Self care doesn’t always look like we think it should. I think about self care a lot – because it makes me mad. But that was back when I thought self care looked like it does on Instagram or Facebook. Back when self care came in the form of a glass of wine, a nap when the baby naps (lol), a bath or a pedicure.
I called BS on this type of self care. It felt like a lie.
But there has to be balance, right? We have to take care of our needs in order to take care of others. So, where was the compromise?
I recently challenged myself to do 1 act of self care every single day for 5 days. And the results were surprising.
I went to get a pedicure and manicure since it had been a minute (read months) so I spent 1 hour at the nail place. I was all alone – no one came in. But I was also bored. This wasn’t self care – I wasn’t stimulated or relaxed. I just existed. This may sound great to some people – but to me this wasn’t my self care moment, even though it easily could have been.
My self care moment this day came after. After my pedicure, I was hungry and drove to Panda Express because I had a random craving. I got myself an eggroll and ate it in the car on the way home. This right here was my act of self care for the day. Why? Because I satisfied a craving with absolutely zero guilt.
I didn’t think about how many calories were in the eggroll. I didn’t have to feed anyone before I fed myself. I didn’t think about how much the eggroll cost. I got an eggroll and I ate it alone in the car. And that felt amazing.
This was a really hard day for me. Like one of the hardest in my whole life – I felt betrayal, I felt deeply hurt. I cried on the floor of my office. It was hard.
Driving home from work that day, I remembered my self care promise. It felt impossible in the moment. I wasn’t even thinking clearly – how could I honor myself? But I made a promise. So, I asked myself, “what do I need right now? What do I love?”
Well. It was 100 degrees outside and I was hot and irritable. I cranked the AC way down and I put on Christmas music because I love Christmas.
In that moment, I exhaled for what felt like the first time that entire day. I smiled despite myself and no matter how terrible the day had been, I found myself surrendering to the moment and singing along to Jingle Bell Rock in September in 100 degree heat.
Remnants of the terrible day crept in. I felt broken and drained. I started to see a pattern that my moments of self love and self care tend to happen in the car as it’s the only time I am ever truly alone. At home, I can close myself in my room – but people are still just on the other side. Same at work. But in my car, I’m fully myself and fully alone.
On the way to work, I asked myself what I needed in that moment.
The answer was a PSL – pumpkin spice latte. I cheerfully obliged.
Doing emotional work is exhausting. Being hurt and being open and honest about it is terrifying. I didn’t anticipate going through this during my self care challenge but by Day 4, I realized it was probably the best thing that could have happened. Normally, when things are hard I retreat to old habits that are not very good for me – but this time I challenged myself to really be there for me.
I got home from work and even though I was tired, I wanted to get on my stationary bike. I didn’t have a lot of time though – so I hopped on for 15 minutes. Past me would have talked me out of this – it’s only 15 minutes. What could I really accomplish in 15 minutes? Past me would have said it wasn’t worth it.
But I decided what I needed at that moment was movement – it didn’t matter that it was only 15 minutes. I wasn’t doing it for any purpose other than to connect with myself and disconnect from the world. I had never really had that before – any movement in my past was nearly always because I was on a diet or trying to burn calories. In a very freeing moment, I rode without agenda or thought. And it was perfect.
In the morning, I realized that I was nearing the crest of my emotional wave. This was shocking. I nearly always stewed in my emotions – unable to climb out without spiraling deeper many times over. The difference this time is that I was focused intently on what I wanted and needed in a given moment. I thought I had been there for myself in the past, but I realize now it was just a version of a person that I thought someone else needed or wanted.
On my final day of the challenge, I reached for a version of self care that is pretty common. I locked myself in my room and I put on a meditation podcast. It was only 8 minutes long but I let myself go completely – being led by the meditation. I don’t think I would have been able to sustain the full 8 minutes earlier in that week but I was in a different place by the last day of listening to myself and what I needed.
On the first day of my self care challenge, I was surprised to find that eating an eggroll was the thing that brought my most joy. I was excited to see what else I found find out about myself as the week went on but I didn’t anticipate being swiftly cut off at the knees the very next day. In hindsight, it was literally the most perfect timing and I’m grateful that I stayed in the challenge and truly showed up for myself.
Now I challenge you guys – try to take just 5 days for yourself. Really ask yourself every day what you need in that moment and do your best to honor it. The answers may really surprise you.