A few years ago I had my dream job. I was the host and executive producer of a national television talk show about natural health, wellness, and alternative ways to heal the body and mind. But I was a total hypocrite: Here I was interviewing well-regarded experts from a plethora of disciplines about the importance of diet, fitness, and stress reduction, but I was eating poorly, not exercising, and had almost no down time. Self-care had become a foreign concept—a luxury I was convinced I had no time for in the midst of single-handedly creating a new series for a start-up network, working 90 hours a week for months at a time, until I crashed and burned in an exhausted heap when shooting wrapped.
According to Renee Peterson Trudeau, a speaker, life balance coach, and author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate, and Re-Balance Your Life, the mistake I made while spearheading my show was one that many people—especially women—make. I thought there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to practice self-care or self-renewal, which Renee defines as “attuning and responding to our needs and desires moment to moment.”
When our plates are overloaded with work and family responsibilities, when we’re in a professional, financial, or relationship crisis, self-care tends to fly out the window. “We think we lack the time or the money for self-care,” says Renee, “but self-care doesn’t always involve taking action. Sometimes it means slowing down, not overscheduling, or just saying no.”
Cultivating an allegiance to renewing ourselves is what’s important. “Self-care is like oxygen,” Renee says. “It’s our birthright. It’s how we nurture our souls.”
I’m not nearly as busy as I was in my talk show days, but I still have difficulty feeling entitled to a battery recharge when there are so many other tasks on my to-do list. If I’m ever going to create the life I dream of living, though, better self-care habits are a must.
Renee suggests these baby steps:
- Do a body scan from head to toe first thing upon awakening. Ask yourself, “Physically, emotionally, or spiritually, what do I need today?” “Maybe you need to call a girlfriend,” Renee notes, “or maybe you need to eat some kale or do some journaling.” When I woke up this morning, I felt like I needed to move—and so off to the gym I went.
- Be willing to slow down. “Pause,” says Renee. “So much can happen in the pause. Tune in to your feelings.” When I slow down, I sometimes find myself feeling fidgety, antsy, or anxious, which makes me wonder how often I stay busy to keep from tapping into the source of those uncomfortable feelings. On other occasions, I like the way I feel when I slow down. I’m not meant to be running at full speed all day long.
- See yourself as a young child. Renee advocates putting a picture of yourself as a young child in a place where you’ll see it regularly. “Would you deny that child healthy food or sleep or playtime?” Renee asks. Of course not—“So why would you deny yourself that?” she asks. When I look at a picture of myself at four years old, I want to look out for that little being. I always make sure that she’s rested and fed, but I have to make sure she has some fun, too.
- Find your tribe. “Build your support network,” Renee explains. “Be around other women looking to make self-care a part of their day, too.” When women gather together to “tend and befriend,” Renee says they release the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin. I know for certain that a meaningful heart-to-heart with a close friend is food for my soul, and I schedule those get-togethers whenever possible.
If you’re the type who’s convinced that self-care is selfish, however, maybe this ancillary self-care benefit will inspire you to draw a warm bath for yourself tonight: the upside of self-nurturing is that we become better partners, parents, colleagues, and friends. “We’re able to be more generous,” Renee points out, “when we’ve slowed down and connected with our own desires.”
I finally get it. The aromatherapy candles on my coffee table aren’t just meant to be decorative. They’re meant to be lit.