Posted by Audrey E. | For Men, For Women, How to, Prevention, Recovery

Does the term “self-care” make you upchuck a little bit, feel a crawling sensation on the back of your neck, or make you grimace deeply, to the very marrow of your bones?

Well, guess what. I wrote this for you.

If you think you’re already pretty good at self-care and understand how necessary it is, you’re also going to benefit from reading this. I thought I was pretty “good” at it until I wrote this piece, and realized I’d been approaching it like a drill sergeant and being way too hard on myself.

It’s important to note, first of all, that reading things like this is probably going to be helpful–but it doesn’t replace professional mental health counseling or treatment.

That said, here’s what I’m covering in this 2-part article: In part 1, I’ll address some of those common misconceptions about self-care, and try to convince you that it’s your friend. I’ll go into the basics of what self-care looks like and why it matters in productivity, parenting, and overall well being. I’ll go into why developing it could be part of your arsenal against pornography.

Then, in part 2, I’ll teach you about the main areas we need to improve our self-care in, and go deeply into how to do it.

Contrary to (un) popular opinion….

There are some very common–and very wrong– assumptions about self-care, and they’re probably where a lot of your upchuck sensation comes from.

1. Self-care is not selfish. Karyl McBride, PhD and writer with Psychology Today says, “There is a difference between self-absorbed, narcissistic behavior and sound internal self-care. Self-care is about taking good care of our own feelings so we don’t project them onto others, act badly, or cause problems in relationships. Being in touch with our own feelings and embracing them is the healthiest thing we can do.”

There’s a certain logic to this, too. If you feel deprived most of the time in your own life because you are not attentive enough to your own thoughts, feelings and desires, or because your boundaries are poor, then you will probably be more likely to assume the worst of someone, or to squeeze too much out of someone because you think you have to in order to get what you need. Compare this to someone who is exceptionally well-taken-care-of, who feels they have more than enough to give, and therefore can give more to others.

2. It’s not just for women, and it’s a whole lot more than bubble baths. It’s equally as important for men as it is for women. All humans need excellent care in order to function optimally. We still have some machoman ideals going on in our culture that men feel the need to live up to, which is fine– until men end up not getting their basic needs met, which is not heroic, because it leads to a much less capable caregiver and protector. Self-care is not as touchy-feely or feminine as you’d think, and you probably do it sometimes without realizing it.

3. It’s not just for wealthy people or people with a lot of free time. No matter who you are, where you are in life, or how much free time and money you have, there is room for self-care in your life, and there is something you can do with what you have. It doesn’t have to be a trip to a spa. Obviously, only a small percentage of us can do that on a regular basis, if ever.

If you think about children and the kind of care they need, trips to spas are not necessary to show them that they’re loved, and wealth doesn’t impact the level of care a child will receive. As Dr. David Cohen, author of Great Psychologists As Parents, says, “How rich, successful or well-educated you are doesn’t matter. The best parents are those who give their children love, time and attention. It’s important to listen to children and hear what they have to say.” The same goes for you and your self-care. How rich, successful or well-educated you are doesn’t matter.

4. It’s not self-indulgence. In fact, it’s very far from it. Think of a child who is given everything they want, all the time. Most children, if they directed their own lives and didn’t have limits or guidance, would mostly eat junk food all day, stay up all night watching TV and playing video games, never do their homework, and never brush their teeth or bathe. This would be over-indulgence, which in this extreme example looks exactly like neglect: the opposite of care.

The same goes for self-indulgence. It can look exactly like self-neglect, which is the opposite of self-care. And self-care versus self-indulgence looks completely different for everyone. For one person who rarely takes breaks, self-care looks like a Saturday spent in front of the TV eating ice cream, whereas this would be self-indulgence for someone else. For the person who does way too much of that, self-care looks like getting off the couch, going to the gym, and cleaning out the garage.

5. “But I don’t have enough time. I have too many people to take care of. Their needs are more important than mine.” If you want them to have excellent care, don’t they need a solid, present and well-rested caregiver? Self-care helps you be a better parent, not a worse one. As Dr. McBride says,  “As we learn better self-care, we become better people in general. When we are in touch with our own feelings, we can then reach out more effectively to others and show love and empathy to them also. If we are filling our own emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, and the world in general.”

6. You can’t get it “right” or “wrong,” you’re not being graded on this, and it’s not even about self-improvement. It’s simply about care, which is something you add more of to your life, in whatever quantity you can muster. It’s something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.

And shoot for enough, not perfect. Something, anything, is better than nothing, and is enough. We don’t need more shame, more whip-cracking. We need more love.

