I've come to see busy as just another four letter word. It's the sludge we hide behind when we don't want to (or feel like we can't) listen to our own needs. The world wants us to be constantly plugged in, constantly expending energy, constantly making noise. Moreover, we live in a society that values extroversion, overwork, and excess over the softer virtues of introversion, meaningful productivity, and mindful consumption. Even our New Year's resolutions must be loud, extreme, and quantifiable in some tangible way (I've certainly been guilty of imposing arbitrary and often unachievable markers of personal growth on myself over the years).
So what about our needs? What about the importance of self-care? Since January is the month of clean slates and New Year's resolutions, it seems like the perfect time to pour this transformative energy into a vow I can keep: a year of radical self-care.
Think about it: Radical. Self. Care. Not do more. Not be more. Not checking off arbitrary boxes of self-fulfillment. Not imposing unrealistic ideals on myself. Just take better care of myself. This is more challenging than it seems because it requires me to truly to listen to myself, my body, my mind, my soul. No small task in a world that can demand too much of us and make us forget what genuine self-care looks like. To help chart my self-care progress year, I came up with two guiding questions:
What will bring me joy?
What is sustainable?
First, if something doesn't contribute to my overall happiness and health, I let it go. It's as simple--and as hard--as that. We live in a world that tells us more is better, so I must relearn the joys of less. I must also be honest with myself about what brings me joy (hint: it's often not what society says will make me happy). Second, I have to think about the long-term substantiality of any new self-care routine I want to incorporate into my life. Working out an hour a day is not realistic for me with my teaching and writing schedule, and neither is cooking an elaborate meal from scratch every night. But exercising five days a week for a half an hour is, as is whipping up a simple soup or salad to enjoy in the evening. If the goal starts making me feel spread thin, I ditch it.
The irony of committing to self-care is that you rarely have tangible evidence of your growth--not like with traditional New Year's resolutions. Only the fullness in my chest that tells me I am living well. It is so deeply personal that only my bones and heart whispering their contentment tell me that I am truly listening to my needs. And if I get off track, I won't berate myself over it. I'll simply root out the culprit that kept me from tending to wellness--usually overwork--and get rid of it. If I can't greet each day excited for the potential it offers, then I need to examine how I've been living and work my way back to happy (and yes, self-care is hard work!). With all this in mind, I've come up with a few guidelines to help me in my radical self-care journey:
1. Eat whole foods. Subtext: avoid processed and packaged foods. I don't eat processed foods, but want to push this further and avoid anything that comes in too much packaging. Bonus: it's much better for the environment too. Bottom line, I want to go back to buying bulk ingredients, whole organic foods, and (mostly) cooking my own meals. Grabbing a quick take-out or indulging in more carbs than are good for me might seem soothing short-term, but it does nothing to nourish my body or soul long-term. Cooking at the end of the day helps me unwind and tune into self-care.
2. Exercise regularly. Dance. Walk. Cardio. Strength. Doesn't matter what it is except that I commit to it at least four to five days a week. This one I've actually been working on this past month after seeing how tired and cranky my body felt after a month of infrequent exercising (darn mid-semester!). Even when I felt at my busiest, I found that ending the day with at least 30 minutes of exercise transformed me. I went from tired to rejuvenated. Totally worth it!
3. Do yoga every day--even if it is just five minutes. I keep this separate from my exercise plan (although it can be sweaty business!) because nourishing the mind-body connection is such an integral part of self-care. And I'll be honest: I used to be good at doing yoga every day first thing in the morning, as editing my blog reminded me...but not so much anymore. It's time to get back to that quiet me time in the morning before the day takes over. I find I'm much more settled at the end of the day if I make the effort to do my morning yoga rather than hit the snooze button.
4. Rest...without guilt. Get 8 hours of sleep every night. Takes naps. Spend an afternoon reading or otherwise losing track of time. I know this sounds like a tough one for teachers--especially during our heavy grading time--but I can't function without a full eight hours of sleep or regular downtime. At the end of the day, it is more important that I get a full night's rest or spend some time knitting than try to finish everything on the day's to-do list. It all eventually gets done anyway. This goes double for having playtime on the weekend.
5. Keep it hygge. This Danish term for cozy is all about enjoying the simple pleasures that make life delicious: the scent of burning beeswax candles that waft through my home as I type this; the joys of a hot cup of tea; even the bliss of wearing your favorite pair of fuzzy socks. You'll notice these are tranquil, calm joys. Part of living hygge, at least for an introvert like me, is to give myself permission to indulge in the quieter joys of life even when the world is asking me to be louder than I want to be. That's what I'm all about! Still when stress hits, it's easy to stop paying attention to the happies we get when tuning into the day-to-day pleasures life can afford. I say less stress, more hygge!
...and a bonus self-care goal: leave more time to talk with the Universe. I know what you're thinking. What does this have to do with self-care? It's simple. We forget that we are part of a big, beautiful world when deadlines loom and that our lives are more than just pushing papers around (even though I do love my work routine!). We need time to have conversations with the stars, ask the moon questions, and share our deepest wishes with the Universe--and hear them respond in turn. When we forget to nourish everyday magic, we forget to live.
So that's my goal this year. Radical self-care. Radical enjoyment. Radical magic making. If you want to rediscover what those things mean, join me for another year as I continue to explore the dreams and delights that make life delicious.
Enchantment Learning & Living is an inspirational collection of musings touching on life’s simple pleasures, everyday enchantments, and delectable recipes that will guarantee to stir the kitchen witch in you. If you enjoyed what you just read and believe that true magic is the everyday, subscribe here.