Building a Self-Care Practice

Although this blog is about writing, I genuinely believe that we can’t be productive writers without a solid self-care practice. I’ve written about writing as an important part of a self-care practice, but I wanted to talk more about how to actually build one. A lot of people (myself included) struggle to practice self-care regularly. For a long time, I wasn’t even really sure what a self-care practice entailed. It was one of those things that I thought I should be doing (#adulting), but wasn’t that important, like taking vitamins or eating beets.

Here’s what I’ve learned: it ain’t optional.

Why have a self care practice?

Lots of us are great at taking care of other people and stuff around us. I love nothing better than solving other people’s problems and taking care of them so I don’t have to think about my own problems. Few are good at taking good care of ourselves. Life throws a lot of things at us all the time, some of which we deal with well and some of which we deal with poorly. The stuff that we deal with poorly leaves us exhausted, stressed, frazzled, overworked, burned-out, frustrated, depressed, despondent, desperate, and depleted. Lots of things, both internal and external can leave us feeling like this: jobs, writing, relationships, parenting, unemployment, grief, depression, breakups and breakdowns. The list goes on.

It is in these difficult and stressful moments that we most need to take care of ourselves and often don’t. We’ve somehow gotten confused when it comes to self-care. We assume that taking care of ourselves first makes us selfish or self-absorbed. The truth is that even though we might feel like we’re doing an awesome job at taking care of others when we’re not taking care of ourselves, we’re not. People without internal energy don’t have anything to give to others. You can’t give what you don’t have.

The airlines aren’t joking: we’ve got to put on our oxygen masks first before assisting other passengers.

What are some things that might be part of a self-care practice?

Enter having a self-care practice. Because we all have different needs, everyone’s self care practice will look different. The choices are endless, as long as they’re things that nourish mind, body, and spirit. As a part of my self-care practice, I do the following:

  • Get enough sleep/napping
  • Eat healthy foods, eating regularly
  • Drink water
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Spiritual practice/prayer
  • Journal writing
  • Get social support/asking for help
  • Express creativity/making art/photography
  • Express gratitude
  • Positive affirmations/self-kindness and compassion
  • Read something inspiring
  • Yoga

I make an effort to do most of them every day.
Here’s the trick: the little things that we do every day are far more important than the big things we do every now and then. So, yeah, it’s great to recharge with an awesome vacation in Cancún, but far better to try to get enough sleep every night.

The advantage of collecting up little self-care rituals into a more official-sounding self-care practice is this: having a practice means that you do these things whether you want to or not. People have all kinds of different practices: yoga practice, meditation practice, writing practice. People who have established these things as practices don’t always want to do them, but they do them anyways because it’s a practice. We don’t always feel like taking care of ourselves; at times, it seems like too much work. Combining little pieces of self-care into a larger practice makes it a whole lot more likely that we’ll do them, even (especially) when we don’t want to.

One thing that’s key about a self-care practice is that you have to believe that you’re worthy of being taken care of first. You have to care about you. If you don’t, cultivate a sense of self-care. Say some affirmations (I’m fond of “I’m worthy of love and care.”) and do something nice for yourself. Practicing self-care can help you start to feel like you care about yourself. When we least feel like we deserve self-care, we need it the most.

What does self-care have to do with writing?

Everything, really. You cannot be the awesome and amazing person, writer, scholar, academic, professor, teacher, friend, spouse, parent, or child if you’re not taking care of yourself. When you’re exhausted, stressed, depleted, and depressed, writing (and life in general) gets a lot harder.

Once you’ve gotten a self-care practice, you might think about incorporating your writing into it. Taking time to work on your own intellectual adventures that feed the soul. Nourishing yourself is nourishing your writing.

Not sure how to practice self-care? Check out this very helpful interactive guide: You Feel Like Shit.

[Photo: Mérida, Yucatán, México, 2015]