A New View of Self-Care

Re-defining Self-Care on Your Terms

In the lupus and the chronic illness community, the term self-care is mentioned a lot. You are told, for example, that in order to help manage stress you should practice yoga. Meditate. Journal. See a therapist. These are all helpful practices, but sometimes being told over and over about what you should be doing can feel like an accusation -- that you aren't trying hard enough to take care of yourself. Or that you are not doing what you can to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

Managing lupus is like managing a full-time job in addition to life's other responsibilities. And the reality is that in real life there are barriers to self-care. It's true that sometimes you don't have the time, physical ability, energy, or money to practice certain self-care strategies.

Taking a nap every afternoon might be a luxury you simply cannot fit in your schedule. Going to a yoga class might cost more than you can afford. By the time you get to the gym you might be too fatigued to work out. Or maybe you have physical limitations that prevent you from taking on a typical low-impact exercise practice. It's also possible that none of the self-care options you've heard of speak to you culturally, emotionally, or spiritually.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for self-care. People can only make suggestions based on their experiences and worldview, but you and only you are the one who can determine what works. Defining self-care on your own terms might help take off some of the pressure associated with what you keep hearing you should be doing.

Remember, You Are Doing Your Best

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If you think about all the things you should be doing but aren't doing, you will feel worse. Sometimes indulging in these thoughts is okay simply because to do so is human and we all go through this. But if you find that you are getting stuck in this state, self-compassion can be a helpful way out.

Whatever your life looks like at this very moment, remember you are doing the best you can. Real life comes with hoops that you somehow manage to jump through while also managing lupus. Try to give yourself credit for this. And remember, no matter what, no one's best is perfect or even near perfect. There's always room for more self-care in a person's life. When you are ready you will work toward a new self-care goal.

In the meantime, when you feel like you're not doing a good enough job of taking care of yourself, try out what it feels like to be loving and compassionate toward yourself like you would be toward a friend in the same situation.

Try Not to Compare Yourself to Others

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There's no such thing as good self-care and bad self-care. Self-care is self-care. When self-care is labeled as good or bad, it opens the door for comparison between what one person is doing and what another person is not doing. Remember, we are all doing the best we can with the circumstances and resources we have.

It can be hard not to compare yourself to others. There will always be someone who seems to eat better than you, exercise more often, has more energy, and so on. But comparing yourself to others guarantees that you will feel bad about yourself.

You are wonderful. And focusing on what someone else is able to do that you cannot do pushes all your wonderful qualities to the side. Instead of comparing yourself to others, a simple way to practice self-care is to remember what's wonderful about yourself. And if you can't come up with anything, ask someone you trust, like a loved one or people in your support group. They'll happily remind you.

Consider Re-defining Self-Care

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Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all practice. You are the one who gets to decide what it means for you. It doesn't have to mean going out of your way to a class or finding extra time for relaxation. Though, it certainly can. 

But it can also include that long list of things you already do every day to take care of yourself.

Taking medication is self-care. So is making sure to ask your doctor questions at your next medical appointment.

Working with a home health attendant is also self-care.

So is watching a movie when you should be washing dishes. This is an example of you listening to your mind and body when they tell you that you need a break.

Think of all the things you already do to take care of yourself. If you didn't do those things, you'd be in a much different, and perhaps more difficult, situation. Give yourself credit for these.

You Define Your Self-care

Ultimately, you are the one to decide what type of self-care you need. You are also the one to decide when, where, and how you will meet those needs -- on your terms and according to your definition of self-care. And maybe, for you, self-care is deciding to stop using that phrase and calling it something totally different!

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