Sometimes, self-care doesn’t look anything like we picture self-care to look. It’s not a massage or manicure. It’s not a bubble bath with book in hand and ice cream on a fancy tray. It’s not even eating at your favorite lunch spot or treating yourself to some tiny luxury.
Sometimes, self-care is simply hard work. It’s work that we don’t want to do and might be putting off. It’s work that can come with unpleasant feelings and a lot of discomfort.
I love the analogy Catherine O’Brien uses in her powerful piece on joy and gratitude: “Spa days are like paying to have your car detailed. It’s nice and all, but what good is it if you don’t have gas in the tank? Unglamorous self-care is the fuel that will keep us going so we can show up more fully.”
According to O’Brien, unglamorous self-care can look like: scheduling a doctor’s appointment you’ve been dreading; paying your bills on time; brushing your teeth and washing your face when you’re utterly exhausted; and setting boundaries (even when you know others will be upset).
At its foundation, self-care is about caring for our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. Sometimes, this looks like pampering and satiating our senses, and other times, it looks like having your blood drawn, figuring out your insurance plan, and scheduling an a/c maintenance appointment so you have clean air.
Other times, it’s finding a therapist because you’re having trouble processing your pain or you need additional support to accomplish an important goal.
Other times, it’s having a difficult conversation with a loved one. Other times, it’s decluttering your bedroom, because this helps you to create a sanctuary to foster sleep. Other times, it’s meeting with a financial advisor, or acknowledging a painful truth, or doing something else that supports you in a profound, meaningful way.
What have you been dreading doing but you know will support you on a deep, soul level? What kind of unglamorous self-care do you need to do?
Jot it down. Right now.
Then work on it this week. Take the first step. Make it a tiny one. Make the step so simple and easy that taking it isn’t a big deal at all. Also, think about how you’ll feel after you’ve finished.
Sometimes, self-care requires us to step out of our comfort zone. It requires us to get honest with ourselves (and maybe others) and practice sincere self-compassion. Which means, as Kristin Neff once told me, focusing on alleviating suffering and considering whether something will hurt us in the long run.
Sometimes, self-care feels like a job or chore. Hard. Uncomfortable. Even frustrating.
Thankfully, you’re strong enough and capable enough to do that job—and genuinely provide what you need.