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Carolyn Hax: What is self-care?

Washington Post

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: What exactly is self-care? Life is chaos right now, lots of changes happening, little time to take it all in, responsibilities are adding up. I feel exhausted and overwhelmed and I feel like crying a lot. I’m already under a doctor’s care for anxiety and depression, so I don’t think it’s a full-fledged emergency, I just need the words to say to be able to take care of myself right now. – Chaos

It’s so individual in its details, but, in general, self-care is a focus on giving yourself what you need.

That can mean being careful to get enough sleep, to the point of enforcing a bedtime even if you haven’t finished everything you need to do; it can mean taking care to eat nutritious foods on a disciplined schedule instead of hosing bags of processed foods at 1 a.m. in an eff-it-all frenzy; it can mean saying “no” to things you normally say “yes” to because you recognize that every “yes” just adds to your to-do list; it can mean recognizing the time you spend scrolling your news feed is not arming you with enough useful information to justify the stress you take away from it through bad news or bad comparisons; it can mean canceling plans with people who tire you out and spending time (at least for now) only with people who are restorative; it can mean just sitting down to write a list of what you perceive to be your responsibilities, and crossing off the ones that are actually optional even though you’ve never treated them as such, and doing the ones right away that you know you can accomplish quickly.

It can mean simplifying as a rule: Every time you’re about to do something, ask yourself, is this necessary? Does it help?

It can mean returning to restorative practices that you’ve gotten away from or introducing ones that others count on but you’ve never tried: music, walking, meditation, yoga, deep breathing, reading, dance, naps, cardio, journaling, kickball, socializing, whatever fits your nature.

It means learning what you actually control and what you don’t and filling out your schedule accordingly.

And last but not least: Embrace impermanence. Every phase has a beginning, a middle and an end, and every phase has feelings associated with it. So, every feeling has a beginning, a middle and an end.

A little feelings math for you. Hang in there.

Re: Self-care: Sometimes for me, self-care is the opposite of the standard yoga/healthy foods/etc. advice. When I’m struggling, I often find that what I’m really craving and need is a weekend where I just let the apartment get messy, order a couple pizzas, and watch Netflix and football for two days straight. Actually letting myself rest, without expectations, is very restorative for me. – Opposite

Re: Self-care: And sometimes self-care means eating the junk food at 1 a.m. rather than using up valuable willpower resisting it every single moment of every single day. – Anonymous

Boom Chicka Pop to that. Thanks for the weekend plans! Just not every weekend or 1 a.m., or I’d feel too bad to feel better.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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