It’s been a wet and chilly summer so far.
I’m sitting in the lodge of a campground looking out the window at yet another damp and cool day.
I haven’t had the time to write anything in a while, but this seemed like a good time to get out of the elements for a bit and sit in a warm, dry, controlled environment to do just that.
My girlfriend and I are spending the summer working at a campground above 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado while living, along with our dog, in a small three-person tent that we use when we all go backpacking.
This is bear and mountain lion country, and warm showers are a commodity. The early morning temperatures in the summer up here are usually in the 40-degree Fahrenheit range, and it’s not uncommon to drop down into the 30s. Only one night has been spent indoors in over a month. It’s not easy and it’s not without its challenges, but the way I look at it is that all of this is self-care.
I do not believe that self-care is only about being kind and gentle with ourselves.
Self-care is what we do to have and to maintain a healthy life physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. There is also a multi-billion-dollar industry packaging and promoting products and practices to help us achieve optimal health. We have boxed and labeled and categorized self-care, as we tend to do with most things, thereby limiting how we view it and limiting its effect on us. When we throw our money at merchandise, a pill, a smoothie, a feel-good plan, or an app, then we may have bought into the belief that we need something else, something outside of ourselves, for our health or happiness to be better—and business is booming!
But I don’t feel that self-care should come from a product so much, nor should it be a routine or our default way of dealing with the stresses of life. True self-care, as I see it, takes work and will frequently make us uncomfortable. If we look at it as a mindset rather than a practice or a routine then we may find our own self-care in absolutely everything we do.
It may look different for everyone, but sometimes self-care is about being more curious than convinced. Sometimes, it’s about challenging and pushing ourselves beyond what we’re comfortable with. It’s giving ourselves permission to be uncomfortable. It’s making the inconvenient choices and asking the hard questions. It’s looking at that thing that we don’t want to do but doing it anyway.
It’s when we feel like quitting but we don’t. It’s about recognizing our own shortcomings and then doing something so we don’t keep falling victim to them. It’s listening to things that we don’t want to hear, like good arguments that make us uncomfortable. It’s not ignoring the negative but trying to understand it. Sometimes, self-care is not about trying to reduce or control all of the variables but exploring them and experimenting with them.
It’s confronting our fears, being scared, but still doing it. It’s about doing something completely outside of our comfort zone. It’s seeking out information that contradicts our beliefs. It’s not about being hard on ourselves, it’s about being honest with ourselves and not playing games with ourselves—those mind games that we don’t even know that we’re playing or that we simply refuse to acknowledge.
Sometimes self-care is about standing in there and facing and enduring the issue. It’s not about trying to avoid the pain or discomfort but allowing ourselves to suffer through it to see what it has to teach us about ourselves rather than trying to change it or avoid it—so that we may come out stronger on the other side. If life was supposed to be easy or without challenges, we would never grow.
It’s been almost four years since we sold our home and all of our belongings and began living life on the road. One thing that I have learned in that time—really learned—is that overcoming the difficulty of something is what makes it the most rewarding. We may say that we know this and yet difficulty is what we spend most of our time trying to avoid.
To maximize our happiness or satisfaction, we need a good portion of the opposite. We can’t build resilience by trying to feel good all of the time. It’s built by facing hardships, pain, and disappointment. If we are always protecting ourselves from the hard things or the difficult things then how can we have an understanding of them or know what to do with them when they do come? But when we condition ourselves to do the difficult things, the difficult things become easier. Just as muscle is built by physical resistance, pressure, and adversity, so is our emotional and mental strength.
The road to self-care is paved with sweat and discomfort and pain just as much as it’s paved with relaxation and gentleness and kindness with ourselves. If we’re always trying to feel safe, we don’t have to go far to feel unsafe. If we’re always trying to be comfortable, it doesn’t take as much to make us uncomfortable.
Self-care is about developing the mental, physical, and spiritual resources to get us through challenging and difficult times. It is not just about doing what we need to do to survive the day; it’s also about building ourselves up to take on the day.
When self-care is a mindset and not just a routine or a practice then every situation, every problem, everything becomes an opportunity to learn something, to better ourselves, to become stronger, and to grow. That, to me, is self-care.
Yes, we all need a time and a place and a way to relax, regroup, recharge, and refocus our energies. By all means, we should take some time to be kind and gentle with ourselves, and we all need some assistance every now and then. But self-care can easily become self-sabotage if we’re not careful. Self-care is not the problem, but how we look at it and how we use it may be.
This is the self-care that nobody talks about because this is the self-care that requires us to look at ourselves and be completely honest about the role we play in our own well-being. We seem to want the results but without having to go through the process. We want answers, we want truth…but only if it makes us feel good. The hard truth is a tough sell because it is not an appealing soundbite, and it doesn’t sell a lot of products. It never did.
“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake. It is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” ~ Brianna Weist