On radical self care

Author: Luba Falk Feigenberg

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with several other mamas. Sitting in a living room, we ate snacks and talked about the ways we take care of ourselves and the challenges we face when we try to take care of ourselves. We listened to each other, nodded our heads, and expressed support in our “mm-hms,” “uh-huhs”, and “me toos!”

It was the first time some of us had met, but we had instant comraderie around our struggles to care for ourselves in the midst of caring for our families. We recognized the irony in this: we give our all to our children and our careers and our friends and our homes and our schools and our communities, but we struggle mightily to give to ourselves. And when we do, we feel guilty because it feels like we are wasting our time or could be doing something more productive or should be taking care of someone else.

Is self care so hard for us that we can’t even talk about it?

We had all come together to talk about self care and yet, we often found the conversation straying from the main topic. Is self care so hard for us that we can’t even talk about it? The goal was to learn from our collective wisdom and hear about strategies—big and little—that we might incorporate into our own lives. While there are no clear-cut answers or easy fixes, here are some of the things we talked about.

  • Shift your paradigm. Rather than blaming yourself for all the things you’re not doing, remind yourself of all the things you are doing. Instead of listing all the reasons why you can’t do something, focus on one thing you can do, and do it. The only way to finish is to start, and every step matters.
  • Set realistic goals. Often we set expectations for ourselves that are not feasible and then we are disappointed with ourselves when we don’t follow through. Take stock of everything on your plate and think about what you will actually be able to accomplish today, this week, this month. Making a goal that is feasible increases our chances of accomplishing it, which makes us more likely to keep doing it.
  • Be gentle with yourself. We have a lot going on in our lives. It’s not the end of the world if we slow down or drop the ball sometimes. No one is perfect and we can learn from our missteps.
  • Use your support network. It’s okay to ask for help. Call or text a friend or family member when you’re feeling fried. Let go of the internal judgment that we need to toughen up or go it alone to be strong. We’ve all been there, and most of us like to help.

As we inevitably felt the pull back to our families, as phones emerged from pockets and bags and plans were made for dinner, I was reminded of the importance of these moments. These enclaves give us strength and nourishment. Taking care of ourselves is critical maintenance, part of what we need to keep us going; not an add-on or a guilty pleasure. We need to take care of ourselves so we have fuel in our tanks to care for those around us and for the work ahead.

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