How do you practice self-care? There was a time when I thought that self-care was just doing something that made me happy or comforted me during a flare. Turns out I was wrong! While self-care can be pleasurable, there is a lot more to it and it’s not always pleasant. Today I share why we need to focus on all forms of self-care and not just the ones that make us happy.
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What is considered self-care?
Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health and the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
Self-care may look different from one person to the next, but we should have the same end goal of improving our physical and/or mental health. Ways to do this are through personal hygiene, exercising, eating healthy, pacing ourselves, resting before we completely exhaust ourselves, napping when needed, following a schedule, adhering to a treatment plan, listening to our bodies, etc.
Some other ways of practicing self-care are to care for our mental health by allowing ourselves a night or afternoon out with friends/family to laugh and let loose a little. While not often fun or exciting, dealing with issues that are creating extra stress and anxiety in our lives is a must. The longer we let things go, the more impact they have on our lives and health.
One of my favorite forms of self-care is to spend time at the beach. Sitting in the sand and listening to the waves crash soothes my soul and body. Going for walks and eating healthy meals used to feel like a form of punishment, but in the past year and a half they have become my number one form of self-care.
What isn’t self-care?
Self-care is not a punishment! If it feels like one, it may be time to reevaluate why you believe it is. Instead of thinking of cutting out or reducing how much comfort or junk food you eat as a punishment, consider what that food is doing to your body. I found that the foods I was finding comfort in were actually contributing to my pain and fueling my chronic illnesses. Once I was able to accept that I was responsible for some of my downtime and pain, I was able to see choosing healthier options in a different light. I am not suggesting that I never indulge, but that when I do I call it what it is: an indulgence, NOT self-care.
Self-care isn’t about creating more pain, anguish, stress, or health problems. Another reason that comforting myself with food isn’t a form of self-care is because it often leads to weight gain. Gaining weight won’t help my chronic illnesses, in fact, it will just add more stress as I attempt to rid my body of it. To be clear, I am not saying that weight loss will cure me, but that instead, my body will be under less stress. I don’t care if you have one or fifty chronic illnesses, consistently choosing to eat poorly and adding more health issues is never the answer.
Self-care isn’t about avoiding confrontation just because it is uncomfortable. Self-care is standing and speaking up for yourself when necessary. Self-care is caring for, protecting, and improving your mental and physical health. Don’t stop caring for your heart and lungs just because your ovaries, kidney, muscles, or joints decide to be assholes. You need all the strength you can muster up to face your chronic illnesses every day!
How to know if your form of self-care is constructive or destructive
The best way to determine whether or not your form of self-care is constructive or destructive is to observe what happens afterwards. If you spent the night puking in the bathroom and can’t lift your head from your pillow after an evening out drinking with friends, it is safe to say that you weren’t practicing self-care. There is nothing wrong with going out with friends if you are up to it, but you don’t have to drink alcohol. Wouldn’t you have rather enjoyed laughing with your friends then going home for a good night’s sleep and be able to get up and do something else the next day? Did your favorite comfort food force you to spend the afternoon on the toilet? Unless you were severely constipated, there is no way to call it self-care.
Not everything you do will improve your life at that moment or at all, but a sign that what you are doing is a form of self-care is that it didn’t make your life worse! Sure maybe standing up to your doctor or removing an abusive person from your life may feel stressful or painful for a moment, but in the long run your life will improve. Eating a healthy meal may not decrease your pain, but over time you will feel better than if you were consistently eating foods that fueled your chronic pain.
Take some time and think about how you are practicing self-care. Can you identify what needs to change? If not, try keeping a journal detailing how you practice self-care and your results. If you see a pattern of destruction following some of your favorite forms, it may be time to make some changes.
Don’t know where to start? Check out my eBook Make Pain Your Bitch: How to Dominate Your Chronic Life. In it, I share many of the changes I made in my chronic life and challenge you to acknowledge and make changes that will better your life.
Is how you practice self-care improving your life?
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Making Chronic Pain My Bitch with The Disabled Diva: Where we discuss ways to reduce and cope with chronic pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis, endometriosis, and other painful chronic illnesses.