How to do self care when it seems impossible

Self care can look lavish and impossible, but it's manageable with the right shifts.

I always cringe a little when I see flowery posts on social media about self care that make it seem like the whole world is constantly pampering themselves while sitting in folded leg yoga poses humming to themselves, eyes closed, in total zen.

It’s like there’s something wrong with me because who has time for self care? And how discombobulated must I be if I can’t figure out how to constantly walk around feeling refreshed and invigorated because I’m the queen of pampering myself with spa days, manicures, blowouts, and laughter with friends and a glass of wine?

Don’t get me wrong, those things sound amazing – and I give credit to anyone that can make it happen on a regular basis – seriously, we need to talk. I want to know your secrets.

But, what I’ve discovered about self care is that it is so much more than what people want it to look like on social media. And for most women, it can be downright impossible to figure out how to take care of ourselves.

All the buzz about self care ends up making people feel shame for not being lavish and treating themselves to luxury all the time. But, that’s not the point at all. Self care isn’t only for the wealthy, or the person who is into themselves so much they feel no guilt over dropping everything else on their plate to find their inner peace. 

Nope, it doesn’t have that kind of exclusivity, nor does it have to require saving up thousands of dollars. But, it does require intention and work. And spoiler alert, it’s not the easy work it seems to be. It’s actually quite hard. 

You can’t give of yourself completely if you aren’t giving to yourself completely

I would be amiss if I didn’t use the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others, but since this idea has become so cliche, we lose sight of the fact that self care is hard, intentional work, and most women I know simply have no idea how to begin the process, let alone do it on a regular basis

If it’s so hard, how can anyone accomplish a successful practice of self care when our lives are flying by at mach speed and the list of demands on our time and attention never seems to get smaller?

To answer this question, we have to dig deeper to understand what self care really is. There are several fundamental mental shifts most of us could benefit from to make strides towards healthy self care being a much more realistic, mangeable thing.

The first mindset shift is that simply put, self care is a journey of getting to know yourself, understanding what you need, and working towards having the confidence to ask for what you need from others, and giving it to yourself. It’s the process of stepping into the identity of who God made you to be, and learning and unveiling for yourself who that really is.

As women, we are caregivers. And we pride ourselves in caring for our families and others around us. But you can’t give of yourself completely if you aren’t giving to yourself completely. Really let that sink in.

How do you begin successful self care routines?

We talked about mindset. If the idea of self care stirs up some shame or discomfort in you – start by asking yourself if you feel like you deserve to take care of yourself. Really pause and feel whatever comes up when you ask yourself this question – How do I feel about the idea that I deserve to care for myself just like I care for others? It might make you uncomfortable. That’s ok, that’s the first thing to work on. And congratulations, you just took your first step on your self care journey by pausing to reflect on what holds you back. You have now done some self care.

journaling your thoughts is a great form of self care

Homework: Take 10 minutes, set a timer, and write down all of the thoughts that come up about how you feel about taking care of yourself. Why is it hard? Do I feel unworthy? Do I feel like I can’t because others come first? Where is there resistance in the idea of caring for myself? Write all of it down. Leave no feeling unheard.

Everything that came up for you isn’t going to go away after you do your writing. You might even feel worse after you stir up all of that resistance. And that’s an important part of this journey. You need to continually face the voices in your head that tell you you don’t deserve to take care of yourself and that there are other more important things you need to do.

The next step is to dedicate yourself to going on a self care journey. Write this down, and pledge to yourself that you may not have all the answers to what self care looks like for you, and you don’t necessarily have to drop everything to go get a massage right now, but that you are committing to yourself to begin the journey of discovering what your needs are and how you can meet them for yourself on a regular basis.

*This is an important piece right here.* Don’t feel discouraged because you don’t immediately know what you need to take care of yourself. Instead, just get curious. What things have you always wanted to try? What scares you? What do you feel is silly or would be embarrassing or unnecessary to pursue for yourself? See the list of ideas I created below to jog your brain. 

