Self-care is hard work. And it’s about time we collectively acknowledge this.
The common belief is that self-care should be easy.
If self-care is hard work, how could it also be care?
Let me set the scene for a moment:
It’s early in the morning. I don’t remember what time, but it’s between 6 and 7am. It’s dark and cold in my bathroom. My husband is still sleeping. 2 of my 3 kids are awake and they are both with me in the dark, cold bathroom. I’m moving through my first routine of the morning. Pee, scrape my tongue, wash my face, dry brush my skin, then oil it up. The last part of this set of morning habits is meditation. I’ve learned that if I don’t sit in meditation first, I probably will skip it. And if I don’t sit in meditation in my bathroom, I will get too distracted when I leave.
So I’m sitting on the floor of my bathroom, wrapped in a big towel to make me warmer. I close my eyes and lean against the wall, when all of a sudden, so hands grab my towel and rip it open. A blast of cold air hits my chest while my older daughter climbs onto my lap. My younger daughter starts to cry because she wants to be on my lap but she can’t fit with an 8 year old taking up all of the space. So my older daughter scoots over, putting all of her weight on my right knee and hip. With my eyes still closed, I reach for my toddler and pull her onto my lap. She is still crying. I am cold, my knee hurts, and I have zero personal space, but I keep my eyes firmly shut and breathe.
Then, my older daughter decides to try to make everything better by tickling her sister, who squeals with delight or agony. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
So now, my meditation is a bit of a joke and I want to scream or cry or both. I am cold, in pain, and frustrated.
Still, I take 5 more breaths before opening my eyes, evicting the occupants of my lap, and heading out into my living room where I get ready for hot water, writing, and movement. This is the second part of my morning routine and it was interrupted by requests for breakfast, cuddles, an odd tantrum or 2, and a poopy diaper.
This is what my mornings look like most days.
And that doesn’t stop me from doing the things I consider to be self-care, which is all of it.
Well, all of the me stuff, anyway.
I love my morning self-care practices.
And also, most days that self-care is hard work.
Some days I really don’t want to do any of it. I want to stay in bed. Or I’d like to skip meditation and scroll aimlessly on instagram instead.
Sometimes I get super annoyed that I have to share my space with my kids. I get frustrated with how loud it is during my meditation or that my writing is interrupted by a fight or that my youngest runs directly at me while I have my heavy weights lifted overhead.
And I still do it all, most days because if I didn’t take care of myself with these practices, it would be so much worse.
When I do these essential parts of my morning routine, I always feel better.
Even when it’s hard.
I think we have this idea that self-care is supposed to be easy.
Part of this has to do with the idea that self-care is restorative by nature. When I say “restorative” I mean gentle. But self-care comes in all shapes and sizes to fit a variety of needs for all people.
I think we also assume that self-care should be easy because if self-care is hard work, it must not be natural for us and in that way, not what will best support us.
This is also a false narrative about self-care.
Sometimes self-care is natural and easy. Like for example, some people can drop and take a nap pretty much on a dime. This is my husband, actually. But me? I can’t. Resting is hard for me. Meditation is also hard for me. And it’s also super good for my body and my brain. So even though it’s not easy or particularly natural, I do it everyday to help bring some much needed balance to my life.
I think there’s also sometimes some confusion about the difference between the act of self-care, generally and the actions that make a specific habit stick. When it comes to habits and by extension, self-care, the conventional wisdom tells you that if a habit isn’t easy, you won’t do it.
There is a lot of truth to this.
However, this is more in terms of specific habits, not self-care itself.
So for example, it’s easier to do 2 minutes of meditation than 20.
It’s easier to run up and down the block everyday than it is to run a 5k everyday.
The habits themselves have to start in small, simple incremental actions rather than huge, difficult actions.
Reaching for low hanging fruit versus climbing the to the top of tree.
That said, self-care as a practice requires consistency and constant attention. That requires a little bit of work.
Let me make it easy and give you the 3 D’s of daily self-care:
Determination means that even if things get in your way, you will make your self-care a priority. It’s the unwillingness to give up just because it’s hard.
Discovery is about staying open to play. Sometimes you have to move things around to make your habits flow in the best order. Some days require a different flow than other days. You can mix things up and still be consistent with your self-care.
Dedication means you are committed not only to the habit but to yourself. This means that the habit itself is slightly less important than your WHY or how you want to feel. This gives you a little leeway on the harder days. Does it feel better to do your typical 20 minute movement practice or does it feel just as good to get on your mat and have a dance party. Or a savasana party? Dedication simply means listening to yourself and modifying your habit based on your needs.
Knowing the 3 D’s of self-care can give you the tools to make the hard work of self-care a little easier. Or a little more manageable. If nothing else, hopefully they give more clarity to what is required of you when it comes to self-care and why what you do, as well as how you do it, matters.
If you skipped all the way to the bottom, here’s what I want you to take away:
Self-care is hard work. You are also worth the work.