I recently spent a lazy Sunday walking on the beach with just me, myself and I for company. No plans, no schedule. This is a fairly new ritual that I've termed ‘Self Care Sunday’. In essence, after a long week in NYC where most of my working day is structured and scheduled down to a fine degree, Sunday’s are mine for the taking.
Sometimes I spend the day without leaving my apartment, mostly lying vertically whilst simultaneously taking a deep dive into a good book. Other Sunday’s are spent in a whirl of physical activity; yoga, hiking or just tearing around the city on foot. And then there are those gluttonous long and lazy brunches spent with friends and a side of pancakes.
What I choose to do for the day varies wildly but what matters is that for one day of the week I become utterly selfish, catering to those needs that have been sidelined by the never-ending work week.
Some may say that this type of behavior is just that, selfish, but I beg to differ. For me, it is the practice of self-care. A vital, if somewhat overlooked practice. True self-care is about honoring ourselves, nurturing our inner desires and wrapping it all up with a big ribbon of self-love. Hugely beneficial not only for my mental health, but for everyone around me,
We only need look to our own bodies to see self-care in action. Dr. Andrew Weil duly noted that “Each time the heart beats; it first pumps blood to itself, then to the rest of the body. It has to work this way in order for us to stay alive.” He continued, “The same is true for us as human beings. We have to take care of ourselves first, so we can take care of others.”
Yet somewhere along the way this message got away from us. There is a very real and direct pressure to be everything to everyone; our children, our spouse, our boss, our parents, our community. Their needs somehow run paramount to ours and we give, give and give until we are running on empty, leaving only the fumes for ourselves.
But who wants to live on fumes? Certainly not me. As a former giving addict, I know all too well the thought process that occurs when something is expected of you that you don't have the time or wherewithal to give; yet the guilt at saying no propels you into saying yes. “I’ll just suck it up for today” “I really wanted to sleep in this morning but I’ll get up early to keep him happy” or the classic “Anything for an easy life”. But is it really? Does taking one for the team make it any easier on you?
What I’ve found with this type of relentless giving behavior is that after a while the virtuosity and general good vibes that accompany the good-girl-who-never-says-no begin to fade away. And guess what slides into its place? That’ll be resentment and anger. “I cant believe she suckered me into this again” “Why doesn't he just hire a moving company the cheap bastard” and on, and on.
I’m not advocating that we don't help others, which really would be selfish behavior. What I’m saying is that we need to re-frame this concept of constant giving without any taking and call it for what it is. Being a martyr. It is of vital importance that we factor in the time and commitment to take care of ourselves, for how we choose to treat ourselves provides a model for others in how to treat us.
For those who by now are screaming at the screen “It’s alright for you to swan off to the beach on a whim but I’ve got two kids to deal with” lets back up for a moment. Lets get really clear on what self-care is and more importantly, what it isn’t.
Self-care is not a form of self-indulgence. It’s not choosing to spend an entire day at the spa being fed chocolate covered strawberries (well if that’s your thing and you can afford it, go right ahead). Self-care is actually taking mindful action to counteract the emotional or physical stresses of your life. For example, if you are regularly sleep-deprived; having a lie-in. If your diet consists of grabbing a ready meal from the supermarket; making a healthy dinner from scratch. If your exercise routine consists of walking to the car and back; going for a long walk.
The point is that it’s not about pure indulgence for the sake of indulging. Inhaling a pint of ice-cream might feel good at the time but the remorseful pangs which follow negate even the greatest sugar high. It’s about giving ourselves what we actually need at that moment, not what we are craving. Having our own back, if you will.
For me, living and working in a busy city means that it’s important for me to get out into nature, even if it’s just a walk in the park. Ultimately this tends to do more for me in the long-term than heeding a desire to stick a straw into the nearest bottle of wine and guzzle away.
Another form of self-care is to have a cook-a-thon on Sunday and prepare my lunch meals for the week. Seems like a small gesture but upon opening my lunch each day, the knowledge that I took the time to tend to my baseline needs never fails to bring a smile to my face.
People approach self-care in different ways but ultimately it’s a very simple practice. I like to think of it as treating myself as my own best friend. In today’s society which is primarily fixated on consuming this and clicking on that, there is actually very little narrative concerning caring for your own needs.
Yet it is precisely in taking the time to look after our needs that sends such an important, if subliminal, message to ourselves. A message that states that it’s ok to receive what you want in life, in fact, its more than ok, it’s essential.
Victoria Cox currently resides in NYC. She has written for Amanda de Cadenet's "The Conversation", Tiny Buddha, Elephant Journal, LifeHack, The Lady Project, Dumb Little Man and The Numinous. You can connect with her on her website (www.thevictoriacox.com) or on Instagram (@vcox23).