Set aside some time and do some writing. Block some time on your calendar to do some writing…like, block it off right now. Go head and open your calendar, I’ll wait. Promise me you’ll keep your commitment to yourself and follow through on that calendar appointment.

After you’ve had some time to reflect and write, it’s time to find one thing to take regular action on. What is something you can put on your calendar – big or small – that you can promise yourself you’ll do at whatever interval feels necessary

Notice how I didn’t say whenever feels manageable…because we’ll tell ourselves that we can only manage doing self care once a month, or once every few months. And we’ll let life take over and get in the way. Instead, the interval you choose should be based on what you NEED – what feels necessary to provide benefit and to keep you feeling like you’re not reaching your limits. 

Looking at the list below, choose whatever feels life-giving to you, or come up with something that is unique to you. Then, hold yourself to it. Don’t go to one yoga class, say “that was great” and not go back for 2 months. Actually do it regularly in a way that you know you can commit to. 

Here’s a mindset reminder for when you fall off the wagon

You WILL get off track. You’ll miss a time you have scheduled, or you’ll find an excuse to get in the way of doing it. Give yourself grace for that. You can just get back on the horse. And maybe what you choose or the frequency doesn’t work the first time. You can pick something new and pick a different schedule. It’s ok for it to evolve and look different. What’s most important is your commitment to yourself.

Once you experience the practice of falling off the wagon, picking yourself back up without shame or judgement, and doing it again, you’ll start to get into a rhythm that leaves you feeling even more connected with yourself and in tune to listening to what you need and seeking it.

Once you’ve successfully found an activity, or activities that you can do regularly, it’s time to pause and reflect. Remember this is a journey. Ask yourself (and I highly recommend you journal) What benefit did I get from the activity? What was challenging? What new needs did I uncover? And if that last question is hard, pause, turn off all distractions and really check in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Note your emotions and where you feel sensations in your body. The more you check in with yourself emotionally and physically, the better you will get at knowing what you need, and knowing how to get it for yourself.

After you’ve reflected, it’s time to add something else to your list that touches on an area of need you have. Or rotate through a few things.

There are 3 important parts of this work 

  1. Recognizing it is work and that you are worth it. It won’t happen automatically and without effort. You have to come to a place of believing you are not only worthy, but it is critical for you to be the best person you can be. Who doesn’t want that? 
  2. Acknowledging that self care is more than lavish pampering. It’s more than a luxury. It doesn’t have to cost anything to be beneficial. It’s simply about connecting with yourself, finding out what you need, and following through on getting those needs met. Along with being proactive about not letting your tank run empty.
  3. Practicing regular check-ins with yourself and really leaning into the fact that this is a process, not a destination. You have to take time to pause and reflect on what’s working and what’s not. You don’t have to magically know what you need and what works for you – instead, commit to the process of figuring it out, getting curious, and experimenting with what works for you. Get comfortable with falling off the wagon, experiencing uncomfortable emotions that come up, and reaching out for support when you feel defeated. All of that is self care and it takes allowing yourself to work your way through everything that comes with it so you can ultimately grow, get to know yourself better, and tend to your needs more easily.

Don’t try to do it alone

yoga is a great form of self care for both mind and body

As you do the work of building a practice of self care, share your journey with others. The more you can be vulnerable and let others know what comes up for you as you encounter difficult things, epiphanies, and everything in between, the more confidence you’ll gain and the more you’ll be able to sort through all of the misconceptions you have in your head. 

Go on a mission with a friend, or ask your husband or significant other to support you in choosing to sort through some false beliefs you have about what it means to care for yourself. You’d be surprised at how much support you’ll receive when you demonstrate compassion and love for yourself.

It’s helpful to keep a log of all the things you do and note how they make you feel. You’ll build a toolbox of things to go to when you need specific kinds of care, or you feel stuck, and you’ll learn what to say yes to and what to pass on.

You’ll notice a huge shift in the way you view self care when you can see it less as something frivolous and more as a necessity to be a whole person. It is NOT selfish and does NOT take away from others, it only amplifies the person you can be for others.

