I’m sitting at the head of board room table. Sunlight is streaming through windows so tall I couldn’t close the blinds even if I wanted to. Bookshelves crammed with devotionals, Bibles, and publishing memorabilia line the walls, and the air conditioner is humming in time with the microwave.
My little office is my favorite spot in the building, but the board room is my favorite writing spot. By 12:30 each day, I’m itching for a break: from my cream-colored walls, from covers and pages piling up in my inbox, from other people’s words. I’m ready to write a few of my own, but I need a change of scenery in order to shift from copy editor to writer. I carry my laptop and lunch to the board room and settle in at the massive table.
Sometimes self-care looks like changing location.
I was only 26 and already burned out on work. For most of my professional life, I’d been commuting well over two hours each day, working far more than 40 hours each week, and spending not nearly enough time caring for myself.
When I decided it was time to look for a new job, I considered positions in my current field that would provide moderate improvements: work-from-home jobs with the same company, teaching jobs closer to home. But one day, as I sat in my car and tried to psyche myself up to walk into an especially difficult classroom, I sensed God asking me, What would you do if you could do anything?
And in that moment, I decided I was done with education.
Sometimes self-care looks like changing direction.
On Saturday afternoons, I tuck Selah into her bed, tiptoe down the stairs, pour a fresh cup of coffee, and settle into the white armchair by the living room window. I use my heels to drag the gray tweed ottoman closer as I type my computer password and find the place I left off in my essay-in-progress. I shut off the side of my brain that sees crumbs under the dining room table and Selah’s play food strewn across the rug, and I fire up the side that has been calling to me all morning.
I breathe in the scent of the coffee, slightly sweet from a generous pour of coconut milk, and begin to review the progress I made in my last writing session. My fingers find the keyboard and add a new line and then another, and I fight the urge to check my phone when the writing gets difficult.
Sometimes self-care looks like taking action.
Same scene, last Saturday, but instead of a computer on my lap, I hold a book. The past few months have slowly been squeezing me, and this week I realized there was no breath left in my lungs. I’ve been offering myself to everything else: to my family, to my readers, to social media, to my work, to the housework, to problems whose solutions were not in my control.
While writing is usually my self-care of choice during Selah’s nap time, today it just couldn’t be.
Without any life to breathe out onto the page, trying to create something from nothing would have been futile. So instead, I soak in the words of others, and when I feel my eyes starting to droop, I lean my head back on the chair and allow myself to doze.
Sometimes self-care looks like letting myself off the hook.
By the time Selah’s bedtime rolls around, I am exhausted. After a full day working in the office, hoisting Selah into the car at daycare pickup, and dashing around the kitchen trying to get dinner cooked by a reasonable hour, my swollen belly is aching. It wasn’t like this with my first pregnancy, and I feel like I should be able to do as much as I did then. But I know if I keep pushing today, the pain will make it impossible to sleep tonight.
I ask Dan to do bedtime and I tell Selah I’ll come tuck her in after stories and songs. I hate missing these moments, but when I finally lean my back against the couch cushions, I feel my tense muscles relax, maybe for the first time today.
Sometimes self-care looks like acknowledging my limitations and asking for help.
Where do you find yourself in this season of life, friend? Maybe you’re in the throes new motherhood or in the depths of chronic pain or in a high-pressure season at work. Maybe your kids have passed around a cold one too many times and you’re struggling to believe that it will ever not be winter.
Allow me to remind you that self-care does not need to be uniform to be consistent. What worked in one season may not work in another. A bubble bath might soothe your aching muscles and meet the need for alone time when you have a nursing baby, but perhaps it won’t heal your heart when it’s been broken by someone you love. Sometimes self-care needs to look like cozy, comforting measures: taking a nap, getting a manicure, eating an extra brownie. Sometimes it looks like hard work: finding a new job, having that hard conversation, finally making an appointment with a therapist.
As you discern how you may need to care for yourself in right where you are, ask yourself these questions:
- What is my body craving?
- If I could make pause life indefinitely, what would I do first?
- What is a practice that might heal a crack in my soul?
And then, just do one thing.