I will be very honest, I had no idea what self care was. Maybe I was doing things for myself but never labeled it self care because I lived by myself, or no one else was free so I'd whip together a glass of wine, a comfy blanket on a couch and watch a movie to make me smile. But self care is so much more than that. 

Firstly, you need to be doing self care for the right reasons. No one being able to hang out with you isn't the right reason. If you had the energy to contact a handful of people to hangout, maybe you need a recharge, but spending some quality time with yourself wasn't your first priority. Likewise, choosing to occupy yourself isn't the same as planning a night for yourself. 

Self care is choosing yourself above all else. Your friends, that pesky essay, marking, whatever. It should be convient for you and if someone asks to hang out, make yourself a priority. You don't need self care 24/7 but after a long day at work, stress in whatever form it's taking, physical or mental fatigue, unless you're very extroverted and gain energy for being with other people, self care would be helpful to you. 

For me, self care always felt like I was being selfish. Choosing myself over anyone else seemed like I was shutting everyone out of my world. Then I'd feel guilty and try to make it up to the world. It wasn't until I drained myself dry that I realized self care is never apologizing or justifying that you need some time to be with yourself. You are your greatest friend... or enemy. Embrace the few spare minutes you can with yourself and become your best friend. It's important to remember though that if someone does ask you to talk or hang out, please let them know you need some time to yourself. Making up a lie or excuse is never a good idea and will make you feel bad (or not depending on you who are, but I'd like to believe you'd feel it for a second before moving on) for the rest of the night. If it becomes a habit of saying no, please make sure your loved ones can still count on you. Even if you are making yourself a priority, please remember to prioritize people around you too or else it will be all you all the time. You don't have to do much or go into too many details, but communication in any relationship, others and yourself, is key. 

In the process of figuring out what self care was and what it meant to me, a former friend, who I won't go into further details about, suggested "self care" whenever I said my day was tough. This past year I've been fighting a lot of demons: I worked away from home, living with my parents again and living away from my now husband, our 3 cats and many of my friends. I was planning a wedding. I teach elementary music and taught over 200 students a day with little time to myself. Each day felt like a slow walk through a pit of mud... While having weights attached to every body part possible... During a thunderstorm. The clouds would part when I was able to visit home again or when I had plans with the few friends I had in the city I was working in. But then I'd have to go back to work, which I loved, but the factors outside of work made everything harder. Anyways, that person always suggested self care. There was never an open conversation. I slowly recognized that her advice wasn't the self care I was working on. Her advice felt like she didn't wish to discuss my distress and that "self care was always the solution". I don't think that person ever realized how dark a time that was for me. But I would blindly follow her advice and set up some sort of activity for "self care". It was more of a distraction to quiet my mind from overthinking the situation.  This is also the wrong reason for self care. If you wish to discuss anything with someone you call a friend, they should either be willing to listen or be honest enough to say "not now," or "I can't handle this now". Self care is your choice, and if you're doing it because someone said so and you're not choosing it for yourself, this also doesn't feel like the right kind of self care. 

Ultimately, you choose what's best for you and what self care feels like and looks like to you. The picture at the beginning of this entry was an example of what self care looks like for me. A warm bath with Epsom salts and essential oils, a drink of sorts (and use the good glasses if you can! Some of the best baths I had were with ginger ale in a champagne glass. Treat yourself like royalty!), a good book that will make you feel how you want to feel when practicing self care (in this instance, I wanted to feel inspired and happy), and a face mask (something to help me feel better and it's also an opportunity to do nothing but relax for at least 10 minutes). 

Do what you can with what you have. Go for a walk. Bring a camera or music player to make the experience better. Lay in bed and listen to your favourite music, book on tape or podcast, and try to think about nothing else. Work out with metal music blasted. Bake some of your favourite cookies (or with whatever ingredients you have) and eat them all yourself. Pack some for lunch. No guilt.  

Make a list of activities and things that make you happy. And whenever you want to spend some quality time with yourself, choose one. You might need to recharge, you've had a rough day, you might even have depression or anxiety. As long as you make yourself a priority when you practice self care, you're already taking a step in the right direction of choosing happiness and talking care of yourself. 

Published by Margaret Geary-Merkl