appointment with a counselor for months now, but just keep putting it off.
Take some time to figure out which aspect of self-care you most need in this season of life and start with that. What will have the biggest impact on your current situation?
Today’s Action Step
Pick one thing that you can do today to take care of yourself. You don’t have to do it all or develop a rock solid routine for morning, noon, and night, but give yourself a gift of doing something. And then tomorrow, do something again. Begin to get yourself into the habit of taking care of you first. And begin to pay attention to how much better you are able to show up to the world when you are rested, well, and healthy.