Six small steps for those who struggle with self-care


During a particularly challenging period in my parenting life, friends and family members pulled me aside and gently told me: you need to take care of yourself.

It drove me nuts.

I appreciated their concern, but from where I stood (at the bottom of a well), taking care of myself seemed like a frivolous luxury. I had no time, energy, or interest in pedicures and cappuccini. I was juggling multiple crises and they wanted me stop and get a massage?

Um, yeah, later.

Of course, they saw more than I was able to at the time. They saw my fuel gauge hovering near empty.

Fortunately, I had good people around me (including my husband) who wouldn’t take no for an answer. A year and a half, many conversations, much journaling, a therapist, a housecleaner, and a fitness boot camp later, I was back on my feet. (As I said a while back, everybody needs a supporting cast.) I now know that self-care was the only way I managed the challenges I was facing.

You need to care for yourself most when you feel least able to.

You know what’s scary? I didn’t realize I’d fallen down in the first place.

I’m now healthy, strong, and positive. I’m humbler and more easily spooked, perhaps — but I’m happy. Only now can I see how depleted I was during the time of my family’s hardship.

I tell you this to demonstrate that you, yes YOU, can care for yourself. You must. Self-care is not selfish, self-indulgent, or silly. It’s not only for those with hours and dollars to spare (because, really, who among us has that?).

You need to care for yourself most when you feel least able to. So don’t think about it anymore. Just follow my lead.

These are the six steps I took to build self-care into my life. You can do it, too, starting now.

1. Choose a single, small thing that, if you did it consistently, would make you feel better.

You get to define “feel better.” For me, it was taking a shower (like I said, small). If I could get up 15 minutes earlier each morning, and then spend it cleaning myself up (instead of cleaning the house or mindlessly Web surfing), I would hold my head a little higher all day.

2. Start.

When you’re depleted, it always feels easier to do nothing … or to beat yourself up for not starting. So skip that part and just start. Take the shower. Or floss your teeth. Or call your friend. Or walk around the block. Or read your magazine. Whatever that small thing is, do it for a week.

3. Restart.

You will falter. Life will blow up and you’ll lapse back into martyrdom. Ignore missteps and that scolding internal voice. Just restart. Do that one, small thing for seven days in a row.

4. Pause and acknowledge.

After a week, pause to be proud of yourself. You’ve just taken a huge step toward health and healing. Good on you! You did this. You’re brilliant.

5. Keep your eye on you.

Your friend’s friend takes care of herself by running half-marathons. You cousin goes on semi-annual yoga retreats. And you’re taking a shower? Before you berate yourself for starting small, keep in mind that this is your beginning. You’re just getting started. The momentum is building. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.

(I heard a version of that from John Acuff, author of Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job, at Blissdom ’12. It has stayed with me ever since.)

6. Expand and repeat.

Can you think of another small thing that would make you feel better? A date night with your partner, perhaps, or new underwear? (Hey, you buy it for the kids, why not you?) Keep it small and manageable. This isn’t a race to remake your life overnight. You’re building a habit. It can take as long as it needs to.

Let this be the summer of self-care. I won’t take no for an answer.

Christine and I have recorded some great podcasts about self-care. Have a listen.

Photo credit: Danielle MacInnes