I was listening to 1A on NPR Thursday morning, while plowing through an endless to-do list at work. The subject was self-care – the definition of self-care, how it has been co-opted by wellness marketing and branding, is self-care really self-care if the end goal is meeting some lofty beauty standard goal, how we hold space for ourselves in a busy, demanding world, how we hold space for others left out of traditional wellness practices.
The host asked the guests to list some of their own self-care practices, and so I took a moment to scratch out a few on a post-it note. I thought I’d use that framework to get back into the ritual of writing here on Saturdays – something that I miss when I don’t make the space for it. I have talked about many of these things before, so some of this might feel familiar or repetitive. I’m not going to write paragraphs on each of them. (edited to add that of course I did write paragraphs on each of them!) I just wanted to really think about the evolution of (my) thinking around this, and to also quantify what that really means in terms of time I spend each week on these items. As I read more and think more about these ways that I carve out and prioritize time for myself, I’m realizing that the increase in time spent in these (more introverted) practices has really reduced how tiring and stressful the remainder of my life can quickly become as I bounce from meetings to events to activities – more extroverted practices or organizing and managing and engagement.
I’d love it if you took a moment to leave a virtual post-it note in the form of a comment on what your practices are – or even just your thoughts on the idea of self-care, whether it be a simple act that helps you relax, or a radical act of re-energizing for the work ahead.
Food: Healthy breakfasts full of good ingredients, strong coffee, time to sit for a few minutes, and time to clean up before work. It’s typically F and I in the mornings, and we eat very well. I’ve almost completely eliminated sugar, dairy and carbs from this meal, and I focus on lots of vegetables and almost always an egg. I eat a small handful of almonds late morning, and try to bring leftovers every day to work. Taking a few minutes out of my early afternoon to eat a proper lunch of leftovers and read a few pages of my current book in a quiet corner of my office has been a game changer at work. I started it when I was going through a really busy stretch with multiple complex projects going at once (the norm now), and that brain break was the ticket to making it through the day without feeling the tension building. We eat dinner at home at least six nights a week, and I probably make dinner four or five of those. Depends on the week, but an ideal evening for me is getting home before seven, starting dinner as soon as I walk in the door, and everyone sitting down around the table at 7:30. Making dinner is the perfect re-introduction to home for me – it gives me a task to do that is important (and delicious), but it also lets me clear my brain from the day in a quiet, methodical way. Breakfast, 30 minutes, Lunch, 10-25 minutes depending on work schedule, Dinner, 1 hour.
Exercise: These are my weekly goals from March-October: 20+ miles outdoor running total, 4-6 mile runs during the week, 6-9 mile long run on the weekend. 90 minutes – Body Pump + CXWork on Monday evenings, 80 minutes – Power Yoga on Saturday mornings, 2 mile MoBot walks on Wednesday + Saturday mornings, plus F to school most mornings. In the really dark winter months, I find it harder to get in outdoor running, so I sometimes run indoor laps, and add in a cardio class or two a week, like PiYo. Exercise was never big priority in my life until about six years, outside of lots of outdoor walking. Now it’s a non-negotiable.
Gardens / Flowers: Speaking of garden walks, spending two mornings a week with my camera in the botanical garden about five minutes from our house is my favorite way to reset myself at the halfway point of the work week, or the start of the weekend. Having the camera in my hand reminds me to look for something new that morning. I always find something. On Wednesdays, I usually have one of my girls with me. On Saturdays it’s just me, and it’s really my connection to the seasons and the weather and my thoughts. 2 hours per week. At least twice a month from April-October, I purchase flowers at the Farmer’s Market, and I arrange and enjoy them for the next week or two. I spend some time looking at them each morning as I get ready for the day, and seeing fresh, seasonal flowers when I wake up in the morning is really energy giving.
Books: I try to read a few pages of my current book each day at lunch, and a chapter or two before bed. I’d love to say that I read more than this, but for now, this is what I’ve got to give. 20-45 minutes a day.
Bathing: I take 3-4 baths a week, and if I have some extra time for soaking, I will also read in the tub. I’m a stinky, sweaty exerciser, so I have to shower and/or bathe at least once a day – sometimes twice, so bathing is a way to relax into the ritual without overdrying my already dry skin. 20-30+ minutes a day.
Photos: I love to take photos of beautiful things. I also love to share them. They may only be beautiful to me, but that’s okay. I love travel photos the most, but also love food and architecture and gardens and books and the occasional person. I do not like to take selfies. I try to appear in one photo per month if possible so that my family will have something to look at once I’m gone. If I’m being honest, I’d rather them see me in a garden or the ocean or a cake, so I don’t feel that badly about my lack of photographic presence.
Rituals for the Mundane – Making the Bed, Laundry, etc.: This might be the lightbulb moment thing for me. I used to despise household chores. I might not love them, and may occasionally tire of them, but for the most part I actually enjoy doing them as a part of my daytime rituals (versus feeling overwhelmed by them stacking up as undone in my house, causing clutter). I enjoy the act of making the bed in the morning as I watch for E’s carpool ride on the street below. I switch out the laundry and fold the clothes on the bed as I watch for our neighbor outside. I love the way a stack of folded clothes feels; I adore a clean countertop and empty sink. I’m not sure how much time we spend on these things each day, but we share the tasks very equally, and I would say we spend 1-2 hours in daily household maintenance. That sounds like a lot, but it weaves itself into the day in an organic way. Editing / Streamlining many parts of how our house works goes a long way in helping the maintenance upkeep without feeling overwhelmed.
That was the list I made on my Thursday morning post-it note. It gave me a minute or two of reflection time before I dove back into my work and the challenges of the rest of the week. And really, that’s the best kind of self-care in my book.