Self-care: The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress
In recent years, self-care has become a topic that I’ve become extremely passionate about. I’ve always had some level of understanding and respect for caring for your physical body. Growing up in the Seventh- Day Adventist church – there was a huge emphasis on your body being a temple – so that was unavoidable. But being a Black woman- especially one born to immigrants- the examples of truly caring for yourself holistically – were few and far between. I grew up believing that at some level there’s merit in sacrificing yourself for others, and that putting everyone else’s needs before your own was a badge of honor and womanhood.
I started seeing a therapist consistently a few months after the passing of my mother- in-law. I initially started going in order to gather the tools to be a better support system for my husband- but after a few sessions. My therapist politely got me together and let me know that I needed to be in her office for myself. For me to be a better spouse, daughter, mother, and friend- I had to take care of myself. Week after week she’d ask me what I’d done for myself the week prior and I almost always came up with the same sorry answer- which was ‘nothing cause I didn’t have the time”. She put up with my BS for a bit and I eventually stopped seeing her because of scheduling conflicts — but the reality was that I didn’t make myself a priority because I didn’t feel like I was important enough.
Fast forward several months later after having my youngest son. This was probably the hardest moment in my life. To make a long story short, after having a largely uneventful pregnancy- his birth was incredibly traumatic and we both came close to losing our lives. I had a spontaneous placental abruption. The first month was STRESSFUL. After being discharged from the NICU after being in a medically induced coma to preserve brain function- I was holding my breath and didn’t even realize it.
I was scared that all of the complications that he suffered while in NICU (seizures, blood not properly clotting, liver failure, etc) would return. My doula would always check on me and sensing the sadness/hopelessness in my voice- she suggested that I reach back out to my therapist. I did.
I returned to her office – this time promising myself to implement whatever she suggested. Her suggestion was very simple- “take at least one hour per day doing something for you. Not the kids, not your spouse, not your family/friends, not your job but for you.”
So I did. I started by taking a 50 minute kickboxing class and realized how much better I felt and the world of a difference it made by making one small adjustment.
As women- we wear so many hats. By the time we’re done shuffling through them all- we rarely are given that chance to put the hat down and just be ourselves.
Self care is simply putting aside all of your responsibilities for a moment to love on yourself.
Looking back on my journal, these are the most important learnings that I received during the first six months of therapy. These have greatly impacted how I approach wellness and am sharing with you.
1. Readjust your Inner Voice:
Promise yourself that you’ll speak to yourself as if you’re speaking to the one in your life you love the most ( your best friend, your child, your lover). We typically speak to ourselves harshly. We’d never speak to even our enemies the way we speak to ourselves. In my opinion, the most critical step in addressing our wellness/self-care practices is to readjust how we speak to ourselves. When you’re speaking to yourself- imagine that you’re talking to someone you absolutely adore (i.e. a best friend, child, lover, etc). And when ugly and untrue thoughts creep up- correct that with a loving rebuttal. Honestly, this continues to be something that I struggle with- but I’m making progress.
2. Take Inventory:
Ask yourself the following uncomfortable questions and answer honestly.
- Generally speaking- How are you really feeling? (give yourself time to agree)
- What have you been avoiding?
- How have you made yourself proud? How have you disappointed yourself?
- What thoughts/feelings have you been suppressing
- How’s your work life?
- How are your relationships?
- How do you feel physically?
- Has there been a pain/ache that you’ve been dismissing
- How are you sleeping? Are you sleeping well?
- How have you been connecting with your community?
3.Write it out:
I would usually tell you that if you don’t want to write – to make a note in your phone (notes app)- however, this time, I’m going to discourage you from doing so for several reasons:
- Let’s use this moment to try to disconnect from our phones.
- The act of writing our your feelings is a great way to truly release some energy.
- Journaling is a great way to keep track of your progress. It’s easy to feel as if the work you’re doing isn’t fruitful, but looking back on journal entries from weeks, months, or even years back can serve as evidence of how far you’ve come.
My own learnings
I’ve learned that self-care and wellness is a journey. There isn’t an end goal. Instead, we’re constantly remodeling and reassessing and working to improve ourselves.
Our lives are gardens that must constantly be tended to. If you don’t care for it, it’ll quickly be overcome by weeds. And at the same token- when you constantly care for yourself- the results won’t necessarily be evident immediately. However, you’ll eventually notice that you have cultivated a beautifully lush and abundant garden. The crops will be plentiful, the flowers will be radiant, and in caring for your own garden- you’ll be able to share your fruits with others.
Check out the Be Well, Sis podcast episode here!