I have always struggled with how to do self-care well. I don’t have all the right answers, but I am slowly learning what self-care really means.
I struggle with burnout. During the endless days of family responsibilities, housework, meal planning and cooking, volunteering and actually working at my two jobs, being a sane person is an elusive goal. When I looked around to see how other people did self-care, I saw a lot of friends used meditation apps to help them relax, others would take baths or pamper themselves with manicures and pedicures. Others yet would go out for dinner and have that perfect meal. Even though those are wonderful ideas, I could never quite figure out why that didn’t work for me. It seemed that scheduling “me time” was one more thing on my already long to do list.
It wasn’t until I read a parenting article that talked about the difference between self-care and self-maintenance, that I understood. (I wish I could find it again and give the author credit.) Interestingly, when you search for an article on self-care and parenting, all of the ones you find talk about how important self-care is for good parenting! But the question was still nagging at me—how do you do self-care well? What is actually self-care if taking a bubble bath will just not do it? Or if you think that there are not enough bubble baths in your whole lifetime to make up for the burnout?
And this is where my eyes were opened to a new way of self-care. The author of the article was writing to new parents, who are the most burned-out of all of us. She said that actions like taking a shower, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, eating, and getting your hair cut are not, in fact, actions of self-care. They are instead actions of self-maintenance.
She went on to say that self-care is very different from self-maintenance.
Self-care is something you do to actually feed your physical, mental and psychological well-being. The difference is in how your actions feed your soul or just maintain your day to day functioning.
What that means to me is that we are all different in what works as self-maintenance or self-care for each one of us.For me, working out is an action of self-maintenance, not self-care. So is taking my vitamins, and making sure my clothes are clean. What truly is self-care for me, what truly feeds me is very different: a time alone away from other people, absence of noise around me so I can think, reading a book on a topic I am interested in, going to a Taizé service, gardening, and spending time in nature. Today, I spent the whole morning cleaning out our garage to get it ready for the winter. As mush as it made me tired, it was an act of self-care. You see, every time I walked through the garage, I was overwhelmed by the lack of time and energy I had to work on it. But now that it is done, I have the good feeling of satisfaction that even though I am busy, I was able to find time to work on it and now it is off my list and not making me anxious anymore.
I am also learning that recognizing my burnout when it happens, saying no, and not apologizing for not being able to be everything to everyone are also acts of self-care. I feel more in charge of the choices I make daily to not just maintain, but feed my soul.
Does this distinction between self-care and self-maintenance resonate with you? What truly feeds your soul?