Making Self-Care Tactical — Why You Should Focus on Boundaries, Not Just Bubble Baths
Man standing on grunge asphalt city street with written stop sign on the floor, point of view perspective.

Self-care is deeper work — there’s a difference between engaging in self-soothing relief from a discomforting emotion, versus tackling the hard work to take care of yourself on a deeper level.

“We need to reframe what it means to take care of ourselves, because doing deep breathing, reading a book, listening to a podcast, and going for a walk are all forms of self-care,” says Archbold. “Otherwise, self-care doesn’t feel accessible for those without certain levels of finances. If I have one message, it’s this — everyone has access to self-care. It’s not just about what you spend your money on, it’s also about how you invest your time, your effort and your energy into meaningful work.

Outside of figuring out how to get the ball rolling, folks tend to run into another problem — copying someone else’s playbook. “Self-care is subjective. You have to find what works for you,” says Archbold. “Are there free yoga classes? Yes. But does everyone like doing yoga? No. Don’t force it.”

Taking a more expansive view of what counts as self-care is also helpful here as you assemble your own toolkit. “People are often surprised to learn what practicing mindfulness looks like. It’s most associated with engaging your breath or meditation exercises, but it can also be rooted in an activity or hobby. Once the pandemic started, I got back into baking, which I now see as an act of mindfulness,” she says.

“When you have something in front of you, like a list of ingredients, you don’t really have time to think about ‘Who am I going to call tonight?’ or ‘I need to get ahead on my inbox’ — otherwise your three-layer cake won’t turn out very well. When I’m baking, I can’t multitask. I’m engaging all five of my senses and focusing on what’s happening in this moment.”

“Additionally, our own boundaries allow us to give others the ability to sit with what is theirs. We often carry our own emotional discomfort and someone else’s discomfort. If I say no to you, I often feel like I have to do the emotional labor to make you feel good about it, which is an added weight. When we feel responsible for causing the discomfort, we often carry the burden of fixing their feelings and abandon our own.”

Remind yourself that saying yes to something is saying no to something else. It’s a painfully obvious truth — but one that’s often neglected. “When you feel like you’re falling into this pattern of stretching yourself thin, resist the urge to respond to everything immediately. There’s power in giving yourself permission to pause and reflect instead of feeling like your labor or your assistance always has to happen on demand,” she suggests.

Read more in the First Round Review.

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