If you feel like the idea of self-care is becoming cliche or you think that by taking time out to do something for yourself is selfish, please keep reading. There’s a lot more to self-care than getting your nails done or getting attention on social media. At its very core, self-care is a very spiritual and ritualistic necessity in a fast paced society that doesn’t want you to have time to decompress and destress. It is one of many effective ways of mitigating mental illness and stress. If you take a look at some other cultures around the world, you’ll notice that self-care is built into everyday life. The Siesta in Spain for example, where many businesses close for a few hours in the middle of the day. This is done in the interest of the community and laborers. It allows people to find respite during the hottest part of the day. In Italy, mothers are given a compulsory 5 months of maternity leave, with pay.
Why It’s Important
Taking care of yourself should be a given. Unfortunately, it is not a given. Far too often modern living asks us for more than we have to give, without providing us with the necessary support to sustainably give. You shouldn’t be expected to give to your employer, your family, your friends, etc. and not give anything to yourself. I’m not talking of material offerings, although those have their place. Your mental and physical health should not come second to your making a living or maintaining your family.
How many new parents have you heard say, “I’m lucky if I even get to wash my face in the morning,” or something else that seems like a total given? How many professionals do you know that routinely work a 50 or 60 hour week? Where is the time to just breathe and enjoy having life? Who has to give us the permission to take a break, do something creative, indulge in a hobby, read a book for leisure? Why do we find it so hard (and uncomfortable) to reject or pause being busy?
I’d say it’s because we’ve been conditioned to believe that busy means productivity. We associate being busy with gaining wealth and acclaim. But sometimes being busy can do more harm than good. Too much of anything is never a good thing. It puts things out of balance and causes a shift in our mental, emotional and physical bodies. Drink too much wine, you get drunk. Eat too much food, you get an upset stomach. Harvest too many leaves, you kill the plant. Work too hard, you may be doing so at the detriment of your family, your health or your mental well being. Of course this doesn’t give us license to be lazy, unmotivated or without ambition, but it should cause us to examine how and where we place our energy.
Self-care is important because it allows us to better serve our communities and tend to others with a more grateful heart and a clearer mind. Taking care of your own needs, whether it be time with family, washing your hair, getting home in time to read a bedtime story to your little one, or taking in a sunrise and all of its colorful wavelengths, doing so gives you all the good feels you need to go out into your world and show up. It’s not selfish in a negative sense, showing up for yourself so that you can do the same for others. Self-preservation isn’t a selfish thing to do. It’s an instinctual and very human thing to do. That is what self-care is. It is a very human thing to do. It is an important part of living a healthy, fulfilling and more balanced life.
In an Ideal World
If everything were ideal, self-care wouldn’t be such a point of focus. It would just be expected of everyone to fulfill their own unique needs in order to feel more like themselves or even a person. There are societies that are very community centered, where everyone is expected to do things and behave in a way that gratifies the collective. Every individual understands that when another member is not doing well, it will eventually cause trouble for others. This is why community members will combine resources. This is why neighbors will breastfeed a child if the mother is unable to. This is the reason agriculture and livestock are so valued in some cultures. This connection to others is the life blood for many societies. The men protect the women. The women protect the water. Everyone is expected to care for the children. New mothers aren’t so overwhelmed because they have support coming from multiple sides. Mental illness is not "othered" and a mark of shame, it is supported and met with humanity and love and patience. Problems are dealt with in a holistic manner, with the goal of strengthening the bonds that ensure the community will continue thrive.
In an ideal world, self-care is a communal thing. Everyone wants what’s best for everyone. No one is ostracized for their differences, and the need to nurture your unique purpose and medicine is honored and supported. Everyone makes space for others to fill their own cup, and even help others to fill their own cup. When we see the value in ourselves and in those around us, we are more willing to lean into ourselves and nourish our spirits. That’s it! There’s no need to feel guilty or afraid of tending to your own needs, whatever that looks like for you. No, you’re not being selfish for putting the smile on your face that will inspire another smile and many others. You have an obligation to yourself to take care of yourself.