I thought twice about using the word self-care in this update. The concept of self-care has been watered down to be synonymous with bubble baths, white wine, and chocolate cake.
For some, self-care serves as a self-issued permission slip to engage in unhealthy behaviors. With this permission, we can consume as much chocolate and wine as we want, so long as we call it self-care. There’s nothing wrong with chocolate and wine of course. The issue is when we use these substances to numb rather than engage in healthier behaviors that improve our lives long term.
Real self-care isn’t something that will make your problems go away for a few hours. It’s something that will make your life better today AND five years from now. Self-care can look like creating a budget or following up on a job interview. It’s turning off Netflix and getting outside to hike with a friend. Self-care can also look like a daily journaling and meditation practice.
Bubble baths are nice and all, but real self-care means getting your life to a point where you don’t have to drown your daily life in bubbles and wine. It’s having energy and peace of mind so that you’re not dependent on coffee to get through the day and bourbon to get through the night. It means being proactive with your finances so you don’t go into debt when your car needs new tires or your AC goes out. Real self-care is learning to say no, setting boundaries, and investing in relationships that lift you up as opposed to tear you down. It means embracing personal development activities that nurture your mind, body, and spirit. Real self-care is the daily habit of building a life you don’t need to escape from.
What is self-care?
There’s no one size fits all formula for self-care. We all have different wiring, perspectives, lifestyles, and priorities. For example, almost all of my hobbies are physical activities: camping, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and more. Because of this, I spend more time on physical forms of self-care. I wouldn’t expect most people to invest as much time into their daily fitness routine.
Not to mention that we’re all at different places on our journey in terms of free time and flexibility. I wouldn’t expect a mom of seven to invest the same amount of time into caring for her needs as I do. That’s not to say she shouldn’t carve out some time. She’ll be able to better serve her family when she takes better care of herself. That might simply look like getting up 30 minutes earlier to read and enjoy her coffee.
Before you dive headfirst into a new self-care practice, think about why you’re doing it. What are you looking to gain? What’s the goal?
I’ve experienced first-hand how I can do better when I feel better. I didn’t grow up with the healthiest habits. As I slowly changed my lifestyle, I noticed that I was also becoming a better wife, friend, coach, and consultant.
Additionally, quality of life is important to me. I want to be able to do all the things I enjoy today when I’m 103, That’s why I take living a healthy lifestyle so seriously.
Part of that healthy lifestyle is my emotional health. As I slowly heal my inner world, I’m learning how to love my spouse, myself, and my friends a whole lot better. And I’m starting to see that self-love is a necessary piece to healing this broken world. Journaling has played an important role in this process.
When creating your self-care routine, you’ll also want to consider how you’ll schedule it into your day. Remember, this isn’t the one and done ice cream and wine after a bad day style of self-care. These are consistent daily habits that help keep you grounded today while creating a better future. Consistency and simplicity are key.
I like to bookend my day with self-care. My day starts with a morning routine that you can read about here. When I’m consistent—I’m admittedly weaker at night—I end my day with reading and meditation. I use physical activity to break up the day: to either spend time with my spouse, reset when I feel stuck, or boost my energy when I feel drained.
Before we move on, think about what you want your self-care practice to look like. Why it’s important to you. And how you’ll fit it into your busy life.
Journaling for Self-Care
We’ve all heard the benefits of journaling. But let’s be honest, there are so many things that are supposed to be good for you, and so little time. It’s hard to know which self-care practices are worth making time for.
I started my formal journaling practice on March first, 2018 after returning from a long-awaited Hawaiian adventure. I had a case of the post-vacation blues and couldn’t take one more week of the never-ending winter that crescendoed with a mid-April blizzard. I’d tried to journal in the past but never stuck with it. But I was desperate so I decided to commit to just 30 days.
As I write this, I just started my eleventh journal. Needless to say, it’s been helpful in so many ways. It helps me get the worry, clutter, and negative thoughts out of my mind and on the page so I can go on with the rest of my day. Journaling has encouraged me to tear open and heal wounds that I’ve been shoving down and ignoring for close to 40 years. It’s brought clarity to my life, business, and relationships. It’s been a wonderful way to brainstorm, plan, and make the swirling thoughts in my head make sense.
When I write my thoughts, they often take the shape of a story. There’s an intro, a struggle, the journey, a resolution, and an end. But when I’m ruminating and stuck in my head I usually get caught in the struggle. Journaling helps me inspect my problems from a different perspective. Writing allows me to bring out things that I’m unlikely to share with someone one on one.
If you’re going to start journaling, be sure to approach it the right way. I recently read the book, Insight, by Tasha Eurich and was shocked to discover that much of what we have come to believe about journaling is wrong. For example, when people write extensively about positive life events, they show “less personal growth, self-acceptance, and well-being.”
According to Eurich, we can get more from journaling when we “explore the negative [through expressive writing] and [don’t] overthink the positive.” She goes on to share a study by Psychologist James Pennebaker. “Pennebaker and his colleagues have shown that people who engage in expressive writing have better memories, higher grade point averages, less absenteeism from work, and quicker re-employment after job loss.”
It’s also important to consider writing about both the factual AND emotional aspects of the ideas we’re exploring. Many people tend to use journaling as an emotional dump. According to research, that doesn’t foster growth. We must explore both the details and the feelings behind our situation.
Eurich’s final tip is to journal in moderation. This isn’t easy for me since I usually have something important to write about. But this advice has helped me let go of guilt when I miss a day or two.
Keep in mind that she’s coming at the topic of journaling with the intention to improve self-awareness. So take this advice with a grain of salt and use it to create a journaling practice that works best for you and your goals.
What to Journal About
The answer to the question—what should I journal about?—is another question. What are you trying to accomplish?
The answer to that question has changed many times over my 28 months of journaling. I’ll go through periods where I’m processing things and writing out a story. Other times I’ll work through activities and reflections from a book I’m reading. Sometimes I’m brainstorming and reflecting on a specific question or issue.
During the in-between times, I have an evolving flow that I’ve adapted from The Five Minute Journal, The Holistic Psychologist’s Future Self Journal, and other random books I’ve read. As much as this flow has changed over the years, it has always started by listing everything I’m grateful for and ends with an affirmation or intention.
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that there is no one size fits all approach. So start experimenting with what you think will work best for you. And when you’re no longer feeling it, don’t be afraid to change it.
Not a fan of writing?
First and foremost, be assured that no one needs to read this, not even you. A lot of anxiety about writing is simply worrying about proper spelling and grammar. This doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who sees it. Just do the best you can and write as you talk.
And don’t be afraid to try other technologies. Try a speech to text application. Use a voice recorder or make a video. It’s all about finding what works for you.
Writing your thoughts is a wonderful way to find clarity and declutter your mind. It will help you to decrease stress and increase mental function. And it will be a welcome addition to your self-care practice.