I was never one for self-care. At least not the way it was defined by popular culture.
True, it’s nice to do nice things for yourself like nail polish, a new hair-do, and a bubble bath but, aside from the bath, it all seemed like upkeep. Nail polish fades and needs to be redone. Going to get your hair done, for a black woman, is an all-day affair that, for me, has always been torture.
As the pandemic rages and re-emerges in a new coat (hello, Omicron), I’m all self-cared out.
But as the threat of more masks and lockdowns looms, what does self-care need to look like now to help us survive another round?
I recently read a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information about self-care among medical personnel, specifically nurses and doctors. This study was conducted before the pandemic, but it has some jewels.
What was interesting here is that self-care was approached as a practice—self-care as a thing to get better at and not a catch-all. For example, there were several levels of self-care discussed in this study — work self care, outside of work self-care, and the practice of self-care.
It’s the phrase “the practice of self-care” that blew my mind. Like, this is practice? A practice? Like how one would practice an instrument or a speech?
Thinking about self-care as a practice means a couple of things. 1) It’s continuous. You’re working on it constantly and consistently 2) It requires effort 3) If you don’t get it right, you can keep trying until you do.
This idea is what I’d like to call Self-Care 2.0, and this is what I’m going to be practicing this year as part of my word for the year.
According to the study, work self-care includes setting and using boundaries, regulating workload, team-care/healthy team, and using laughter.
Some of this we don’t have control over. Regulation of workload is the first one that jumps out. Sometimes the to-do list is longer than your arm, and none of it is something you want to get done. You also don’t get to pick your co-workers and, no matter how hard you try, you may not vibe with them. (By the way, that okay if you don’t. They may have another focus entirely. )
But boundaries we do have some control over. (I’ll be digging into what boundaries mean in the workplace for people of color in a later post.)
I love a good boundary but setting them and keeping to them is a different animal. For me, a work boundary is letting everyone know, including my students, that I don’t reply to emails on the weekends or that grades won’t be posted until two weeks after the assignment due date. They do forget, and sometimes so do I, but I have gotten better at it every semester.
However, if we are practicing our self-care in this new 2.0 age, we may have to think about boundaries differently.
A boundary isn’t necessarily what you won’t or can’t do. It can be about what you will do. Yes, that means that you are changing a boundary statement from “I don’t work on the weekends” to “I will spend the weekends with my family and friends.” Switch “I don’t check emails during after work hours” to “I spend my evenings resting and recharging my batteries for the next day.”
Just remember, it is a practice. Just because you set a boundary doesn’t mean it won’t get challenged or that you won’t break them, or that there may not be consequences for establishing and following your limits.
Boundaries are sometimes an act of civil disobedience, the consequences of which you must prepare for.
Let me give you an example. I am attempting to establish a boundary with my writing, leaving it for the morning. That means I don’t exercise in the morning. I don’t check work emails. I don’t answer student questions. And, this is the big one, I don’t accept meeting invites for the morning.
My goal is to save the most creative time in my day for my work. That means I have to have boundaries on the other things that need my attention.
I’ve also asked and communicated with others about that boundary — a note that says when I’ll reply to an email, asking whether a meeting can be moved later on in the day, etc. — which has helped with keeping the boundary so far.
This means that sometimes I’ll have to break the boundary for something essential, and that’s okay. As long as it isn’t consistent, your boundary can remain established. This is a boundary I have prepared for, at least mentally.
The establishment and care of boundaries show that I love myself. I love myself enough to protect the things that are important to me, that make me a person.
So Self-Care 2.0 is about practicing the things that help you feel like yourself. Maybe it is that nice coat of nail polish once in a while. Or perhaps it is realizing that protecting your time, space, and mental health is a practice of treating yourself well.
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