Self-care sounds great, healthy, beautiful even. Think of Instagram-worthy photos of baths with floating
flowers, meditating in the most zen-looking meditation space, a super-sweet yoga practice also in an
amazingly calming yoga space, lounging on a tropical beach, journaling in the most inspiring sunny
window seat, and taking in the outdoors with a 4-star vacation view. It can be soothing to just look at
picture or daydream of such self-care, relaxation ideals.
Depending on your mood. Sometimes the idea of self-care can stress you out even more than just going
with the chaotic flow of your everyday hectic life. There have been times when I deleted my Instagram
app altogether because I could not take another minute of such irritating inspiration and beauty. My
nervous system would go haywire with buzz and restlessness with all the lovely pictures and
motivational quotes. My mind and body did not like the disconnect between the lovely pictures of what
I thought I should be doing and what my life was actually like.
So self-care sounds good…sometimes…for others. But self-care for oneself can be hard. There are so
many hurdles to actually taking care of ourselves. There’s the constant busyness of life, of course, the
ways we try to relax that don’t work, and our own self-criticism that won’t be quiet long enough for us
to actually relax. We all have plenty of things to do, places to go, to-do lists to obsess over, but as busy
and exhausted as you may be you’re still probably finding time to check-out and try to relax. We usually
chose zone-out types of relaxation like social media, tv, podcasts, online shopping, etc. These are ways
we can get a break from the busyness of our lives and the constant noise in our brains. We also choose
to check-out with substances- self-medicating or self-soothing with booze, drugs, and food.
Popular author, professor, researcher, and social worker Brene Brown says in her TED Talk that “we are
the most in-debit, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history”. We really seem to love
these means of self-care. But of course we know they’re not good for us and we know they aren’t
working. Brene Brown describes these bad habits as avoidance. When we relax by shutting down,
blocking everything out, and numbing ourselves we are avoiding everything- life, thoughts, feelings.
Avoidance is not great. Now, if you know me you can guess that this is my segue into a lengthy
mindfulness presentation. Mindfulness is the answer to avoidance. It’s the best, it works. Mindfulness is
the key to great self-care. But often we don’t have the time or energy or resources to be doing self-care
the exact right way—the Instagram’d, photo-shopped, magical, inspirational kinds of self-care that we
really do want. However, these are not the only ways to be mindful. I recommend finding ways to be
more present and attentive in little ways throughout your daily life. Zoning in instead of zoning out.
Possibly enjoying your tea or coffee or meals not just plowing through them. And actually experiencing
how your bath or shower feels instead of multitasking or doing mental to-do list gymnastics. Being in the
moment with your pet, family, friends, or nature. Even for just a few seconds. This is one of my best
mindfulness/yoga pro-tips. But I don’t want to ignore the avoidance issue.
Again, avoidance is not great. But it’s probably the way you’ve been doing relaxation for a long time
now. It’s become a staple in our lives and culture. So it’s a major oversight to just say ‘don’t do that’ and
redirect you to those shiny self-care ideals that always seem out of reach. It would be irresponsible for
me to curse you with the Instagram haywire buzz that I myself deal with as I fight with the should’s of
self-care versus real life. So my solution is balance. No surprise there, I’m guessing. But I’m not talking
about 50/50 balance, the type of balance that has ideal percentages and you’re always left guilting
yourself for not being more. I’m talking about loosey-goosey balance where you try to add in
mindfulness when/where you can but you also let yourself use avoidance to relax with media,
distraction, or responsible use of substances as long as it’s all in a healthy range for you. And avoid
mindfully, could you? For real, can you? Can you? I’m being silly but what I mean is be self-aware and
beware of hurdle number that three I mentioned earlier. The hurdle of not letting yourself relax.
If you’re going to Netflix and chill then really chill, ok? Be intentional and give yourself permission to
relax and have down-time. Relaxation is healthy and vital to keeping up your busy and productive life.
But you can’t multitask relaxation. Even though it’s impossible to be truly mindful while you’re being
avoidant, apply the mindfulness skill of attention to your avoidance. If you are going to watch crappy tv
or stare too long at your phone then commit to it. Let yourself focus on it and enjoy it without the inner
monologue lecture of how you should be doing something else or being more productive or what are
you doing with your whole life anyway?!!! Being self-aware (a mindfulness skill!) helps you catch
yourself if you fall into this judgement and negative thinking and allows you to set and monitor
boundaries you set for your relaxation time such as stop times.
Self-care is not only about relaxation but we often have a large disconnect between how we should be
taking care of ourselves and how we really spend our time. Zoning out with avoidance isn’t some secret
bad habit that we should feel guilt or shame about, it’s a sign that we need and want a break- a chance
to be calm and recharge. It’s an attempt at self-care, maybe not in the best, most mindful, serene,
healthy, and productive way but there’s nothing wrong with that. Real life isn’t often that pretty. You’d
need a pretty good filter on photos of my real-life self-care to make them seem beautiful. So take your
rest and self-care time where/when/how you can get it. Please still pursue your big, fancy self-care
goals, whatever they may be. Along the way don’t forget to squeeze in self-care in the small and not-so
fancy ways too- whether that’s being mindful as you enjoy the first nice days of spring or letting yourself
relax and enjoy a long string of youtube videos. Either way, take care of yourself.