I trained to become a health and wellbeing coach largely because wellness seemed like a mystery to me. Self care seemed like something self indulgent and fluffy. But self care became ubiquitous at some point and I wondered if maybe I was missing the point. In a world where many of us focus energy on caring for others, taking care of ourselves doesn’t seem so intuitive. So what do we really mean by self care? And why does both the definition and the doing confound so many of us?

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to self care but let’s try not to overthink it. It literally means taking care of yourself. Self care is caring for your emotional and physical health, which sometimes means putting yourself first. I don’t know why many of us grew up believing that putting yourself first was a selfish, uncaring thing to do but we did. And it’s not, at least not when you’re treating yourself with the same compassion you would offer others.

If being there for others is a motivator for you, remember that you’re not at your best for anyone if you’re not at your best. Anyone who’s been on an airplane knows you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask before putting one on someone else. You’re no good to anyone else if you’re not getting sufficient oxygen. Maybe you have a history of putting your own oxygen needs aside and you think you’re doing it for the greater good or taking one for the team. Maybe your perspective on this has actually been wrong all these years. I recently saw an Instagram post by author Mel Robbins that really resonated. She suggested that “when you don’t put yourself first, you’re teaching everyone that you come second.” Hmmmmm…

Effective self care starts from a place of grace, where there’s no judgment. It’s a realm where your negative, judge-y voice is unwelcome and silenced. You are the expert in you and, on some level, you know what you need to feel right.

Self care might look like mindfulness, naps, friend time, alone time, therapy, massage, a walk, solo travel, reading a book, a wellness retreat, working out, saying no, ending a relationship, or anything that helps you feel balanced and cared for. There’s no magic to self care. But there is a consistency requirement if you want your self care to be preventive and nourishing rather than reactive. The magic lies in respecting yourself enough to care about your wellbeing. It requires checking in with yourself regularly to determine what you need. Sometimes your needs might be at odds with someone else’s. That’s ok. Put your oxygen mask on first and breathe.

Something to think about: When you don’t put yourself first, you’re teaching everyone that you come second.

Something to try: Identify one thing you can do for yourself over the next two weeks that will make you smile and do it.

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