Self care is a process, not a destination

But, all of that only comes with practice and compassion for yourself as you go on the journey. Any time you feel discouraged or disconnected from doing what makes you feel nourishment (and remember, nourishment can be embracing and releasing negative things too), remember that by simply pausing to reflect on whatever feelings are coming up for you – that alone is caring for yourself and you’re well on your way to becoming a self-care expert.

Remember there are no right answers. You are the only person in your body, and you are the only one who knows what you need. Your self care journey can and will look completely different than everyone else’s around you.

I’m excited to see you actively get on the train of the act of loving yourself in a way only you can. Share what works for you and know that I am your sister on her own journey with you.

Ideas for things that are self care

  1. Pray
  2. Exercise
  3. Do Yoga
  4. Write in a journal
  5. Take a nap
  6. Take a walk outside
  7. Go shopping/browsing to get visual inspiration (be careful to resist the urge to buy unnecessary things)
  8. Get a massage
  9. Get your nails done
  10. Get a blowout
  11. Get a haircut
  12. Close your eyes and focus on breathing
  13. Go on a solo retreat at a hotel
  14. Get a facial
  15. Eat something healthy
  16. Eat something unhealthy and savor every bite!
  17. Paint
  18. Do a craft or art
  19. Create something – cooking, poetry, using power tools, etc.
  20. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. That’s where we find growth.
  21. Go to church
  22. Go to the library
  23. Work at a coffee shop
  24. Listen to your favorite music and let it consume you
  25. Cry
  26. Go to therapy
  27. Talk to a friend about what’s on your mind
  28. Cuddle with your kids
  29. Take a warm bath with candles, music, and bath salts
  30. Smell your favorite scent/essential oils in a diffuser and breathe in where it takes you
  31. Practice intentional breathing
  32. Read about the physical effects of trauma
  33. Read a book
  34. Watch a show on Netflix – be careful not to binge, but spread it out regularly
  35. Put away your phone
  36. Sleep with your phone in the other room
  37. Go in a hot tub
  38. Plan a vacation
  39. Wrap yourself in a weighted blanket
  40. Use a foam roller and work out any sore muscles
  41. Use a massage gun
  42. Go on a hike in nature
  43. Have a conversation with the little girl inside you from your childhood. Ask her what she’s scared of, what concerns her, and coach her just the way you would your own daughter. Let her know she is loved and that you are here for her.
  44. Stretch your body in whatever way feels good
  45. Press against a wall with your hands
  46. Ground yourself by pressing your feet into the ground, your back into a chair, and feeling as heavy as you can
  47. Use bilateral stimulation (pat your hands left and right on your lap, or go for a walk) to ease anxiety and calm your nervous system
  48. Rock in a rocking chair
  49. Drink a glass of water – bonus if you pack it with ice, add a slice of lemon, or flavor drops
  50. Write a list of affirmations – positive things to say to yourself
  51. Make a gratitude list – remind yourself what you’re grateful for
  52. Take a warm (or cool), relaxing shower
  53. Take a new class you’re interested in. Practice reminding yourself you don’t have to be good at it when you’re still learning.
  54. Do something really badly – and embrace how awful you are at it
  55. Punch a punching bag
  56. Take a kickboxing class
  57. Find an old appliance, office machine, or some glass and smash it (don’t forget safety goggles!) Release any pent up rage!
  58. Find a space in your home to declutter. Junk drawers are always great to clean out
  59. Donate old clothes or anything you don’t want anymore
  60. Make a financial goal – decide to put away a certain amount of money to save for something special
  61. Buy yourself a bouquet of flowers
  62. Watch the sunset
  63. Color in a coloring book
  64. Cuddle with your pet
  65. Do a meditation

All of these are all instances of self care. There is no limit for things you can do that show yourself love and compassion. What is your favorite thing to do to love on yourself?

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Kelly Garrett

Kelly Garrett

I'm a wife, mom to 4 kids, writer, and entrepreneur. I write about the journey of discovering yourself, learning how to love yourself, and to find your elusive self-care routine.

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