Frankly, the last thing I want to do today, personally and professionally, is to tell you to practice self-care.
Given that I have been promoting self-care practice since 1992, it feels odd and uncomfortable to say this to you. It also feels a little scary, given we all know that self-care is a key to well-being and an important foundation for the prevention of chronic disease.
But if you haven’t been practicing self-care lately, I’m not going to give you a hard time about it.
In fact, I invite you here to give yourself a break for being human.
That’s because if you’re like most of the students I train, the clients I coach, the organizations I consult for and even me in my very own real life, you are feeling overwhelmed right about now. You are dealing with the ripple effects of the pandemic — mentally, physically and emotionally — and you are trying to make sense of what it means to live in this new world even as you try to keep up your daily responsibilities. In the midst of this, you are trying to hold onto, or get back to, your self-care rituals — which may not feel the same as they once did.
The last thing you need is some self-care expert telling you that you aren’t doing self-care well.
So let’s take a deep breath together, shall we?
And let’s begin to rewrite the script about self-care:
You’re still standing — which means you are doing great.
Living in and recovering from the wave of a pandemic.
Doing the best you can.
To take care of You.
If self-care is happening, you rock.
Keep rocking on.
And if self-care is not happening …
Know that you also rock.
You’ll get back to it soon.
Even if it looks a bit different than it used to.
And in the meantime, please let go of the guilt of not doing it.
What I just did was offer you the gift of compassion — the combination of mindfulness, kindness and common humanity. I encouraged you to become mindful of your self-care practices (or lack thereof), to practice kindness to yourself whether or not you engage in self-care, and encouraged you to remember that you aren’t alone in the real-world struggle of making sense of well-being in these tough times.
I am sure this made you uncomfortable — because the benefits of self-care are well established.
But studies (including my own) teach us that when we feel that we aren’t alone, we experience the gift of social support and our well-being improves — whether or not we engage in health behavior(s).
And other studies (including my own) show us that self-compassion transforms our stress into well-being by changing our perception of threat — which drives our sympathetic vs. parasympathetic stress response.
So today, as we celebrate the last few days of this month dedicated to mental health, I invite you to join me in the practices of self-compassion and social support — alongside self-care. They all matter for our health and well-being.
Keep taking care of yourself as best as you can — today and every day.
Suzie Carmack, Ph.D., MFA, MEd, ERYT 500, NBC-HWC, is a yoga therapist and national board-certified health and wellness coach in private practice. She is the No. 1 bestselling author of Genius Breaks and Well-Being Ultimatum, and a senior scholar with the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University. As the CEO and creator of YogaMedCo, she trains coaches, leaders and teams in her evidence-based system for well-being promotion and programming.