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Real Self Care is Not a Massage

A massage, a day off, dinner out, a nice foamy bath ... these are ways that we are told over and over again as ways to give ourselves self care... have a hard day, take some two pills of self care and call me in the morning. What happens when the usual prescription for self care is just not enough? We might regularly go for a walk, get a massage, meditate - daily, weekly, monthly... and yet, our stress continues, each day is harder and harder and no amount of self care seems to help. Our health suffers, we gain weight, we lose weight, our hair might fall out. What if it's not the types of self care offerings we do or how often, but what we do with the rest of our time that is the true self care we require?

It's no secret that I lead a busy life. At the moment, I hold technically 3 jobs, working a minimum of 50 hours a week. Recently, I had a more than usual stressful week. One of my jobs is as a Pastor of a local church, and for some reason, this particular week required a lot of extra pastoral care meetings. So many others were having painful, confusing, and stressful weeks as well, and as their pastor, I met with many to hear what they were going through and hold it sacred as we prayed and looked for understanding at all that was going on. This combined with my other work and basically life in general (including an incident where my dog was attached while we were on a walk), I found myself on Friday with a stomach ache. I've never had stress physcially get to me in this way, but it was so bad that I couldn't eat. By lunch time, I decided to cancel the rest of my meetings that day and pretty much rest and do nothing. I found that I ended up in a brain fog stuper for another 24 hours after that. By Sunday, I still wasn't 100% myself, but I was getting there.

I'm one of those people that read a lot of self help books - almost all of them toting ideas on self care and spewing off rhetoric like taking time for yourself is not selfish and the importance of self care. This particular stressful week, I tried to do all the self care items I could - took a walk with my dog (4 times - with one of them resulting in my dog getting attacked), made sure to find time for exercise, went out with friends, read a book, you name it, I was doing it. No amount of so called self care was going to make up for the fact that I was just plain exhausted. The reality is - acts of self care take time and energy, and while those acts can be helpful in creating some sort of balance in ones life, they are not what we truly need. In hindsight, I reflected on true self care that could have made a difference, and it's not something that can be done after the fact, when we are burnt out, stressed to the point where we are physically ill, or unable to ta

ke on anything more. It seems to me that true self care is preventative care and these items are things I know to be true when I do them, are easy to skip over when life seems to be going smoothly and so we think to ourselves that we don't need to do these things. In hindsight, we always see where this preventative self care is more crucial to our wellbeing than crisis self care acts.

Check your addicitions:

Humans are wired for addiction - good and bad - some addictions are healthy (like running), others are not (like drugs and alcohol). For me, one of my unhealthy addictions is my phone. I often tell people I don't have time for ___________ (fill in the blank), but the reality is, I spend, on average, 4 hours and 45 minutes on my phone - playing games, scrolling Facebook, texting. Nearly 5 hours of my 24 hour day, wasted on activities that does not serve me well.

Choose healthy food:

I have learned over the last few years that food has no morals - it is not bad or good - food is simply fuel, and some of it is healthier and serves our body better than other foods. When we eat food that serves our body better, giving us more balance, we might be able to better handle the rest that life throws at us. When we eat foods that make us feel bad - for me that is often high fat and salty foods or large amounts of candy - our brains aren't at their sharpest, our bodies feel sick, lathargic, energy might be low, etc. Eating balanced foods, prioritizing protein, fiber, drinking water gives us a fighting chance at tackeling life's obstacles. When I find myself stressed, I often try to notice what kinds of food have I been fueling my body with - am I eating foods that contribute to my stress? When I eat healthier options, I more often notice that I am not as stressed, and my mood is better.


For someone who is generally capable and can do many things, often at the same time, boundaries often become illusive to me. However, boundaries are critical to preventing stress from taking place. Many times, for those with little to no boundaries, when we begin to put boundaries in place, people do not understand why we no longer say yes as easily or agree to push ourselves to the edge and beyond for other people. Because of this, it's hard to put true boundaries into place - we go back on what we say because we want to please others, we flex our boundaries, letting little things slide on through until suddenly, our boundaries are no longer there and what happens? We become stressed and stretched too thin once again.

This life we are given is so very short - why do we spend it trying to please others, working ourselves so far to the edge or over that we are literally killing ourselves. It's not like anything I'm saying is new to anyone who is reading this, I'm sure. It occurs to me that sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that it's ok to take care of ourselves first. I'm not saying that we need to find time for that bubble bath...we need to instead create the time through balance. If we don't, then what we will find is a continual cycle of work and burn out.

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