For most of us, the buzzword ‘self–care’ sparks ideas of yoga, bubble baths, and candles galore. How wonderful that we’re reminded to do nice things for ourselves in a time where self-compassion feels harder than ever. But what if doing nice things for yourself meant doing hard things too?
Could a grueling 10KM run in the rain be an act of self-care, just as pamper evening is? Absolutely.
In fact, it’s more important than ever to view self-care as the balance between doing things that soothe you and challenge you, in order to feel your best.
I like to think of self-care as a yin and yang symbol, each side representing the two competing elements of our motivation. On one hand, we have our yin element – this represents the emotional side of our minds.
This side of self-care relates to the activities that soothe us, that often that we often do automatically. We feel drawn to these things and can perceive them as ‘treats’.
Some examples of yin self-care are bubble baths, taking a nap, watching TV, eating comfort foods, hugs, pamper evenings, a phone call with a good friend, resting.
The yang element of self-care represents those things you can’t really be bothered to do, but you know they’re good for you. You know… those activities that you dread and dread until you’ve completed them and suddenly feel amazing! This relates to the rational side of our minds that is often overshadowed by fear.
These yang actions aren’t designed to soothe or comfort you, but they are an act of self-care as they cover your basic needs and support your growth – this is taking care of yourself like a loved one would.
Just how you would take care of others you really care about (you’d encourage them to eat nutritious foods, calm their minds and move their bodies), this side of self-care is about taking care of yourself in the same way.
Some examples of yang self-care are intense exercise, meditation, preparing fresh meals, keeping a clean environment, learning, challenges.
I believe we each have a natural tendency to lean towards either the yin or yang side of self-care.
For some of us, that might mean finding it genuinely difficult to rest and unwind or feeling unworthy of treating ourselves.
Those that tend to people-please or find worth through hard work may feel most comfortable engaging in the yang side of self-care. You may have been asked ‘how can you fill others cups without filling your own first?’ but it goes deeper than that: rest is productive. Comforting yourself is allowed. Give yourself permission to take a back seat and you’ll realize that nothing falls apart! In fact, it feels good.
On the other hand, for those of us leaning towards the yin side, self-care could look like choosing to procrastinate instead of exercising or cooking. It makes sense that we don’t naturally want to do the things that seem effortful or have negative consequences. Staying in the comfort zone is ideal for some of us.
This is where the ‘best friend’ technique can be used – if you put yourself in the shoes of your best friend for the day, how would you plan your day? What would you do to take care of yourself?
I’m sure it wouldn’t be ‘binge a Netflix series eating ice-cream in the dark’. As necessary as those soothing activities can be sometimes, how can you feel your best and push yourself ever so slightly outside of the comfort zone?
I want to stress that there’s no need to feel guilty for leaning to one side or the other.
We each perceive different actions and habits to be difficult or effortful based on who we are and our own experiences. Guilt is useless in this context – instead, give yourself grace and use that energy to set some intentions for this week that will allow you to better balance your self-care plans.
Here are some journaling prompts to support you in balancing out your self-care plans:
- What do I already do consistently that falls under the umbrella of self-care?
- Do these activities fall under the yin or yang side of self-care?
- What can I schedule this week that would mean my self-care routine is better balanced?
- How can I hold myself accountable for this plan?
At the forefront of those intentions whatever they may be, always prioritize your wellbeing. Self-care simply means taking care of yourself – don’t let what others are doing deter you from what you need to feel good. It’s your sole responsibility to feel your best and you’ll always thank yourself for some much-needed self-compassion.