the true meaning of self-care

Welcome to October at The Artful Life! Our Fourth Key to an Artful Life is Practice Loving Self-Care, and for the month of October, that's what we'll be focusing on here, with posts, interviews, and some challenges for you to help you maximize your self-care.

But what is self-care?

True self-care arises from self-love, and has little to do with self improvement or self discipline.

Are you a parent? If so, you know the fine line we need to walk in caring for those we love. We can't simply impose our will upon our children in an attempt to shape them into the person we think they should be. Nor can we indulge their every impulse and whim in an attempt to give them autonomy. Our best bet is to act out of love, and create a climate where positive habits can flourish. Punishment leads to fear and inhibition, indulgence leads to unhealthy habits.

It's pretty easy to wrap our minds around these concepts when it comes to caring for others. Yet when it comes to caring for us, many times we find ourselves bouncing between the extremes of self-indulgence and punishing self-discipline.

For me, I know that healthy self-care begins with having loving structures in place for dealing with stress. Without these structures, it is much too easy for me to lapse into a cycle of pushing too hard then "relaxing" with unhealthy comforts, then pushing myself even harder to "make up" for my indulgences. Does this sound familiar?

I am so grateful that I am finally beginning to identify this cycle in myself, and that over time I have  begun to build a structure of truly self-nurturing habits to replace the unhealthy comforts. I do need to be vigilant though; not perfectionistic, but vigilant. If I step back in to my shadow comforts (a very apt term coined by Jen Louden) I try to use it as an opportunity to reflect and gently re-adjust, rather than as an opportunity for self-recrimination.

This morning, for instance, I woke up with a bad headache. The headache actually woke me several times during the night as well, and robbed me of a good night's sleep. The headache was not a surprise. I chose to have it.

I chose it when I chose to have two glasses of red wine late in the evening. I know from long experience that if I want to indulge my love of cabernet, I need to do so very moderately, early in the evening, with food, and on a day when I can sleep in a bit the next morning.

Yesterday wasn't like that - it was a long, stressful work day, another in a long run of long, stressful workdays during which I had let my self-care structures slide a little bit. The choice I made at the end of the day was not a self-nurturing choice. And I woke up this morning really cross with myself, which was also not a self-nurturing choice.

But here's the important thing: I caught myself, and identified the self-indulgence/self-punishment cycle. So instead of letting the crossness with myself fuel yet another day of pushing too hard, I stopped and asked myself

What do you need today?

The answer came: I need to rest. I need to reflect and journal. And I need to consciously let go of a stressful incident from last week, so I can move forward positively.

With this simple moment of deep listening within, I was able to slip back in to the flow of loving self-care.

Will you join me today in reflecting on self-care? You could consider these questions in your journal:
  • Where do you practice true self-nurturing in your life? Are there any places where you slip into a cylce of self-indulgence/self-punishment?
  • What structures do you have in place to support self-nurturing?
  • What are your "shadow comforts?"
  • How often do you ask yourself What do I need today?
  • What do you need today?

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