Tending to Strengthening Our Well-Being, It Cannot Exist without Self-Care (no matter what others might say)

Jun 28, 2021

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“Self-compassion enhances well-being. It reduces depression, anxiety, and stress, increases happiness and life satisfaction and improves physical health. One way it does so is by changing our physiology.” —Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Fierce Self-Compassion

A lemon soufflé is baking in my oven at the moment.

Diving into first-round edits on my third book this past weekend, I was reminded why having four years in between books is an incredibly wise idea – you forget about the headaches that inevitably will arise no matter how much you want your book to be its best. Differences of opinion with the editor, miscommunication (by moi!) as to the intention of a particular passage, and then there is formatting (don’t even get me started). Needless to say, those four years of breathing room allow you to focus on why you love writing, the ideas you want to share and why you want to share them.

But why the soufflé? How does it tie in at all to editing a book?

I needed to step away from the editing and calm down. Stepping into the kitchen, for me, reduces my heart-rate immediately, makes my smile grow wide and my tastebuds begin to hold my entire focus as I cannot wait to enjoy what is either being baked or cooked or both! In other words, it gives me perspective to think clearly and not be rash or make an unnecessary mistake.

Knowing how to heal ourselves in our everyday lives – to soothe ourselves after a taxing day at work, after an extra straining workout, after a challenging conversation with a loved one – is an act of self-compassion as associate professor educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Kristin Neff write about in her new book.

Now there are those who scoff at the idea of self-care, as it would seem doing so, being self-compassate exhibits a weakness. One writer recently argued even Ralph Waldo Emerson would scoff at healing and self-care, choosing work and “the affirmation of will.” However as someone who reveres the founder of the Transcendentalist movement, if we all had direct and immediate access to Mother Nature in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts (as Emerson did, taking hikes regularly and for extensive lengths of time nearly every day), we wouldn’t need ‘self-care’ because ironically, he was practicing his own form of self-care even though the term wasn’t used.

Emerson asserts in Self-Reliance, his seminal work, for each person to think for themselves, slow down and live simply developing their own culture which nurtures each person uniquely rather than following society’s, in his time, the religious institutions at that time’s dictates and expectations. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

Yes, work may be an outlet to seek tranquility if indeed we can consume ourselves with the state of flow that results. As Rebecca Minkoff shares in her new memoir Fearless advocating for working incredibly hard and pushing past one’s fears along with many nay-sayers, “The times that I’ve experienced burnout is when I hate what I do.” In her case, self-care was her work.

To purport that self-care will be the same for every individual is a misunderstanding of what self-care, real self-care is.

Effective self-care as shared in episodes #242 and episode #227 is not about bubble baths and facials (although those are awesome rituals that may help prompt the intent of self-care). Self-care, at its core is about improving one’s own health and attaining optimal well-being. What optimal well-being is for you will likely not be exactly the same for anyone else.

Take the soufflé. Many people would rather run a marathon than hope their soufflé rises. I get it, and I will let you go running while I whip up the egg whites (but I promise to share when you finish your run). But that is just the point. I can no more tell you exactly how to effectively care for yourself, than you can tell me the same. Which is why we must become our own ‘self-care’ physicians, and becoming an expert in the subject that is each of us uniquely takes time and conscious attention.

From strengthening our emotional intelligence and self-awareness to being willing to be vulnerable and working with someone wiser than us in certain areas (i.e. a counselor) to explore our emotions objectively, honestly and productively, any of these and many others are approaches which will reveal what would best work for healing self-care.

Self-care is needed regularly and not just when extraordinarily trying times occur. Self-care when done well and applied to the right patient (i.e. you with the expertise of yourself), is a preventative action just as much and arguably more than a responsive action. We cannot know what we prevent from occurring when we find a balance in our days of productivity and rest, play and strain (exercise both physical and mental) as well as routine and new tasks.

Below are a list of activities and practices you might want to explore for potential self-care:

  • Spending time outside in Mother Nature
  • Laying in bed before beginning your day to listen to the birds or a favorite music station
  • Cooking or Baking
  • Gardening
  • Dancing
  • Meditation
  • Saying no
  • Establishing boundaries
  • Strengthening your mind
  • Tending only to your tasks and letting others tend to theirs
  • Naps
  • Reduce your expenses
  • Spend well, invest in better and sustainable options
  • Give in your own way
  • Accept yourself unconditionally and remain present in your days
  • Explore what grabs your curiosity and find ways to spend more time immersed in this task/hobby/etc.

