I was recently asked,
“What is something you can talk about for three hours straight?”
Two things, 1) Love, and 2) Self-Care.
But then again, they are one in the same thing. I get pretty giddy thinking about the fact that love is an infinite resource that generates more and more power every time we choose it. There is literally no end to how and to whom we can express our love, and we can never, ever run out of it. How thrilling it is that the more we offer love to ourselves and others, the easier it is to call upon, the more surfaced is its bounty. Experiencing and remembering this gives me a natural high -- but let's be honest, It’s also really easy to forget. I know that I do, all the freaking time, as our minds are so habituated to default to doubtful, fearful, scarcity biases, casting shadows over the brilliant radiance of our aliveness. How many of us are walking around in perpetual (low or high-grade) worry of the uncertainty lurking behind every corner, in every situation, and in every relationship? How many of us are defaulting to numbing substances and behaviors to cope with past traumas and future anxieties? How many of us are chronically feeling inadequate, like losers, afraid of being "found out", rejected and abandoned? I’m going to guess that most of us, if not all of us share in these familiar and universal struggles. And It’s okay when we feel these things, because EVERYTHING that we feel is valid. We never need to judge ourselves for what we are experiencing. Though, when we are feeling like purposeless, unlovable, total lame-o's, there's something pretty major that we are forgetting: being alive is a divine expression of love in and of itself. Each and every one of us is so powerful and the only thing that gets in the way of our power is when we forget that it’s totally innate to our very being, that it comes with the territory of being born. It's cool and all when we are able to do epic shit, but it really doesn't dictate whether or not we are expressions of love or not. Self-care is a way to honor our divinity through simple, inspired action. It’s a way to help us remember that we are worthy, capable, and deserve to feel good. It's a ways to say to ourselves, "I MATTER, just because, I do."
By being a pretty intentional practitioner of self-care for a while now, I’ve learned some things along the way... Here are some of those things:
We are responsible for our own care. Expecting anyone else to do it for us (unless we are in a position where we are physically or mentally unable) is doing us, and those around us, a disservice. Anything extra that is offered by others is a precious gift and a bonus.
Self-care looks different for each of us. What I need to run smoothly, is most likely pretty different from what you need. In order to take good care of ourselves, we also have to be willing to intimately get to know ourselves, which means slowing down to pay close attention to what feels good, and what our hearts and bodies are asking for.
The ways in which we care for ourselves is reflected in the ways in which we are able to care for others. Nobody actually benefits when we provide care from a depleted place of resentment or martyrdom, which is inevitable if we are taking care of others without also taking care of ourselves.
When we show up for ourselves in genuine and loving ways, others will show up for us in the same kind of ways. Self-care has exponential value.
Our society isn’t really in support of Tender Loving Care for self, because it involves slowing down, taking breaks from the “should” list, and reflecting our own value back to ourselves. There is a lot of un-conditioning to attend to for these practices to have transformational power. In other words, doing self care while feeling guilty about it counteracts the value.
It’s so so SO important that we HONOR HOW WE ALREADY ARE showing up for ourselves. The opposite of self care is shame. “I’m not doing enough self-care” is an irrelevant thought pattern to get better about self-care. I guarantee you are doing a lot already, and when you celebrate yourself for every tiny little thing, giving yourself a solid "Go Me!" when you do your laundry, eat breakfast, floss, get out in nature-- your motivation naturally increases for you to do a little more, here and there, a little more. Self-care is not about being perfect at it. It's about attending to your needs in a way that feels honest and kind. You are doing an amazing job at every stage of the game.
Part of my process of getting to know myself well enough to take good care of myself is accepting, and then learning about being a Highly Sensitive Person. This is actually a real thing (hence the capitalization), there are books written on it, it’s a condition shared by about 20% of the population. This means that my nervous system becomes over-aroused more quickly and more intensely than 80% of folks. This over-arousal is activated by things like loud sounds, harsh or artificial scents, fluorescent lighting, crowds of people, and negative/critical energy in general. I need more downtime than the average joe, more sleep, and definitely can’t skip meals. Psychologist, Elaine Aron breaks down the HSP situation really well in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, and I highly recommend it for anyone who thinks they might be an HSP or are in close relationship with one.
Being an HSP also means that I’m more attuned to subtlety. I notice things that others don’t, can feel what other people are feeling (and thus am able to understand and often help them), and I have a very intensely pleasurable experience of beauty, kindness and love.
