I’ve discovered a lot about self-care in the years since I wrote my book, Self-Care Strategies for Family Caregivers. We need different things in our lives at different times or circumstances. Sometimes the most caring thing we can do for ourselves is to sit with our feelings, to be self-compassionate, or to take a well-deserved nap.
There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for self-care but one thing I’m confident in saying is that self-care is NOT self-indulgent! Even though the wellness industry (and yes, it is an industry!) has lots to sell us that passes as self-care, I cling to my definition of what self-care genuinely is:
Some of the nuances related to self-care that have percolated up to my attention in recent months include these three levels of self-care pursuit. They build on each other, much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (you remember that triangle diagram?) assumes that until basic needs are met, higher level needs cannot begin to be a priority – well, it’s that way with self-care too! Here’s my three levels:
- Assuring baseline needs are met (like Maslow’s lower levels) – things like preventative healthcare screenings, regular dental care, sufficient sleep, healthy food choices, hydration, hygiene, etc. If we’re not tending to these basic self-care needs (and let’s face it, no one is going to brush your teeth for you!) then, we can expect that our general health and well-being is on a path for self-destruction – NOT where you want to be!!
I have known caregivers who are so focused on the needs of others that their own well-being not only suffered, but completely deteriorated simply because of this sort of self-neglect. Tending to the basics is essential, and if you’re not able to do that, you may need professional assistance. Consider what you’ve let slide and take heed that the inability to care for yourself at the most basic level may indicate a mental/emotional health dilemma that must be addressed!
- Allowing for “improvement” needs – this could include any arena of life where you could do better or be better or feel better. I like using a wellness wheel or a holistic model for this pursuit. I have no idea where/when I found this, but here’s the framework I have used for years. It helps me remember to look after my own needs in a variety of life-arenas:
- Brain – intellectual well-being, feeding curiosity, asking good questions, etc.
- Body – clearly your expertise lies here, with exercise, healthy eating, physical health.
- Being – spiritual, or soul-nourishing pursuits; music, poetry, socializing, nature, time with pets, etc.
- Time – an opportunity to audit your calendar – it often reflects our priorities! Is your time going where you want/need it to be spent (or invested)?
- Money – (like you said, about tax time) an opportunity to see where our “treasure” is going – again, are the priorities that matter most being well attended to? Is there a need for reappointment or new goal setting?
- Relationship – both intimate relationships and more distant ones, taking time to assess them, their value, their need for greater (or lesser) investment in the future.
- Asking about “longing” needs – what do you hope for the future, long for as a possibility in your life, imagine as a rich way to nurture your body-mind-spirit? Often these “needs” feel far too distant or impossible to pursue. And we rarely get to them until the first two categories are well served. But when we do have time/energy/bandwidth to address them, they offer rich rewards.
I urge you to consider if it is time to give your self-care plan a “Spring Tune-Up” and see where you might have opportunity to make sure you’re managing the basics, spend time on assessing the wholeness of you (where could you use more attention, introspection, or change?) and finally, asking yourself what you long for and how you might add some of those deep, heart-felt wishes into your life as well.
I know I’ll be doing this for myself this spring, I invite you to take this journey with me and honor your needs with a generous dose of self-care and compassion!