I was in grad school when I began to hear the phrase “self-care.” Professors began sprinkling that term in as they discussed the high burnout rate in our profession. By our third year, we were required to develop a Self-Care Plan as a part of our graduate portfolio. Most of us were working full-time and taking these classes on the side, so we laughed incredulously. “Self-care?! Sleeping more than five hours a night is self-care. Not cramming for exams during a lunch break is self-care. Graduating is self-care!!”
Self-care is a buzz word these days; it’s a buzz word that makes serious bank. Self-care is a $10 billion industry, ranging from apps to books, spa kits to self-care retreats. But is a face mask truly as good for your soul as a therapy session? Can a gratitude list be as helpful as a bubble bath? The answer lies in your intention. Sarah Bessey, in her recent book Miracles And Other Reasonable Things, observes that often when we say self-care, we actually mean self-comfort. She writes, “Self-comfort numbs us, weakens us, hides us; it can be a soporific. But self-care awakens us, strengthens us, and emboldens us to rise.”
Flag on the Play
I wondered how often I had thrown around the term self-care like an NFL ref throwing penalty flags. Pedicure? Self-care. Dropping $150 at TJMaxx? Self-care. Netflix binge? Self-care. Wine after the kids’ bedtime? Self-care.
But is it truly self-comfort I’m seeking? Am I actually numbing myself against pain? Pain buried so deep that I can’t quite name it, so I’ll bury it further? Am I feeling so out of control at work that it feels SO good to spend money on a few new items at HomeGoods because at least I can control how cute my bedroom looks? Am I working out because it makes me feel strong or because I desperately hope my spouse will take a greater interest if I have a smaller waistline? You get the idea.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
None of these things are inherently bad. But we have to ask a few questions about the practices we’re labeling as self-care.
- Is this making me a better mom?
- Am I growing as a person because of this?
- How am I loving myself with this practice?
- How am I stronger now?
- What negative pattern did this disrupt?
Listen–I love a good latte and shopping spree (especially after months of quarantine). But if I’m honest, maybe I just need to take my Starbucks to the park and sit quietly for twenty minutes. And while venting to a girlfriend about my work drama feels like a release, maybe it would also be freeing to vent to a counselor who might offer me coping mechanisms or help me understand why I react this way.
I see you, sweet friend. You’re doing the best you can for everyone, including the rare time you have for yourself. If self-care in this season is a latte on a park bench or a quick pedi before Kroger pick-up, go for it. But as you develop deeper patterns and practices of self-care, ask yourself these questions and adjust as needed.