Learn how to take care of yourself. 9 uplifting and inexpensive ways to treat your body and soul
In front of me sits one of my coaching clients, ready to figuratively sign the sacred contract and give me permission to enter her inner world.
Before we start, I am struck with how brave she is to show up in this way, walking straight into the unknown with me. Most of all, I just want to walk over, embrace her warmly, and hold the hug forever and ever. I smile at myself, how I am filled with so much compassion and empathy before we have even begun.
She starts with sharing her recent challenges and frustrations – the specifics of this our sacred bond forbids me to recite – and I start with listening. She doesn't know it yet, but I am listening on several levels at once.
I am listening to her words, carefully taking notes when my heart gives me notice that something feels important or significant.
Simultaneously, I am listening to her feelings, her body, her soul, her depth. I am listening, not so much for what she is saying, but for what she is not. It is in the tone of her voice, her pauses, her body language and the choice of words that I get most of my clues.
My job is to be the mirror of her voice, to give words to what she isn't saying, to see what she is trying to hide – and to connect the dots and look for the patterns.
At some point in our conversation, she touches upon self-care. Briefly, she mentions it in a sentence about something else, but it feels significant somehow. It's not the first time in this conversation she uses the word, I notice. The first time I let it pass, but there's something about how she pronounces it this time that makes me instantly aware of the ambiguity of the concept. She speaks of it as if it's a foreign word, much like the way my grandmother would mention a strange new trend that she doesn't understand.
As if she's saying "Self-care. This thing I am supposed to do that I don't really see the meaning of."
"What is self-care?" I ask her.
She gives me "the look". We laugh.
For what is self-care really?
I'm not surprised by her reaction, most of all because I hold the same understanding of this weird concept that everyone is talking about, but none of us really seems to know how to do.
For what does self-care really mean? And what is it not? Isn't almost everything we do self-care in one way or the other?
Is self-care universal?
When I think of self-care I think of taking hot baths, eating healthy food, going to yoga or exercise, meditation, sleeping well. It's personal hygiene, keeping out of self-destructive behaviors, taking responsibility for our health and putting yourself first.
I guess I am not alone in this.
But it's still vague.
Is taking a hot bath always self-care? Let's investigate.
Taking a bath after a really hectic day at the office is self-care. Right? Not taking the bath because you need to cook up a nourishing dinner instead? Also Self-care. Or isn't it? Not taking the bath, and eating take-out so you can go to bed early and catch up on some much needed sleep? Self-care? I think yes, but who knows. Taking a bath when you really want a shower? Could be self-care, could be something else entirely. Canceling all your appointments to take 5 long baths in a row? Not necessarily self-care. (But it could be!)
Self-care is fulfilling your needs
It seems like what makes something self-care can change over time. Something that feels like self-care one day may not be in your best interest on the next.
What makes something self-care then, seems to be reliant on what you need in that given moment. And that's what I would like to argue. Self-care is making sure your needs are met.
Self-care is the practice of treating yourself with enough respect that you honor and fulfill your own needs as they arise.
Sounds simple, but can be extremely complicated. According to this, practicing self-care isn't following a simple recipe, or a list you found online somewhere. It requires you to go into yourself and ask yourself the scary and sometimes bewildering question:
What do I really need right now?
It's not easy to get a clear answer to this question, and at least in my experience, when you do get a clear answer it is often highly inconvenient. My body usually needs to rest when my calendar is full, a green juice when my mind wants pizza, or a good cry when I am in a public and very embarrassing situation. Go figure.
There's no wonder it is easier to choose the known and familiar path of self-destruction over the vague and sometimes troublesome road of good self-care.
And that's just about covering your basic needs.
Self-care is a practice you will never finish
What would happen in your relationships – or in your job – if you only ever fulfilled the bare minimum of what is needed?
I am guessing that your friendships would eventually break under the weight of the modern day life and that you would have a relatively safe job (optimistically speaking) without much opportunity of advancing your career.
I would argue that the same applies to self-care and self-love.
A good and loving relationship with yourself, not to mention the job you hold as your own primary caretaker depends on your ability to deliver more than the bare minimum.
Approach it the same way your would approach a relationship or a job:
Identify and fulfill needs before they even arise. Underpromise and overdeliver. Be consistent and trustworthy. Go above and beyond. Give of your time.
...you know the drill.
Most of us – including you – are more than capable of taking care of others, not to mention much more capable of taking care of others, than ourselves.
