This is what my living room looked like the night before my husband and I left town for a couple days to celebrate my birthday. If you look closely, you’ll see crumpled clean laundry on the couch buried beneath pillows, blankets and assorted papers. On the table are multiple days of tea mugs, unopened mail, checks to deposit, a stack of books, an apple I meant to eat for a snack two days earlier, a pair of glasses and an aromatherapy spray bottle. On the floor are more books, assorted receipts, bags, paperwork and several pairs of shoes. I’m posting this photo here on my website (somewhat sheepishly) because as I stood in my living room and surveyed the damage, it reminded me of something important: I’m never going to get to the end of my to-do list, and that’s okay.
I have a tendency to try and get things all wrapped before I allow myself to fully rest. The catch is that there’s always one more email to respond to, one more event to attend, one more chore to cross off the list. When I ignore my need for rest, here’s what happens. I start to make unhealthy food choices because I feel like I “deserve” a treat, my waking and sleeping rhythms get disrupted, my productivity drops and I become irritable with the people around me. Then I feel even less worthy of taking a break because I’m trying to play catch up — and the vicious cycle continues. Does this sound familiar to any of you?
Life gives us abundant opportunities to learn the lessons we need to learn in order to grow, and this is one lesson I apparently keep needing to learn over and over: taking time to care for myself with a nourishing meal, a full night’s sleep, a massage, a good book, a bath, a tea break, a date with a friend or a walk in nature is not selfish. Good self-care replenishes my reserves so that I can show up more fully in my life. All of the to-do lists are still going to be there waiting for me when I return…and the world is not going to end if I send an email a day or two later than planned. Ultimately, it’s about communicating through my actions that I am worthy of my own time and attention. I am enough just as I am.
Have you ever felt some relief in catching a cold or flu because it gave you an acceptable reason to just rest? I imagine there are some knowing nods out there. Instead of waiting to rest only when you’re feeling miserable and staring at the ceiling with tissues stuffed up your nose, set aside some time every day. It doesn’t have to be a long, involved process. Throughout the day, briefly check in with yourself to notice the sensations in your body and the emotions you’re currently feeling. Next, ask yourself what you need in this moment. If it’s something you can give yourself right now (like a glass of water, a minute of deep belly breathing with eyes closed, a short phone call with a friend or a walk around the block), do it. If not, make a plan to honor that need at a specific point in the future. Over time, you may find that your body stops trying to slow you down via aches and pains and various other symptoms because it doesn’t need to scream so loud to get your attention. Remember, you are worthy of your own time and attention. You are enough just as you are.
P.S. There’s a lot to unravel around feeling selfish or decadent when you take care of yourself. I can say from experience that it takes practice and lots of self-compassion to make a habit of honoring your needs. We all need people to remind us of what is true and to help us recommit to ourselves when we fall off the wagon. If this way of being is new to you or you just want some extra support and accountability, I invite you to join me for the spring session of my small group coaching program that starts Tuesday, March 5. You can learn more about the program here.