“Healing comes from taking responsibility; to realize that it is you – and no one else – that creates your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions.” – Peter Shepherd
Self-care is your responsibility. Ayurveda teaches that the more responsibility we take for our health, the more empowered we become. Responsibility is power. Each one is responsible to care of themselves, in ways that no one else can.
Self-care is nourishing ourselves. When we are children, we have a caretaker (hopefully) who makes sure we eat regular and healthy meals, that we bathe often, that we feel safe and secure, and that we have fun... when we grow up, we become responsible to do those same things for ourselves. As parents, when you take care of yourself as well as your children, you teach them how to care for themselves as they grow older.
The distinction must be made also, though, as to what self-care truly is. Self-care stems from self-love, and is how we govern ourselves and our own care. We all engage in regular self-care practices daily, such as maintaining our hygiene. We can take those practices further, and optimize them for our best balance and best overall health. For example, beyond brushing our teeth twice a day, making sure we eat balanced meals, and exercising, we can also adjust our routines to ensure we get 7-9 hours of sleep per night if we aren’t already in the habit of doing so. We can eliminate and limit our sources of anxiety, like reducing time spent in front of a screen or scrolling through social media. In the name of self-care, we create boundaries for ourselves that other people cannot do for us, but that we ask them to respect as we observe our practices.
There are even some practices we can take up that encourage us to healthily care for ourselves by their nature. Anything that helps us realize our deep-set needs and desires, that show us our personal limits, and things that feel calming, grounding, balancing, and nourishing to us on the mind, body, and spirit levels. Some activities that help teach us to get in touch with the needs hidden in our depths are yoga and Ayurveda, meditation, and even solo travel!
While self-care can include pampering, it is not going out on a shopping spree when we feel down instead of talking to a healthcare professional. It is not getting a pedicure instead of going to therapy.
It may be booking regular massages for oneself as a therapeutic treatment according to physical need, but please notice the distinction. Self-care is not indulgent. It is basic care of the self, which at times may be more or less involved, or may cost more or less time, money, and resources.
Self-care can include staying in on a Friday evening with a good book and nourishing food instead of going to a party if that is truly what one needs. But it also should not be used as an excuse to hide from social engagements, or as a way to shirk off responsibility. The mislabeling of self-care into avoidant behavior only further encourages anxiety-production.
Some other things are commonly mislabeled self-care:
Overindulgence: In the form of overspending, over eating, consuming anything beyond reasonable and moderate amounts (gluttony), etc…
Laziness: Not participating in one’s own life and instead firmly planting on the couch (i.e., taking no responsibility).
Flakiness: Unless ill or truly exhausted, plans made should be kept. This may mean re-examining what you say yes to, but being impeccable with one’s word is much more responsible and healthy than habitually deciding against going to plans you’ve made out of last-minute regret, or deciding to replace FOMO (fear of missing out) with JOMO (joy of missing out) after you’ve already committed to something.
At the core of self-care are self-awareness and self-love.
Self-awareness does not always come easily, or naturally. Some ways to cultivate awareness around oneself include journaling regularly, reflecting on interactions throughout the day, noticing how one feels in any given situation, taking personality tests, meditating, and observing one’s own behavior. As one begins to discern patterns, it may be helpful to ask a friend or loved to confirm whether they're on the right track. For example, I may begin noticing that I tend to smile at others more often than others smile at me. That may lead to me forming a conclusion that I am friendly, possibly even friendlier than most people. I can test my hypothesis, and eventually ask a few of my closest friends whether they agree with my determination.
This leads to becoming more and self-aware - understanding that no one ever fully is. Yet just because we are somewhat blind to ourselves by nature, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to know ourselves more fully in order to realize our life purpose (dharma) or to optimize our experience on this earth. Our relationship with God is the basis or our relationship with our self, and our relationship with our self is the basis for our relationship with others. We must harmonize our relationships for optimal living, and working on the relationship with self via self-care is a great place to start.
Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is not indulgent. Self-care is self-government, self-nourishment. and an extension of love. When are loving and kind toward ourselves, we can then be more loving and kind to others. When we are loving and kind to others, we give them the opportunity to receive loving kindness and extend it to themselves and to others. Thus, it is a noble and beautiful responsibility to lovingly care for ourselves.
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