A few weeks ago I changed out Charlie’s clothing. If you’re a mother, I’m sure you’re familiar with this chore of sorting through old clothes, boxing up the pieces that are too small, then pulling out the new tubs of clothing and re-stocking dresser drawers and hangers with the larger sizes. It’s not a huge task, but it’s not a fun one either, and it does take some time.
Charlie’s clothes had been fitting snuggly for quite a while, so the change-out was overdue, yet I’d been putting it off until I had a solid block of uninterrupted time to devote to the job. I like to schedule these sorts of tasks, but the busyness of our move had kept me from putting the big Clothes Sorting on the calendar. One Friday morning I found myself with nothing else to do and simply decided to start sorting clothing right then. It wasn’t ideal; since Luke was working, he was unable to watch Charlie, so I had an enthusiastic (if not skilled) little helper. But the job got done by the end of the day, and with the task complete, I felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders.
I was amazed at the relief I felt at finishing a seemingly simple job. Without my realizing it, the anticipation of this daunting chore had become a surreptitious source of stress; it was only after I had already checked the task off my list that was I able to recognize how important it was for me to get the job done—not just for practical purposes, but for the good of my own sanity. In a strange way, the mundane act of sorting clothing had served as a form of self care.
When I hear the words “self care” my mind immediately turns to pampering. True, small indulgences like massages and bubble baths can indeed be a way to care for oneself, but these more traditional methods tend to focus on caring for the body. And it’s not always my physical self that needs attention—more often, it’s my soul that needs nurturing.
As an INFJ and an HSP, I am highly susceptible to emotional fatigue and chronic overwhelm. I experience my feelings deeply, and stress is one of my most-felt emotions. Unfortunately I don’t always recognize the sources of my stress, or even realize when it is threatening to overpower me. Only when my energy levels have become fully depleted, sending me over the edge of emotional functionality, do I take measures to rectify the situation, and by then my band-aid solutions are too little and too late. Such emotional turbulence is clearly not ideal. It is painful for me and unfair to those forced to weather my ups and downs. Fortunately, such storms can be easily prevented when I am proactive about the nurturing of my sanity and my soul.
Recognizing the need for self care is a strong first step, but sometimes it can be easier said than done. As evidenced by my revelation with sorting Charlie’s clothes, I’m not always able to identify my emotional needs in the moment. And of course those needs are always changing. Sometimes self care looks like saying yes: YES to that cup of coffee with a friend, YES to the quiet walk in the park, YES to cleaning the house so that I can experience a sense of accomplishment. At other times, self care is a strong no—to additional social commitments because I really don’t have the time; to exercise, because my body is asking for a day of rest; or to doing housework, because what I really need is just to take a nap. I’m learning that some forms of self care are nearly always effective, while others are only occasional fixes. And what works for me is rarely what will work for someone else.
As a mom it can be hard for me to make time for myself. I don’t like asking for help, and sometimes feel like I should be able to do ALL THE THINGS without ever pausing for breath. Self care seems so selfish, and even writing about it feels uncomfortably indulgent. But ultimately it is essential to allowing my best self to shine. Only once I have met my own emotional needs can I wholeheartedly serve my family and others around me.
Do you struggle with making time to care for yourself? What does self care look like to you?