There are two sides to the highly sensitive coin-- one feels like a disability at times, hugely inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing, and the other side is pure magic, the thing that gives my life such depth, meaning and connection. At the end of the day, I’ll take my HSP status over not having it, because I’m really into magic, though it means that I have to be extra extra up on my self-care game. Because if I’m not, I literally can’t function. Which is why I can talk about self-care for three hours straight. Everyone needs self-care, not just us sensitives. But for the less sensitive among us, and for the sensitives who have yet to fully accept and own their true natures, one of the ways that self-care finally gets triggered is through burn out and/or illness. Pushing too hard and neglecting basic needs because you can function just fine that way for a long time, until... of course, your body just can’t hang anymore. That's when we become faced with the harsh reality of having to stop everything and start taking care of ourselves in order to save our lives.
There is nothing wrong with any road map that delivers us to taking our care seriously. But the option always remains that we save our lives a little bit each day, tending to our needs as they arise, so that we can sustain the work, family, and bodies that are so precious and meaningful.
Here are some ways that my self care manifests at the moment. Remember, yours is going to look really different, but there might be some commonalities to pull from:
Sleep. Through trial, error, and paying attention, I’ve found that I need MORE sleep than average, 9 hours is my sweet spot for best functioning. It's embarrassing to admit because for some ungodly reason, sleeping carries a lot of shame in our culture. But I'm learning to be much gentler with myself about it. I am not able to achieve my solid 9 every night, but having the awareness has a lot of power, and I allow myself to rest and take naps when I didn't get what I needed.
Food. This is a hard one for a lot of us. To be proactive about eating nourishing, supportive food takes commitment, time and effort. I’m far from perfect at this yet, but I do make sure to get to the grocery store every weekend and do meal prep for the week ahead. Although it often feels like a pain in the ass to devote half a Sunday to, It’s really, really, really worth the effort as it makes everything about my life run so much more smoothly.
Screen Breaks. Damn these screens these days! I know that on the days that I spend the majority of my hours behind a computer screen, I feel pretty rotten by the end of it. I also know that I'm pretty addicted to my phone. Self care is plugging my phone in across the room when I get in my bed, so that I can't check it 25 times over the course of my one chapter of reading until I fall asleep. Self care is leaving my phone in the car when I go hang out with someone who means a lot to me.
Media Limits. Be it social, news, commercials, shows etc. Aside from some social media, NPR here and there, and a handful of podcasts that I hold dear, I don’t really engage too deeply with world affairs. This is also a hard one to admit because being “ill-informed” is judged very harshly in our society. But as an HSP, I have to choose to be somewhat ill-informed of the terrors of the world, which are really overwhelming to my nervous system, so that I can show up with love and optimism in my personal life and community.
Movement. A little bit sprinkled throughout the day means a whole lot. Walking, stretching, foam rolling, doing weird improv dance moves in my living room, really gets my mind out of its looping patterns of worry and clears the way for a more mindful experience of living.
Space Between. To go from one appointment, to the next meeting, to the next job, without time in-between to ground and regroup my energy is a very neglectful thing to do to myself. I find myself sabotaging in this way when I’m too focused on pleasing others and ignoring my own needs. But when I take a moment while scheduling to remember that I really need space between things, I’m a much happier camper, and can show up so much more fully. I'm also okay now with being a little bit "flakey" and rescheduling when my body asks me to. I'd rather show up happy when it makes sense, then stick with a commitment for the sake of it from a place of depletion.
Creative Practice Time. This looks different for me from one week to the next, as my creative expressions are always shifting. It’s not really about what I do, but THAT I do, because if I don’t, I feel like a lost puppy with no clue what my life is about.
I Love You’s. This simple one has huge benefit. I tell myself “I love you” on average, about 30-50 times a day. Usually with my hands on my heart or looking straight into the mirror. I tell myself this even when, and especially when, I’m having a hard time believing it. (BONUS: Is when I do my 'I Love You's' while giving myself an oil massage).
I could go, and on, and on… because, yeah, favorite topic -- but I hope by now you get how vast and varied self-care can look, and how key it is to living a life that truly feels good.
But even more than feeling good individually, the ripple effects of simple acts of care travel so far and wide, that when we choose to do it, we are, on some level, taking care of the whole world -- and what does this world need more so than ever right now? A whole lot of people feeling good in their bodies, living in integrity, honoring their divinity and what they need to thrive.
I invite you to share any of your self-care practices in a comment, loving up on yourself (and us) by celebrating something that you’re already doing. May you continue to honor your divinity in whatever ways it makes sense to you.
(Shout out my to my fellow HSP Goddess sister, Lyuba for indulging in my vision of a self-care photo shoot. I love her bold, sensitive beauty and heart-inspired visions).