On Practicing Self-Care Even (Especially) When It’s Hard

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On Practicing Self-Care Even (Especially) When It's Hard - By Joanna Ciolek

I’ve been reading a lot about self-care this year as this is something I’m still learning and often struggling to practice.

It’s strange. We know what we need to do to be healthy and take care of ourselves. We know we should eat healthy, sleep longer, exercise more. Yet, it can be so darn hard to actually do all that, especially on days when we’re tired and stressed out. Why is it that self care is so hard?

Perhaps the way we were raised and the way society wants us to behave has something to do with it.

Many of us (and it’s pretty much only women) have been taught to take care of those around us, be of help, whether at home or out in the world – the rhetoric of selflessness has always been preached to women. We are the nurturers after all. So we were raised to be caretakers, givers, cooks, mothers, maids. The massage we might have received is that self-care is selfish and for the weak. And so we learned to soldier on. To push forward.

By the time my youngest brother was born I was 11, so, naturally, I was in charge of his diaper changes, his bedtime routine, his feedings and so on. Never mind that I was going to two schools at that time. My father was busy (with other, more masculine tasks) and my mother worked the afternoon shift, so after school (and if I didn’t have music classes that day) I was a substitute mother to three kids, along with my older sister. Did I mention we worked in the field too? And had farm animals to take care of? Yep, we had many responsibilities and little room for being children.

I didn’t have time to play. I didn’t have time for friends. I didn’t have time for myself. I was trained from a young age to work, take care of everyone and everything, put my needs last.

But when we put ourselves last, others put us last too.

It’s interesting to see how women are embracing self-care (as opposed to men who just seem to naturally do what they feel like doing without calling it anything but… living). For some, self-care is simply getting up 5 minutes earlier to drink that morning coffee in the space of peace and quiet, before anyone else wakes. For others, self-care is a weekly yoga class, or morning walks with a dog or two. Yet, for other women, self-care means more, it’s going beneath the surface of “me” time, it’s learning to say “no”, setting healthy boundaries – it’s mental health. It’s saying, I have a voice, my needs matter too. It’s self-protection and self-respect. It’s self-preservation.

Self-care is especially hard for this last group of people – those of us who grew up suppressing our voices, our needs, our feelings.

Many of us come from abusive homes, homes where parents were too busy, distracted by their own issues, stressed and unhappy, addicted or even mentally ill. And if you were a highly sensitive child, you might have been shamed for being weak and needy on top of that. If there was any trauma and your feeling of self-worth was affected, self-care is now an afterthought. Because you never developed a self-loving mindset or a habit to take care of your own body, protect your needs, set healthy boundaries. You never learned that you matter. Only by caring for others and always giving more you felt worthy. So you never took the time to ask yourself, what do I need right now?

“But this revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.” ~Tara Brach

For me, self-care is taking care of my body, my mind, and my heart. It’s holistic. It’s all-encompassing. It’s deeper. And it’s very hard.

I used to forget to eat sometimes (if that’s you, here’s an interactive self-care guide to help you stay on track!). I still forget to take breaks (from work, people, noisy world) and only notice it when overwhelm hits me seemingly out of nowhere. I still have to push myself to go to weekly yoga class (I’m type A so yoga is really difficult for me) but I’m committed to it because it makes me feel good.

Journaling was key in discovering how I neglected my needs, avoided responsibility, and failed to enforce healthy boundaries. It forced me to listen to my inner voice, make small but significant changes toward healing and growth, and hold myself accountable (It was from this experience that The Art Of Untangling was born as a collection of 120+ powerful self-reflection writing prompts, available on Amazon).

Self-care is not natural for me, but little by little it’s getting easier. The mind slowly shifts from doing to being more, from self-criticism to more self-compassion, from striving to meet your external goals to paying attention to your internal experience. By practicing, I know I can strengthen those nurturing and nourishing habits and then I’m able to show up for others more fully and authentically.

Women burn out fast if they put themselves last. As the saying goes, you can’t pour out of an empty glass. And you can’t give if you’re always depleted. You have to take care of yourself first.

And so, if you were deprived as a child, you must now learn to give love, care and attention to yourself. You have to learn to restore and replenish your body, mind and heart. You have to re-parent yourself as part of your healing journey.  Focus on valuing and honoring yourself daily. Learn to offer yourself compassion when times are hard. You matter and your health matters.

Whatever form self-tare takes for you, you are in charge of taking care of you. Own it!


Are you struggling with finding the time for your own self-care? Feeling chronically stressed, lost or overwhelmed? Unable to give yourself the love and care you deserve?

You’re worthy of putting yourself first!

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