Self-care is an act of faith.
It isn’t a bubble bath for the sake of saying you took a bubble bath, or a wasted night out that leaves you more tired the next day. It’s not splurging on a pint of ice cream only to berate yourself and push harder on the treadmill later.
Real self-care reminds you of who you really are, beyond the roles you play every day, beyond the rules you’re afraid to break. It’s time that most replenishes the soul and brings you back to an appreciation of life as it is. Self-care can be anything that reminds you of your basic, wholesome humanity.
Self-care gets a bad rap when it’s seen as a privilege for wealthier women who have the time and disposable income to pamper themselves. Or it’s perceived as a necessity for burned out people so they can meet the never-ending tasks ahead, a stop gap measure in an unfriendly world (how often have you heard the true but tired airplane maxim, to “put on your own oxygen mask first?”). Whether it’s privilege or crisis-management, there’s often a subtle guilt if we indulge in self-care — and a subtle guilt if we don’t.
But real self-care is actually a declaration that we don’t have to do something special, or do everything all the time, to be worthy of rest and joy. Self-care is a reminder that perfection isn’t the endgame. It’s an act of faith that what we need will be available to us even when we take a break or even when we’re tired.
We get to be creative about what self-care means. If you love to cook but have been subsisting on sandwiches, self-care might be a cooking class, a stroll through the farmers market, or a Sunday afternoon to cook your meals for the week. If you love art but feel disconnected from inspiration, you might visit a gallery on your lunch break. Or you might have to pre-book (and refuse to cancel) a recurring monthly wellness appointment. Meditation apps and calendar reminders can help you take a few minutes to be still and breathe, or dance, or drink some water. Finding a new place of worship can reinvigorate devotional practices. Scheduling Zoom meetings with old friends can keep you connected. It’s all self-care if it supports your well-being.
Whatever you do for self-care, let it remind you of who you really are. Feel into the spaciousness of downtime, however briefly you may experience it. Notice the connection that comes from simple fun, or the excitement of learning something new.
When we practice self-care, we demonstrate faith that we can be lovable even when we leave the cult of Busy.
We have confidence that the universe doesn’t need our endless efforts to keep turning.
The epidemic compulsion towards busy-ness and stress is actually symptomatic of a narrow view of life, one that is so perpetuated by media articles and unexamined cultural ideals that ultimately it’s not really our fault. We internalize the constant messages that tell us we have to be great at our jobs, excellent parents, fun partners, responsible citizens, and somehow still have time for hobbies and social lives — all while never ever aging or gaining any weight. When any one of these ideals slips, as it inevitably will, many of us feel a sense of panic, as though we’re failing at life itself and the whole thing will start crumbling down.
This self-defeating and impossible momentum is not going to be slowed by the powers that be. Anyone selling us a product to help us manage our lives (and that sense of failure) is not going to offer reassurance. Their interests depend on our panic. Our labors — whether vocational or emotional — are necessary to the workings of the cultural machinery. We will never have external permission to pursue self-care — unless someone can profit from it.
And so we stay stressed out and anesthetized. We consume more in an effort to feel better. We get sick and take medications, we run up debt, we double down on work, all at a profit to the system.
We will never be self-actualized, never offer the fullness of our gifts to the world, if we allow that system to dictate how we live. The breakneck pace that prevents us from receiving the benefits of self-inquiry, learning, well-being, and devotion also keeps us complicit and complacent.
That means that self-care is also subversive. It’s an act of protest. It can be an investment in optimism and in the more compassionate and reasonable world we want to build. We can lead by gentle example and give others the permission to make a similar investment in their own well-being and joy.
Like any protest, like any leap of faith, this can feel frightening sometimes. Not many people enjoy the personal adjustments and accountability needed to do things differently; change really is scary. You might fear that your loved ones won’t like your new boundaries or task-delegation. And no one craves backlash or failure.
Self-care is an act of faith. It’s faith that we all can feel better. It’s confidence that you will be okay, that your loved ones will manage and even enjoy themselves eventually, that you are doing this to bring more of your brilliance into the world.
It’s faith that you have brilliance to bring.
Real self-care asks that we love ourselves enough to stop running on fumes. It helps us to reach out for one another, for real connection and honesty, and to relinquish the props and habits that don’t really satisfy. It is faith, protest, soul-searching, and courage all at once.
Who are you when you are your best, healthiest, most well-rested self? Who might your family members and friends be — have you seen them at their inspired best? What would it be like if your coworkers were really thriving?
How amazing would it be to find out?