This week a friend called me, asking how to navigate some difficult waters and spoke of the weariness she was experiencing, both physically and emotionally. As we visited, I asked her what brought her joy, what filled her bucket. She had no answers for me.
I shared with her some ideas on taking care of herself and challenged her to create a list of things that bring her joy. She saw she had been missing white space in her life and that there was one really important person she had been neglecting — herself.
Creating white space like I wrote about last week begins with taking care of yourself. It’s not a “one-and-done” nor is it superficial. Self-care is deep. It is foundational to who we are. It begins with a solid core of showing up for yourself. It is understanding that it is consistent practice, drop by drop, that creates the white space that allows us to go out and love, serve and connect.
For most, self-care begins with a morning routine that sets the tone for the day. For me, that includes getting up early, then starting the day off with inspirational reading, prayer, meditation, journaling (at the very least, gratitude journaling), other writing and a big glass of water. (Don’t let that list scare you — it does not have to take a long time.)
Self-care also includes regularly doing items off my joy list, a concept I was first introduced to by success coach Tiffany Peterson. As the name implies, it is a list of things that bring me joy: daffodils, my daughter’s art work, lunch with a friend, the ocean, the mountains, travel, a good book — the list is long, but it hasn’t always been that way. The practice of gratitude and finding joy did not come naturally to me, but with lots of practice, some less-than-gracious times, and then more practice, I have reached a point where at least I know how to get back to center when things start to go sideways.
Self-care also includes time for learning new things. It may be learning a new language via Duolingo, learning a new skill via YouTube, taking a college course, or trying a new recipe. Albert Einstein said “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” Don’t let that happen to you.
I’ve heard self-care bashed as selfish or trendy. It’s not. It is essential. And while it might seem trendy right now, it is not defined by how many pictures of smoothies get posted on Instagram. (A smoothie might be part of your joy list, or even part of your self-care routine, but just by itself, it is not what I mean by self-care.)
Self-care is also not just one more thing on an endless to-do list. If you are feeling that way, re-evaluate and see if there are things you can eliminate or decrease and add in things that fill your bucket. Self-care is also not an excuse to check out of life. Binge watching Netflix and not taking care of your obligations is not self-care. It’s avoidance and it’s not healthy.
Finally, self-care does not have to be either time-consuming or expensive. Don’t have 30 minutes to meditate? Take 5. Can’t afford childcare one day a week? Trade with a friend. Can’t do an hour-long yoga class? Do 5 sun salutations. Overwhelmed by the thought of “catching up” on journaling? Give yourself permission to start where you are and spend just 5 minutes a day.
Keeping our buckets filled lets us fill other buckets — work, family, children, the emotional labor of running a household, caring for aging parents, dealing with significant health crises and so many other potential buckets.
Sometimes I think we get caught up in this idea that to “lose ourselves in service” means that we literally lose who we are, becoming shells of who we are meant to be. I don’t buy that. I believe we are meant to live rich, full, joyful lives. A life of meaning, a life of service, a life of authenticity and a life of connection. You cannot do that if you do not take care of yourself.
Holly Richardson loves to help others find ways to find white space in their lives.