Like many other humans, I sometimes have trouble with self care. It gets extra hard when I’m depressed, because I feel like I have to conserve my energy to do the things that I have to do, like go to work, instead of things that will make me feel better, like making food for myself. I happen to really struggle with showering regularly, even though my mood consistently improves after I shower and I’m much more comfortable when I’m clean. There are many wonderful lists online about how to do self care, actions that you can take to make yourself feel better. While these are great and can be really helpful, I’ve found far fewer suggestions on how to convince yourself to actually do any of these self care tasks. There are many ways to care for yourself, but when I’m stressed or depressed or worn out, it can be hard to find the motivation.
One trick I’ve found that works for me is pretending that I am taking care of a child that I love, instead of myself. I say to myself “If Annamarie was a small child in my care, what would I do?” If Annamarie needed to take a shower, what would I do? I would kindly and firmly insist that she take one, and give her a shower, and make sure she got properly clean. I would be patient with her if she grumbled or whined, and never get upset or be mean. I would also refuse to let her get out of showering just because she was being grumpy, because I know that it’s truly good for her.
If I were taking care of a child that I loved and not myself, I wouldn’t resent that I had to take care of them. Of course I do, I’m responsible for them, and it’s not like a small child can take care of themselves. I wouldn’t get angry at them for not being able to do everything that I want them to. I would praise them for trying, instead of swearing at them for failing. I would be gentle with them and let them make mistakes. I would comfort them when they were sad, and make sure they feel loved and taken care of.
Of course, this is the ideal. It doesn’t account for exhaustion, or frustration, or other things that can make someone act in ways that are less than perfect when caring for children. But it helps me to remember this ideal. This is how I would want to treat someone in my care, and how I would want to be treated by a caregiver. So why should taking care of myself be any different? If I would be kinder to someone else for whom their care is my responsibility, why am I being so hard on myself?
For me, at least, it helps to step back and remember that I am a person whose care is my responsibility. I am capable of extending kindness and patience to others, and I can and should extend that same compassion to myself. I am deserving of respect and understanding, just like everyone else, but sometimes it’s easier to love the people whose consciousnesses I don’t have to exist within. I know I’m not alone in this: a lot of people are a lot more loving and kind towards their close friends than they are towards themselves. Something you can try is stepping back and saying, “If my best friend was in this situation, how would I respond?” Replace “best friend” with “sibling” or “child” or “partner” or whatever works for you.
Have you ever tried this technique? How did it go for you? How do you motivate yourself to do self care?