It’s wintertime where I am: the days are mostly grey and dreary and kind of dark. It’s cold, and I spend a great many hours indoors staring at a computer screen. It’s a time of year that is not so good for the soul.
Since I moved to Toronto back in October, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about building a life and a home for myself. I’m learning how to take care of myself and trying to figure out what really makes me happy. My mom said it best (doesn’t she always?) in an offhand comment the other day: “You’re trying to be deliberate.”
Part of the puzzle is self-care, which is the piece I find the hardest. I’m a creature of habit and routine, which means I can eat more or less the same thing, go on more or less the same walks, and wear more or less the same clothes every single day. Mostly, I like being this way, because it means I get to save a lot of my mental energy for things like writing and creating and making. Sometimes though – mainly in the winter months – it can start to feel monotonous. I have a poster in my bedroom that reminds me: magic is something you make. This is extremely hard to do! For me, self-care is about making that magic – or noticing it – in my everyday life.
Here are some of the ways I’ve been exploring self-care lately:
1. i’m not a robot
I heard a line on a podcast the other day that I found enormously helpful:
Self-care is the daily practice of remembering that I’m not a robot.
It’s a long interview, so if you want to jump ahead to that part, head to 1:40 or so.
When I heard this, I instantly thought: that is me. That could not be more me. The host of the show talks about how some days she’ll feel particularly tired, and spend the whole day saying things like “Why are you so tired today?! You had plenty of sleep! Stop being tired!” Another day she might feel hungrier than usual, so she’ll get baffled and annoyed as to why that might be, and fight against it by not allowing herself what she really needs.
Well folks, the answer is that we are not robots. Our bodies and minds are mysterious, beautiful systems that fluctuate depending on the day. Some days we’re more tired. Some days we’re more focused. Some days we need a lot of breaks. Some days we need extra food, or more sunshine. Some days we need to unplug.
All of the above is totally fine and normal and human. It’s only when we expect ourselves to be well-oiled machines that we run into issues. Just having this tiny phrase to repeat to myself is helping, as is setting alarms to remind myself to eat, stand up, and take breaks. Thou art only human, honey.
2. Pay attention to what you’re paying attention to
I’m taking a money + happiness mini course this week (it’s free and awesome) and today’s talk was full of great advice. One of the things Sarah talked about was how we pick up all kinds of false beliefs about what makes us happy from TV, magazines, Instagram feeds, and the people around us. Part of the work of really living a life that makes you happy is about learning to ignore whatever is not true for you, and for most of us that means ignoring the majority of what we see and read.
Instead of recommending that we just shut it all down and never interact with another thing that is not aligned with our values (which would be impossible, stupid, and probably end up making us ironically unhappy), she recommends bracing ourselves before we engage with at media or people that we know tend to mess us up a little bit. Before we watch that video or scroll that Instagram feed or meet up with that friend who we love but whose values around certain areas of life do not match our own, her advice is to remind ourselves repeatedly: this is not true for me, or this is not even real.
I absolutely, 100% need those reminders for a lot of things that both a) make me happy or inspired and b) make me feel a little bad about my life. Your things (people, accounts, shows) are probably totally different than mine, but I’m guessing you know exactly who or what they are. Having that mindfulness about what I’m taking in and absorbing can make all the difference.
3. Be Impractical
Over the past few months, my mindset has felt, at times, relentlessly practical. I’ve tried to be efficient and streamlined, get into the zone with my work, stay productive, and get organized.
Sounds great, right? Right. But when you start to feel annoyed that you can’t keep working because you have to go to the bathroom (yet) again, or feel like you can’t do the laundry or make lunch because it will cut into work time, something is wrong. YOU are wrong. (I’m talking to myself here.)
For me, self-care is about coming back to the impractical things, and making time for all those intangible things that don’t have a “purpose” or “objective” that can be measured or calculated. Things like going to work at a beautiful café, even if it means I’m a tiny bit less focused while I’m working. Going for a really long walk in the middle of the workday, just because it’s the only sunshine we’ve seen in weeks. Doing things just for fun: reading books, knitting blankets, writing blog posts. Buying flowers for my apartment. Recently I took a bath after my shower and it was deliciously impractical – and very soothing.
Constantly reminding myself that not everything needs to have a dollar value or specific outcome attached to it helps a lot.
I am not so great at any of this stuff, so tell me: how do you practice self-care? What does taking care of yourself look like for you?
P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like: being mindful about what we consume, figuring out what matters to us, affirmations for uncertain days and today, be gentle.