I was recently privileged to hear of a new year’s resolution from a close friend —
“Come home to myself.”
How ingenious, I excitedly thought, what a warm and cozy way of describing prioritizing self care.
Self care is a buzzword that has gained momentum steadily, and then explosively, over the last few years. You may not exactly know its Merriam-Webster definition, but you certainly know you need to be doing it, right? Well, I’ll break it down for you.
Self care refers to the act of caring for yourself. Sounds easy enough, right? But, briefly examined, it’s a murky, ephemeral concept at best. What constitutes self care? How do you know when you’re doing it? How much do you need? How much is too much?
Self care can be taking a shower and brushing your teeth, putting on an outfit that makes you feel good, leaving your house, staying home, doing something you’ve been putting off for weeks, eating a food you like, eating nutritious foods, exercising, resting, telling someone “no,” telling someone “yes,” nurturing a houseplant, watching the clouds roll across the sky, taking a bath, you name it. Self care’s intention is to make you feel good, wholesome, peaceful, productive, well.
Self care is about putting yourself first and prioritizing yourself, in whatever way that is meaningful to you, taking into account your feelings, goals, environment, and current state of being.
Self care can be doing all the above. And, I propose for the people pleasers among us, who seem to put all others before our own selves, self care can also be setting boundaries.
So many folks I know love to love. To take care of family, friends, and peers, to provide a good experience to customers, colleagues, and guests, to better the world, the community, and their family units. This is all great! I love knowing you folks, and take great pleasure in my relationships with you. I feel hungry for the same things that make you feel full. But, like most things, there are bounds on when that caring or caretaking behavior goes too far.
When these caretaking behaviors come at the expense of necessary life functions like eating, sleeping, and resting, or cause trouble at work, at home, or in relationships, or damage one’s health (including mental health!), wellbeing, or safety, those are often warning signs that a boundary is merited.
For example, if a job is contributing to feelings of burnout, misery, and a lack of sleep, it may be time to set a boundary there. If a relationship is adding stress, making one’s chest feel tight, and making one lose their appetite for food, it may be time to reevaluate. If an extracurricular activity is taking away time from healing hobbies, resting, and hygiene, it may be time to weigh whether that activity should continue to exist as it is in your life.
Life can feel like a balancing act. Sometimes we need to check out the balance and see if everything is fitting to our standards.
I know sometimes this feels easy to say but hard to do; simple but not easy; privileged. Absolutely, I don’t disagree with you. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot set a boundary, and must persist through the situation to get to the other side, such as if you’re doing accounting during tax season and need to put food on the table — I hear you. I’m mainly advocating for folks to pay more attention to their activities and relationships (with others and self) and how they balance that with wellbeing. Mindfulness is key here.
Maybe I cannot entirely cut out an exhausting, racist family member because it would cause huge ripples and implications for the family. But, I can limit my time in the room near them on holidays, talk with a close confidante about my feelings, monitor my negative self-talk about how I could be doing better in this situation, and take a long, hot bath afterwards.
How does this fit with Coming home to myself? In this instance, for fellow folks on the go, allowing yourself to return to a home base, wherever that might be, and letting go and relaxing into that space is ideal.
This can look like setting stricter boundaries around work and play: for example, if possible leaving work at work and creating a divide. This has been so hard for many folks, myself included, over this past year when work occurred at home. Here’s some examples of what this may look like:
- Having a dedicated work space, desk, area (or half of couch!)
- Leaving work materials in this area at the end of work or study
- Removing email notifications for your work account from your phone
- Not checking work email or messages outside of work hours
- Not responding to colleagues and coworkers until work hours
- Limiting time spent talking about work or ruminating on work, during leisure time
- Allowing yourself time to stand up, stretch, and move during a workday
- Pruning your schedule to allow for space of relaxation: no technology or screen time chunks, a dedicated lunch hour, scheduling in time for interests, activities, hobbies, and decompressing meditative spaces
I recognize not everyone is privileged to have a job that this may allow for. Please allow yourself to customize a plan for you (or we can discuss!) that might work accordingly. Allow yourself openness to consider what this may look like, and that implementing boundaries may, in fact, be possible more than you may previously have worried.
Another key component of implementing self care at home is to allow yourself to play.
The other day, I walked to the park to catch some of the sweltering 40-degree weather. I had ran out of socks so I had to wear sandals. I saw a decaying snow pile and beelined it, feeling like a maniac. I ended up climbing on the greying pile, and was delightfully reminded of my July travels up Mount Rainier, still covered in snow. I was wearing the same sandals that day. I closed my eyes, and almost felt like I was there. I allowed myself to laugh and jump around in the snow, and I’m sure I must have looked like a maniac. But who cares? I was having fun.
As I grow older, it’s pretty amazing to see the things that I am “allowed” to take with me into “mature adulthood” and the things I “should” leave behind.
There’s that word! The awful “should.” A prescriptive word that scripts me on what I am allowed to do with myself, my time, and my life. It’s difficult, suffocating.
Some of this work is ignoring the should. If I want to create a space that is filled to the brim with houseplants, I will. If I find it most relaxing to lie under a fuzzy blanket while I work, I will. If I relax after work by playing videogames and yelling at the TV, I will. If I take pleasure in drawing goofy pictures of dogs, I will. It’s so hard to combat the shoulds. As if I grow up one day, hit a certain age and begin liking the weather channel more than Spongebob. That’s fine, maybe it works for some people — great! And maybe it doesn’t happen for me — phenomenal. But as we continue to develop, practice excising yourself from the should.
Not all of your time has to be spent being productive.
Not all of your time has to be spent making money.
Not all of your time has to be spent caring for others.
You are allowed to say “no.”
You are allowed to create a space that brings you joy.
You are allowed to have relaxing time where absolutely nothing productive occurs.
You are allowed to do silly things to enjoy yourself.
You are allowed to pursue creative endeavors even if you absolutely suck at them.
You are allowed to pursue comfort.
You are allowed to put yourself first.
Sometimes, I want to lie on the sunlight on the floor and pretend I am a cat, or walk in the snow with sandals, or make an entire pot of hot cocoa for just myself. Sometimes, I want to cancel my plans so I can lie on the couch in a blanket burrito and kill a videogame that’s been in my backlog for months. Sometimes, I allow myself to open my journal, draw something stupid, and close it without having to perfectly label and date the page. Great!
Come home to yourself: you, unfettered, unbound, authentic. Allow yourself to pursue hobbies and interests. Allow yourself to have dedicated “me time.” Allow yourself to do nothing. Allow yourself to take the risk of doing something.
There is a bubbly, creative, excited, hopeful person inside you. They’re still there, despite all the shit and nonsense they’ve had to put up with from others, society, the environment. They’re still there, within a set of nesting dolls you’ve added onto yourself over the years. Take a look.