Furthermore, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all template. Day-to-day, our needs are different, and developing self-care is really developing the ability to ask yourself, each day, what you need, regardless of what your life looks like.

7. It’s not meant to be a reward for hard work, like “Once I get through these next 5 hours of work, then I’ll take care of myself.” The logic is actually flawed, because productivity improves with regular self-care intervals–which I’ll go into more later.

What is it then?

It’s quite simple, really, and I already said it. It’s taking care of yourself. 

Raphaillia Michael, licensed counseling psychologist says, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook.”

Imagine again that you’re a child. The little kid version of you is standing in front of you. Knowing that a good parent listens to their child, ask yourself: what does this child need?

Compassion if he or she made a mistake? To say no if she is uncomfortable or stressed? Protection from a jerk, or permission to take space? Much more regular and healthy meals? A hug? Less or more desserts? Better or more regular sleep? To move, run, play and stretch his body? A visit to the dentist or checkup at the doctor? Funner stuff to do with free time? A cleaner environment? More structure? More freedom? A cup of tea? A break? Encouragement? A little sunshine? To take sobriety from alcohol or drugs more seriously? To cry? To laugh?

I like how Dr. Karyl Mcbride says it: “Ask your inner child what he or she needs. Listen to that every day. This is really your intuitive side talking to you. Allow the feelings to be ok. When you make mistakes, talk to your inner child and calm him or her, while you also reassure. Tell the child it is ok and you will help make it better. When he or she tells you they are hungry, tired, hurt, sad, lonely… listen, care and do something to help that little one within. No one can do this for you.”

You’re first and foremost in charge of the little kid version of you, and my guess is, he or she needs something. So ask yourself: What do you need?

It may take some time to develop your ability to hear yourself, and that’s okay. We’re not exactly trained in self-care, so we can’t expect to get it right away. As a perfectionist myself, self-care is not an easy concept to click with. I like the way Handshake Media, Inc. puts it in their paper on evidence-based practices for self-care. “And you don’t have to be a perfect self-caregiver. Good enough will do.” Good enough is good enough for parents, and it’s good enough for ourselves. If it’s all you can do, it’s good enough.

So what will better self-care do for me?

“Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.” -Raphaillia Michael

1. Well, it lowers stress, for one thing. According to stress.org, “As indicated, the key to reducing stress is to prevent it. Getting enough sleep, a proper diet, avoiding excess caffeiene and other stimulants and taking time out to relax may be helpful in this regard… Other very different approaches can achieve the same results because they reduce feelings of helplessness and provide a sense of control over the problem.” Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the mind and body, and can lead to all sorts of health, and life, problems. Making sure you’re well-cared-for will help reduce and prevent it.

2. It helps prevent burnout. Burnout is a real thing, and it’s important to learn how to avoid if you want to keep your career in focus.

3. It helps you be more productive. Like, seriously. Our cultural obsession with work-til-you-drop is quite silly and counter-productive. You will literally be more productive if you take breaks. The magic ratio seems to be, weirdly, 52 minutes of work to a 17 minute break. These need to be real breaks, though, where you’re not secretly checking emails. And even just taking 40 seconds out of your work day to look at nature will significantly restore attention, focus and reduce errors.

4. We already talked about how it helps you be a better parent. You can read more about this here, but it’s worth repeating: a well-rested and well-care-for parent is going to have more to give their children.

5. It helps immensely in recovery from addictions, so if you feel you have a pornography addiction (or any addiction, for that matter), I’m guessing improving your self-care will help.

If you struggle with compulsive pornography-watching to any degree, though, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re using pornography to numb or escape from an uncomfortable emotion or two. It helps you temporarily feel better with a short burst of feel-good chemicals released in your brain. Self-care could be what you actually need, whereas porn could be the quick-fix bandaid that you’re throwing on top of …whatever’s really going on. If this is happening, there’s a decent chance you also feel worse afterwards.

A self-care approach would be stopping in your tracks when you’re tempted, asking yourself why you’re about to look at pornography, wondering if there’s something you need, and then choosing to care for yourself instead.

6. Self-care will help you lead a happier, healthier life that you like. If all of your basic needs are met and you’re being regularly listened to and respected by yourself, you’re going to be more joyful, safe and healthy, you’ll feel better about yourself, you’ll have less of a reason to escape your life, and your relationships will be able to take off. Overall, it’s just going to be a whole lot better.

In the next part of this 2-part post, I’ll talk more about how to do this crap, the most important areas we need better self-care in, and give you tons of tips on how to start. Stay tuned and check back in two weeks!