As you can see ‘self-care’ depends upon who the ‘self’ is. You are different than others, but when you know yourself, you also need to be honest and acknowledge when you are stressed and not at your best. Such observation demonstrates self-awareness and when you step back, step away or take a breath for a respite, you are giving everyone, including yourself, two gifts. The first gift, you are practicing self-care, and the second, you are modeling doing so is not a weakness, rather it is being human. Take what you need, and then finish the task. Taking the knowledge gained from that experience to clearly communicate what you can do next time and how you can do it better or how it can be improved based on your experience and first-hand observation benefits future efforts.

Most importantly, knowing we are human and honoring not only our strengths and the awesome feats we can accomplish, but sagaciously acknowledging there must be fuel to burn in order to live well, we elevate the quality of our lives and remind others it is okay to do the same.

But back to that soufflé. I just tasted it – lemon, light, lovely! (recipe to come this Wednesday – stay tuned!) The calming effect worked, and the editing will commence tomorrow with a clear, rested and eager mind.



12 thoughts on “Tending to Strengthening Our Well-Being, It Cannot Exist without Self-Care (no matter what others might say)

  1. If I had lemons, I would be making this right now 🙂

    It sounds delicious , and doubly so because it has given you pleasure to make , and respite from an on going task .

    It is so important to tune into what WE need to relax, refresh and energise us , and when we know how to do that , to ask ourselves regularly , ‘ what is it that I need ? ‘

    The more often we tune into this , the easier it becomes to hear the answer, and to do it 🙂

  2. Self-care is a learned activity. Often paused or stopped by circumstance, choosing one or two established elements can certainly help smooth out the wrinkles of life. For me, time in nature (my Goldfinches are back!) and an occasional nap restore my thinking. My energies are directed to the needs of those who depend on me, often there is little left at the end of a day. Making the most of little bits of time helps re-center my soul.

  3. Self care is what is good for each individual. I have discovered, while I really enjoy a bath most times, there are times I simply cannot relax and constantly fidget until I have to get out not long after I got in! I find, for me, puttering about the house, cleaning out random drawers or cabinets, relaxes me a great deal. Reading and making things in the kitchen also are major destressors for me. It’s about finding what works. thanks for the read!

    1. Michelle, Well explained. Thank you for sharing with us what works and what happens when you know it isn’t working – i.e. the bath during particular times. I think others will appreciate this. It truly is a journey of getting know one’s self, and that does take time, but it is worth it. Thank you for stopping by! Have a nice week. 🙂

  4. Such an important post, Shannon, thank you. I have a number of coping techniques I use depending on how stressed/frustrated/angry/tired or just confused or ineffective I am, from throwing my hands up in the air & admitting defeat & turning on the TV to watch whatever series has caught my eye or making a pot of tea & settling down with a suspense novel or housecleaning (although I don’t declutter when I’m angry or frustrated as I’ve discovered the hard way that I throw things out I’ll later wish I hadn’t) to going for a walk or just having a nap with the cat. I also have a stack of on-line classes, workshops, lectures & digital tours (of everything from hiking trails to cathedrals to art museums) waiting for me to have time to enjoy them. When all else fails, watching cat videos or cooking videos or videos of master craftsmen (& women!) doing whatever it is they do (I can watch an artisan throwing pots or blowing glass or welding intricate & beautiful wrought-iron gates or baking bread, for instance, for hours!) works magic on bringing me back to a state of calm.

    BTW, it took me way too many years to learn how taking care of myself — mentally, emotionally & physically — is NOT a weakness & that self-care is NOT self-indulgent babying (although I’m not averse to a bit of self-indulgent babying when it’s call for, either!) but an absolute critical skill-set to living a full & happy life. I’ve even taught my husband — the ultimate push-through-no-matter-how-much-it-hurts kind of guy — that taking better care of himself in ALL ways isn’t just about him, it’s also about keeping our relationship strong & healthy because if we’re not operating at our best we can’t be giving our best to the other, either.

  5. The idea of self-care as preventative medicine rather than a response to overwhelm is so important! It is definitely worth scheduling and being proactive, even during the most relaxing of times – if we want to go on feeling relaxed in our soul! Thanks for highlighting this.

  6. Read and noted.
    Work is challenging right now, so some self care is much needed.
    Being outdoors or in the garden, being with my pup, reading a good book, all ways to bring me back to calm.
    Thank you Shannon

  7. Shannon you did the right thing taking a break from editing to making a lovely souffle. I always resort to preparing something delicious in the kitchen if I am grappling with something. Often we have so many plates spinning that we ignore what our needs are. I remember as a child the female members of my family would gather together once a week and they would do each other’s hair, nails and massages and enjoy conversations and solve problems. For a couple of hours they were just tuning in to themselves. They had lots to do as they did not have all the modern appliances we have today but It’s an eastern ritual that our great grandmothers passed down and they incorporated it in their routine. Self care should be a priority not an afterthought especially in these times.

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