Among Christian circles (Catholic and non-Catholic), self-care can get a bad rap. Some call it selfish. “Why would you take time for yourself when you could serve others?” they ask. Others liken it to a band-aid that makes no real, long-lasting, positive difference in your life. They argue that the effect of massages and manicures only lasts so long, and then you’re right back where you started.
But, they’re wrong.
Self-care is far from selfish or ineffective. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Unfortunately, too many people misunderstand self-care. It’s not getting a massage or going for a walk, and then feeling the weight of the world permanently leave your shoulders.
It is so much more.
Self-care means recognizing and acting on the truth that, in order to be at your best, you must take good care of yourself. If I slept poorly last night and skipped lunch today, I am not at my best when working with clients. Sometimes, taking care of yourself is challenging. Self-care is not the “treat yourself” mentality it’s often described to be. Self-care is a discipline.
Going to bed on time requires discipline.
Saying no to a pushy coworker requires discipline.
Cultivating healthy relationships requires discipline.
None of these forms of self-care are indulgent - they are challenging. Although it may be difficult, you are worth the time and effort required to practice the discipline of self-care.
[Y]ou are worth the time and effort required to practice the discipline of self-care.
Self-care also varies for each individual. In One Beautiful Dream, Jennifer Fulwiler discusses her “blue flame” (i.e. what she’s passionate about) and how it brings her a sense of fulfillment and restoration, whereas she finds other activities draining and overwhelming. Similarly, what restores and sustains you during stressful times might differ from what helps your friends and family recharge. For example, some people swear by waking up early to exercise, journal, and prepare for the day. I am not like that. While the idea sounds appealing (I could accomplish so much!), I find it to be more stressful than restorative. And that’s okay. Personally, I enjoy running, experimenting with watercolors, and reading. To some people I know, however, that would be the most boring form of self-care ever. Again, that’s okay.
Some can be quick to judge certain practices as frivolous or ineffective forms of self-care, but what really matters is knowing yourself and what restores you. We need to take care of ourselves physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and in our relationships. We cannot accomplish being okay by sheer willpower, we have to work towards it through proper self-care. From a Catholic Christian perspective, we are both body and soul, and we must care for both. Neglecting our true needs is a recipe for feeling burned out, overwhelmed, and stressed. When that happens, we aren’t at our best.
[W]e are both body and soul, and we must care for both.
We all need self-care, even if the practice looks different from person to person. We aren’t in a competition to see who needs the least amount of self-care or who has the “best” form of self-care. You know what you need best. Be a friend to yourself - the type of friend who knows just what you need - and make it happen.
And if anyone calls you weak or selfish for taking care of yourself, maybe they need some self-care, too.
Julia Marie Hogan is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Chicago. In addition to her work as a psychotherapist, she leads workshops and writes on topics related to self-care, relationships, and mental health. Her book, It's Ok to Start with You is all about the power of embracing your worth and is available in the OSV Catholic Bookstore and on Amazon. She is passionate about empowering individuals to be their most authentic selves. You can learn more about Julia and her work here.
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