Do you feel overwhelmed at the idea of creating a perfect self-care routine? Do you feel like it’s just one more chore to add to your never-ending to do list? If so, you’re not alone.

Self-improvement is now an $11 billion industry advertised to you daily on social media as you scroll through carefully curated feeds of ideal nutrient-dense meals, lymphatic drainage massages, therapeutic essential oils, breathing meditation techniques, and high-priced tech devices and fitness trackers.

Achieving work-life balance has become a full-time career and wellness feels like a hobby for the rich and elite, but is all this really necessary?

History of Self-Care

Self-care has evolved over the decades, from the radical political and civil rights movements of the 1960 sto the New Age wellness trends of the 1970s to the healthy lifestyle promotion by medical and mental health professionals that came onto the scene after 9/11.

Today we are all familiar with clichés about putting on your own oxygen mask or filling your own cup first.

However you define it, the goal of self-care is not to obsess about perfect health or to compare your lifestyle to others. You don’t have to spend lots of money or uncover hidden secrets from gurus.

As women, we often spend so much time listening to others’ expectations or opinions about who they think we are supposed to be that we forget to take the time to explore for ourselves.

Self-care is about reconnecting with your own mind, body, and spiritual side.

  • Self-care is NOT about self-absorption or selfishly considering only your personal desires.
  • Self-care is NOT about self-neglect or codependently caregiving for others.
  • Self-care IS a healthy, balanced relationship with ourselves, where we know what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves,and where we are better prepared and equipped to care for others.
  • Self-care IS an opportunity to experiment with different ways to meet our needs and respect our limitations. Our goals should be flexible rather than pass/fail so that if we don’t reach them, we can readjust rather than give up completely.

I learned this during the development of my own coaching program when women came to me feeling overwhelmed in the beginning. They felt guilty when they couldn’t implement each module perfectly from the start.

For compulsive Type A overachievers like myself (and most of my clients), sometimes structure is a good thing and sometimes it simply causes too much pressure.

If we feel restricted, then it’s usually a good sign we need to take a step back and reevaluate. We can cut ourselves some slack on the days we don’t get as much done as we had planned if more important priorities arose.

Where to Start

Listen to your intuition. The goal is simply to create space for yourself and to feel curiosity about your life experiences as they relate to your overall well-being. There is no one right way to approach self-care, but success comes from tuning into your own physical and emotional make-up and circumstances as they change by the day, hour, and minute.

Schedule time on your calendar. If growth is your goal, it won’t happen by accident. Just as a plant left unattended can eventually wither and die –the same is true with you! Even the basics like drinking enough water and taking a few deep breaths during a busy work day cannot be left to chance. Good habits need to be planned or else other activities with quickly consume your time and energy.

Use your toolbox skillfully. My goal in my coaching programs is to introduce my clients to a wide array of self-care basics so that they can find their own rhythm and pick and choose which tools they need to use at any given moment. Rarely do we need all the tools all the time. Here are some of my favorites that we discuss in the Nurse Yourself Back to Health program:

  • Partner with a doctor who practices functional medicine.
  • Cultivate mindfulness by practicing deep relaxation and breathing.
  • Improve digestion by avoiding inflammatory foods.
  • Reduce exposure to environmental toxins.
  • Set healthy boundaries in relationships and avoid codependency.
  • Avoid negative influences and seek out a positive support system.
  • Balance rest by budgeting my energy wisely. 
  • Incorporate gentle movement as a natural anti-inflammatory. 
  • Connect to my spiritual practice and community
  • Grow creativity in the form of hobbies and artistic pursuits.
  • Find purpose in work to provide for family or to serve others. 

What Today Looks Like

Sitting in my Northern California living room, it’s a chilly morning, but the sun shines and my windows are wide open as I enjoy the fresh air. A few deep breaths and lingering congestion cause me to hope that the respiratory virus I’ve been fighting is almost gone.

After weeks of family stress, my immune system is functioning at suboptimal levels and I know I need to practice some self-care.

I call my hospice patients to reschedule for later in the week when I am feeling stronger and can serve them better. My husband kindly responded to my request for help with chores last night and I am basking in the glow of a clean house. I have a warm bowl of sweet potato chili I made in my Instant Pot and I am resting with my feet up on the couch, covered with a soft blanket. The absence of entertainment or electronics is peaceful and I’m just listening to the dogs barking in my neighborhood.

This is what today looks like, but I can’t speak yet to tomorrow’s plan. That is the very essence of my definition of self-care –tuning into my intuition to provide for my mind, body, and spirit’s most basic needs as they arise. What does it mean to you?