As an avid podcast listener, I noticed an early-January trend among the episodes of various shows I subscribe to. Instead of setting traditional new year’s resolutions, many people were discussing their word of the year. At first it all sounded like baloney to me. How could I just pick one word? Both my real to-do list as well as my aspirational one were perpetually full. I didn’t think one word could help me accomplish all that I wanted to in 2018.
But then I read The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. I’d heard of the concept before and vaguely identified with it–after all, I’d always been more sensitive than most to external stimuli as well as my inner world. Reading the full book, though, was transformational. While most of what she wrote was familiar to me from my own experiences, her framing of it was new. Instead of apologizing or feeling guilty and flawed, or trying to compensate for for our trait, Dr. Aron (an HSP herself) encourages HSPs to embrace their true nature and find the positive in it. She also emphasizes that it’s okay to take care of yourself–more than okay, it’s vital to happy and healthy functioning.
It’s hard for me to express how much this positive re-framing has changed my outlook. For the past few years I’ve developed a hobby of reading self-improvement books, productivity blogs, and the like. Hitting the books is my go-to method of problem solving, so I thought I could read away the aspects of myself I found defective in comparisons against others. Get organized, wake up before the birds, work after my kids go to bed, juggle more things than I can count on one hand without dropping anything. I wanted to be the sort of “Type A” person that is often the most visibly successful in American society. Never mind that I’m basically the opposite of Type A.
Now I think of myself as “Type HSP” and I’m ready to accept myself, flaws and all. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop striving to improve, but I’ve finally, thankfully, given up on the idea that I can be a different person. Once I realized this, it became clear that self-care would be my word of the year. Now that I examine problems and situations, and base my decision-making from the perspective of caring for myself, I feel truly energized, productive, and generous toward others. I’ve long heard people say that self-care isn’t selfish but now I see that truth in my own life. I’m a better parent, spouse, daughter, teacher, friend, and neighbor when I take the time to nurture myself.
Here’s a brief list of what self-care looks like for me right now. I’m sure it will fluctuate with the seasons and passage of time. How do you practice self-care?
- Drink a glass of water before my morning cup of coffee.
- Make time to exercise most days.
- Get enough sleep.
- Limit my media consumption to a once-a-day news briefing. Read articles with intention, not for distraction. Mostly read books.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Ask for time alone when I need it.
- Schedule time with friends.
- Leave my phone in the cabinet when I get home in the afternoon/evening.
- Be the parent I am, and do the activities I enjoy with my kids.