We have heard a lot about self-care lately.

Like many people (and women especially), I’m not always great at it, and I usually have some goals and intentions to ramp it up.

But self-care is never enough. This great article resonated with me recently, and got me thinking about the kinds of care we need in our lives. When something feels “off”, when my happiness or satisfaction quotients are low, I can often trace it back to one of these three categories being too small or too big:

  1. TAKE CARE: These are the things only we can do for ourselves. They aren’t interpersonal, they aren’t relational, they don’t depend on permission. Mostly, they are simple, mindful practices that don’t require money. I’m not talking about pedicures or massages or spa days. Those are wonderful, but we can’t go months without checking in with ourselves and expect a spa day to fix it. My primary practices are walking outside (in all weather!), meditation, sleep, reading, cooking, and limiting screen time and social media.
  2. RECEIVE CARE: Yes, the pandemic has shown us how dangerous isolation is. But how good was I at receiving care even pre-Covid? I have found I need to ask for what I need (“I miss you–could we have a phone call soon?”), and I also need to create reciprocal relationships where the giving and receiving flows freely. If this area of my life is balanced, my calendar shows it, whether the time spent is actual or virtual.
  3. GIVE CARE: We are meant to share what we have. We are happier when we do. Even if we are taking care of ourselves and receiving care from others, something will be missing. I’m not volunteering anywhere formally right now, but one of the things I ask myself every morning is, “How can I strengthen others in all my interactions?” This takes the form of reaching out (texts, emails, phone calls), making myself available (somehow, people know I am–if I am ready to give, the ask always comes), giving money to causes I care about, and making food or care packages for people who are grieving, sad, lonely, or overwhelmed.

My first job is to pay attention to these three things in my own life. But I also notice I’m most attracted to others who are doing the same. Too much self care can be narcissistic. Too much focus on receiving can be draining, and too much focus on giving can be preachy and lead to burnout. As with so many things, these shift depending on life stage, personality, and environment. The key is to keep paying attention.

If you want to do a little self-audit, you can download my sketchnote and get out your colored pencils. Happy reflecting!

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