Saturday, May 30, 2015

Take Care!

It took me a long time to figure out what proper self-care looks like. For example, as an introvert, I didn't understand why I would come away from coffee dates or house parties feeling exhausted. Happy, of course, because I love my friends—but at the same time, it was like my own personal battery was drained down to 12%. Now, when I'm in host mode, I try to create events where everyone can kind of take care of themselves: potlucks, for instance, or weekends in the country where it's a perfectly acceptable social activity is to fall asleep on the couch with a 2013 issue of The New Yorker in your hands.

But self-care extends beyond the ability to be social in ways that appeal to you. It's also being honest with yourself: maybe week three of your awful spring head cold isn't the right time to run that half-marathon, even though you've already paid the money and bought the water-cooler fanny pack. Or maybe it's turning to your partner, or your mother, or your best friend, and saying, "Hey, can you watch the kids this afternoon? I really need some time to myself," and then doing nothing more strenuous than painting your nails. Or maybe it's registering for yoga, even though, like, four people said they'd come with you and then they all bailed. It's doing the things you want to do, because they feel good. And, it's saying no to things that will likely make you feel not-so-good.

If you're not really great at self-care, that's okay! It took me ages to figure out how to do it. I had the yes part down: saying yes to myself and doing things I like. But it took for-freakin'-ever to figure out the no part: saying no to things when I felt sad, or tired, or just uninterested. No is pretty tough to feel good about. It's starts off as an empty space, but it's one that allows you to fill it with other nice things. No is a great starting point.

Here's a crash course in self-care. Try some! Try all!

Eat some really delicious foods. If you're tired of your usual delicious foods and are suffering a crisis of imagination, try some of my favourites: smoked oysters from a can; lemon sorbet; those honey-and-sesame snaps that everyone's Grandma used to squirrel away in a cupboard; grapefruit with a little bit of sugar on top; pad thai.

When someone invites you to a social event, say, "Can I get back to you on that?" before automatically saying yes. It doesn't matter if this person is your mother, or your brother, or your boss. Go home. Check your calendar. Look at what else you're doing that week. Ask yourself, "do I really want to spend a weekend with my mother, when 90 minutes in, I'm usually wishing I was anywhere else?" (Not you, mom. I like spending the weekend with you.) If the invitation and your love of spending time with the person don't match up, suggest an alternative. Maybe a weekend with your parents isn't sometime you want to dive into; maybe an afternoon with them at the aquarium is more your speed.

Get some physical activity. There is a great Dorothy Parker quote: "I hate writing. I love having written." I feel this way about working out. In the moment, it is such a colossal drag. All that grunting and movement and breathing. Ugh! But afterwards, I love flexing my muscles in front of the mirror, or feeling okay about that bowl of ice cream. You yourself may pull a Dorothy Parker and celebrate the close of your workouts with a large glass of gin. The more I work out, the more I feel like my body and I are coming to peace. I love that it makes me feel good, and strong, and accomplished.

Take a bath. Or go for a swim. Immerse yourself in a body of water, and allow your body to float.

Read. Put your phone/tablet/phablet down and pick up a book. Or a magazine! Even if you're not a reader, per se the joys of leafing through a book, engaging with it as a physical object, can be so pleasurable. Get a big glossy art book out of the library, or pick up a splurgey magazine, or even browse your own bookshelves for those unread stories. Time spent reading is time well spent.

Walk. Anywhere. Bring a podcast or a playlist if you want, and just walk. Pick a destination, or a duration, or a direction, and be outside.

Make a list of thing you're good at. This is an awesome idea if you work at a job with an annual review, but even just seeing a list of things that you know yourself to be good at is a pretty powerful thing. Put down the big things, like communication. Put down the little things, too, like having a knack for packing boxes, or being able to dispose of spiders without killing them. Update this list whenever you need to. Read it often. Believe in it.

Make space for nothing. I really believe that overscheduling is the devil's Blackberry, and that humans are much more like housecats than we let ourselves believe. With the advent of smartphones, we can be engaged with something anytime, anywhere: in line for the bank, pooping, if our husbands go to get eggplants one aisle over at the grocery store and leave us to watch the cart for 45 seconds. Make time for yourself to do literally nothing. You won't actually be doing nothing, obviously: you might decide to take a bath, or bake some muffins, or call a friend. But leaving a little bit of space every day to just chill those brainwaves out is pretty nice.

When you say yes, mean yes. Don't mean only if something better doesn't come along or I'll do it if nobody else says yes or I'd rather not but I'm afraid of starting a fight or even this will tide you over for a few months, so okay. Yes, I know. Sometimes saying no when people are used to hearing yes can open up a conversation, and that can be uncomfortable. But also? Saying yes when you mean yes, and no when you mean no, makes you feel pretty great. Seriously. Try it.

There are other ways to do great self-care, depending on who you are and what you like. Try making something with your hands, like woodworking projects or knitting! Try meditation or contemplate movement, like tai chi or yoga. Try dates with the people you love: a standing Thursday night coffee date with your boyfriend, or a monthly book club with your black-witted girlfriends. Try cutting down on booze, or trading chocolate for cherries. Try different things. Some will make you feel okay, and some will make your soul sing. Listen carefully.

Image via Joe Webb