One of the things that I find most interesting about self-care is that we don’t think much about it until we actually need it. What I mean to say is that more often than not, while self-care is something everyone should practice every day of their lives, it is usually something we don’t think about until we reach a point in life when we are faced with physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual problems. I did not begin to delve into the concept of self-care until I began my education in massage therapy and complementary and alternative medicine, and, even when it did appear on my radar, it was something that was essential to work on with clients, but I did not think about it for myself.
Self-care did not become a personal journey for me until I really needed it (and I hear this often from friends living with HIV). Some years ago I became a primary caregiver for a parent living with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. I decided to join a support group for LGBT caregivers and it was there that I began to see the need for self-care in myself and not just something I would teach and preach to my clients. While self-care is unquestionably worthwhile, it is not an easy process to begin or maintain.
When it comes to your self-care process, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Are you really practicing self-care? Or, are you just hiding the problem? When I first started my self-care routine, I would come home from work, find some type of Zen music to listen to, burn white sage leaves to “smudge” my surroundings, and light white candles. Then what? I would go on with my usual routine of work, chores, and assorted responsibilities. While I may have created what looked like a relaxing environment, I was still doing all the things that caused me stress within that environment. When I was a child and my mother would tell me to clean my room, I would hide everything under the bed and in the closet. Sure, my room looked pretty, but I wasn’t really doing anything to address the mess that needed to be sorted. You have to ask yourself how your self-care practices make you feel. Do you see a change? Do you feel change? Or, are you just going through the motions?
Do you have a healthy balance between your work and your life? It’s important to understand what work is. Work is not necessarily just your job; it’s all the things in your life that are your responsibilities. I had a close friend who used to love to clean his car. He could spend an entire afternoon washing windows, vacuuming seats, scrubbing mud flaps and the like. I had a roommate who loved to clean the apartment. He took great joy in scrubbing the tile grout with a little brush and organizing shelves. While both these individuals found what they did therapeutic; I thought of it as work. It is important for each of us to figure out what falls under the heading of work and responsibility and what simply brings you joy. Draw a clear line between the two.
Do you see the difference between living and existing? Existence is being here and doing what we have to do. Living is taking pleasure from life. I, like all of us, have a routine. When I wake in the morning, typically, the first thing I do is get something to drink and gather my vitamins and supplements. I sit down at the computer and check my email. I shower, shave, and dress and walk the same route to the train. I always stop and get a granola bar and piece of fruit along the way. I eat breakfast on the train platform and when the train arrives, I take a seat and I make my to-do list for the day. This was my morning existence. Over time I have learned to insert living into the balance. I still must walk to the train, but I change my route every day. I still get a granola bar and a piece of fruit, but I leave myself enough time to sit in the park and eat instead of on a crowded subway platform. I still sit down at the computer with my juice and vitamins, but I do not check my email. Instead, I listen to music, chat with friends online or play games. There are many online services that you can sign up for that send morning affirmations or health tips. There are apps that will send you an uplifting quote or story each day. I do that instead of email as well. Try to bring some life into your existence in little ways.
Are you having a good relationship with yourself? This is a favorite of mine. Certainly, your relationships with your friends, your family, and your significant other are important, but how is your relationship with yourself? Self-care is a very important part of your relationship with you! It provides a sense of accomplishment, it boosts confidence and self-esteem. Making yourself feel good makes you feel good about yourself. It’s a good reminder, not just to you, but to others in your life that you have needs and they are important. Be as good a friend to yourself as you are to others. Learn to keep yourself company. When I was younger, I never traveled alone. In fact, I would not go to a movie alone, or to a restaurant. But over time I came to enjoy my own company. I like that I can make myself laugh. I enjoy the fact that I can explore and experience new places, people and, things with myself as my sidekick. Self-appreciation goes a long way in self-care.
Rob Zukowski is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition, he has advanced training in Sports Massage and sports-related injuries, various relaxation therapies, and massage for oncology. His experience includes working in medical facilities, corporate health environments, wellness centers, and spas. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer, manages a wellness center, arranges corporate wellness events, works in private practice and lectures in the field of therapeutic massage therapy. You can contact him directly at [email protected].