I'm still kind of new to coaching, but already I can draw one conclusion about most of my clients: they need to make self-care more of a priority. At some point in our coaching relationship, I ask every client what they do for self-care. Most of the time they laugh. Or tell me with some exasperation that they don’t have time for self-care. I see this problem among my friends, and I must confess that I often put self-care at the bottom of my priority list. But I have learned from experience that this is a mistake. When I don’t take care of myself, mentally and spiritually as well as physically, I tend to do a bad job fulfilling my responsibilities to everyone else.
Of course, there’s often confusion about what constitutes self-care. The obvious self-care is the physical: eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, tending to personal hygiene. But caring for your mental and spiritual well-being is just as important. Many people have this idea that self-care must necessarily be time-consuming and expensive--like spending a half day at the spa. And of course, a spa day is a form of self-care. But there are lots of other forms of self-care that don’t require a huge investment in time and resources.
Self-care also varies from person to person. To tell you the truth, a spa day is not high on my list of favorite self-care activities, but going for my morning walk is. Spending that hour alone with my thoughts out in nature helps rejuvenate my spirit. So does keeping a stash of dark chocolate in the house; I can grab a piece or two on stressful days. In recent years, practicing yoga twice a week has become a non-negotiable element of my self-care.
Self-care can be dinner out with girlfriends. Or reading a novel instead of something required for work. One of my friends thinks of running as essential self-care. That’s the time when she unplugs from social media and all her responsibilities; it feeds her spirit. Another friend loves to knit. Some love regular meditation or prayer. One friend recently took up African drumming, and she sees that as an important element of her self-care. It helps her connect to something playful and creative deep inside herself.
Artist and writer Julia Cameron, the author of several bestselling books on the creative process,* urges her readers to make a weekly “artist date”—an hour or two set aside to do something that feeds the creative side of the self. She describes it as a “once a week solo expedition to do something fun.” I don’t always manage a weekly artist date, but I do make it a point to go on these dates pretty regularly. They can vary: it might be a trip to the local art museum or an hour spent browsing my favorite gift shop or going to hear an author read at the local bookstore. Artist dates feel like self-care to me.
Last week, I read a great analysis of self-care in an article on parenting in The Washington Post. Parent-coach Meghan Leahy wrote:
True self-care means not only placing your physical and emotional needs on your list of things to do, but also using them as a compass for your life. Without self-care, you are a martyr, living from moment to moment. You are bouncing through life like a pinball, sometimes a winner, often a loser. You feel as though life is hurting you, and you don’t feel empowered to make decisions. This can cause you to resent your children and your partner. You resent work when you are there and home when you are there. Your future is bleak, and you may be perpetually tired. Self-care is the glue that keeps you together.
Next time you tell yourself that you’re too busy to indulge in some self-care, I challenge you to take a step back and remind yourself that you can’t afford NOT to spend some time on self-care. Make that self-care a priority in your life. And I hope you’ll share your favorite form of self-care here.
* Cameron’s most recent book, one of several which discusses the power of the artist date, is It”s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond (Tarcher/Perigee, 2016).