I'd like to put a twist on the golden rule most often attributed to Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Do to YOURSELF as you would have yourself do to OTHERS.
In other words, think about how you would treat someone you love, respect and care about – and treat yourself in the same way.
Emphasis on treat.
A good way of taking your self-care to this extra level is to treat yourself. Dictionaries are good for finding meanings of the words, but only you know what the word "treat" means to you.
Most people, however, seem to think that treating yourself is something that needs to cost lots of money. Not true. Just like treating a friend to something special doesn't have to cost a fortune, treating yourself can be inexpensive and often free.
The true currency of self-care (and love) isn't money – it's time, compassion, attention and intention.
If you treat yourself as someone worthy of your time, care and attention, you will eventually start feeling like you are. Don't wait for the feeling to come first, lead and it will follow.
To kickstart your thoughts and give you some tips for inexpensive ways to treat yourself, I wrote a little list with different categories of treats. Use the list as inspiration, not as a guide.
9 uplifting and inexpensive ways to treat your body and soul
Do something warming
Especially in winter, a real treat can be to take a hot shower or bath, or to fill your hot water bottle and curl up under the covers. Light candles, use your fireplace, and cover yourself in warm fabrics such as wool, cashmere and layers of good cotton. It doesn't have to cost a fortune to treat yourself to quality fabrics – find a second hand and/or charity shop and you'll have plenty of good quality items to choose from.
Do something rich
By something rich, I don't mean something expensive, I mean to treat yourself to a self-massage using rich (and inexpensive) oils such as almond or coconut oil, to make a cup of dark chocolate hot cocoa, to make a DIY face mask out of avocado or honey, or to light a stick of woody incense such as cedar or palo santo.
Give yourself time
Time heals, but not in the way you think. Give yourself the gift of more time. A little more time in the morning so you have space to meditate, breathe, do some yoga or read the New York Times with your coffee? Or maybe your idea of luxury would be to have an extra hour at your lunch break, or an afternoon all to yourself? If you plan ahead, it is always possible to find a way to give yourself some extra time. More time to sleep? More time to breathe in-between your appointments. A little extra time in the shower tomorrow? You know what you need.
Choose small luxuries
When we think about living a luxurious life we usually think about having it all. This doesn't have to be the case! Treat yourself to one item that make you feel luxurious. One!
It can be a rich and oily hand-creme, a drop of amber or rose essential oil on your wrists and behind your ears, a small piece of good quality chocolate, doing your nails (or having them done, depending on your budget), a daily nap when everyone know and respect that these 20 minutes are mommy-time – you know what feels like luxury to you. Stick to one or a few thing and you will also appreciate it more. A tip: rotate your items of luxury so that you don't get used to them. What makes something feel lush is that element of mindfulness and gratefulness.
Enrich your senses
Treat yourself to small things that stimulate your senses. We often think about food when we think about treats, but focus on your other senses too.
Make a steamy cup of chai latte tea and drink it really mindfully focusing on the smell of the tea, the warmth of the mug, the look of the tea and the taste of it last. Or stimulate your sense of smell by ask for a perfume sample of your favorite new fragrance, use essential oils, burn incense or bake something that makes your whole house smell nice. Focus on your sense of touch by giving yourself a massage or a couple of sun salutations.
Rest and relax
In our busy lives, rest and rejuvenation is the ultimate treat. Sleep in, go to bed early or take an afternoon nap. If you really want to treat yourself to rest, I suggest trying yoga nidra or a restorative yoga class. Divine!
Focus on flow
You know that moment when you are working on something and you forget time and space the the hours just fly by? Flow is almost always a treat, even if what you're doing is work. Flow almost always happen for me when I am working on something visually creative, such as making graphics in photoshop, or making crafts with paper or yarn. Or when I am writing! A good tip is to read Flow by Mihali Csikszentmihalyi or listen to his TED-talk.
Have some fun
When was the last time you really had some fun? Thought so... It's time to treat yourself to a fun experience. Go dancing, or dance in your living room. Play games with your family or friends. Take a class or learn something new. Try geocaching or volunteering. Go to a free talk or event, visit a museum, or play with children or a pet. Enjoy yourself!
Nourish your body
A good way to treat yourself is to do something special with your nutrition, treat yourself to something really healthy like this abundance bowl, a green juice or a handful of fresh berries or fruit. Make healthy and juicy peaches or rich and nourishing nuts and seeds be your comfort food!
What is self-care for you? How do you treat yourself?