Sometimes, our ordinary self-care routines aren’t enough. Sometimes, the big changes in our lives necessitate extraordinary self-care. In difficult times, when stress levels are high, remember to create clear time and spatial boundaries around the things you do for self-care. Then, let go of the pressure to be perfect, especially in how you practice self-care. Thirdly, do one or two caring gestures for yourself every day so that self-care becomes natural and instinctual.
A few years ago, my life had settled into an easy rhythm, a predictable tempo. When I thought about the future, I thought about small changes—maybe some landscaping for the front yard, spending fewer hours at work, or taking a vacation somewhere new and remote. My list did not include flipping everything upside down and seeing how I landed. I lean toward the predictable and consistent the same as you do.
As much as we prefer a foundation of predictability and consistency, our lives don’t always move forward in a straight line. My predictable path collapsed when I left my marriage and my home a couple of years ago. I packed a bindle and drifted around town staying at different Airbnb rentals, house-sitting, and visiting family and friends in several different states.
When things change—or we change—and we find ourselves on unexpected paths, we may have to dig deep and garner whatever resources, resiliency, and grit we have stored somewhere warm and dry. And sometimes, our friends and family offer us good advice.
“Take care of yourself.” That was the advice I heard from almost everyone. On the one hand, these words communicate care and concern, so I accepted them graciously and with thanks. But truthfully, I didn’t know where to start. I was being challenged to figure out, in the middle of tsunami-like changes, how to take care of myself in new ways.
I started asking those concerned friends some questions. I figured if someone is offering advice, they could easily add on some actionable steps. I wanted specific suggestions, so I asked for the specifics.
True confession here: my everyday self-care practices are very helpful and similar to what my friends suggested. At the top of the list was taking care of my physical health. Several friends suggested taking a bath or getting a massage, and others mentioned exercising, getting enough sleep, being playful, and spending time in nature.
Baths, massages, healthy food, and exercise—all good ideas. But I was experiencing extraordinary stress… So I had to ask myself, “How many baths will I need in order to feel taken care of? How long could I stay in a bathtub until the self-care sunk in?”
I also liked hearing how other women nourished their spiritual lives—through meditating, practicing mindfulness in daily life, and keeping a gratitude journal. Under duress, I’d let these practices slip away. I appreciated the reminders.
Ultimately, I realized that even with rebooting some practices I’d neglected, these difficult times demanded extraordinary self-care. What new point of view or level of commitment would help me now?
3 Extraordinary Self-Care Practices
Before you can commit to extraordinary self-care, you must recognize and appreciate that your time, energy, and space are valuable, irreplaceable resources. Extraordinary self-care necessitates protecting them. To practice extraordinary self-care, establish your boundaries.
Taking a bath, making art, or talking on the phone with a close friend needs a certain kind of private space, which warrants a physical boundary. If your self-care includes items with a price tag, like a vacation, then you’ll need to pay attention to money and set up some boundaries around your finances. You can’t take a bath, a walk, or a vacation unless you have set aside the time or money for it.
Without reliable boundaries, you’re more like to postpone, reschedule, or discount the need for any of your self-care activities. Your list can start with taking a bath and end with writing a bedtime gratitude list, but without boundaries, the items on it can feel unmanageable
If you’re tentative about taking care of yourself, worry that taking care of yourself is selfish, or believe that self-love means you don’t care about others, these words from a wise soul may change your mind:
“… if you take good care of yourself, you help everyone. You stop being a source of suffering to the world, and you become a reservoir of joy and freshness.” —Thich Nhat Hahn, from Teachings on Love.
2. Practice some self-care every day
Taking care of ourselves is important even when life is easy and peaceful. Most of us do some version of it—eating the foods that we like and keep us healthy; getting enough sleep; and staying connected with the people we care about.
I include everyday self-care as extraordinary because our habit is to wait until we’re nearing a meltdown, and then our inner voice might alert us with these kinds of messages:
- “I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
- “I’m needing a break or I’m gonna break.”
- “I have too much to do and I can’t get it done!”
When we’re stressed and dealing with unexpected challenges, self-care becomes more difficult. Stress makes us forget about self-care unless we have handy reminders or friends that have our back. Extraordinary stress, which we may all experience at some point in our lives, impedes any self-care routine that we may be following.
- Stress makes us tired.
- Stress takes the joy out of ordinary pleasures.
- Stress makes it hard to focus.
- Stress causes us to judge ourselves more harshly than when we are rested and peaceful.
Learn what kinds of self-care work for you, and do one or two acts daily now when your life is manageable and things are going well. Then, when “overwhelm” shows up (and it will), you’ll have the self-care habit in place..
3. Give up perfectionism
Most of us have a resident inner saboteur, that critical voice that lets us know when we fail to meet its high standards of perfection. Extraordinary self-care includes turning off that critical voice that wants to trick us into believing there is a right or wrong way to do self-care. Taking care of yourself is not about doing it perfectly. It’s about being kind to yourself instead. You can’t do self-care and simultaneously criticize yourself for not doing it well enough—you cancel out your best efforts once you let the saboteur run your life.
Some of the things that go on a self-care list sound simple like the advice I received to get a massage, take a bath, remember to eat, spend time in nature, and don’t isolate. But when you’re stressed out and overwhelmed, even taking a walk can feel difficult. Then, when we have the sword of perfection hanging over our heads, we add to the already intolerable stress.
In fact, an important act of self-care is to let go of all perfectionistic thinking by not judging yourself today—for any act, thought, or feeling. Are you willing to practice this amazingly kind and vital act of self-care, even for one day?
And in conclusion…
Extraordinary self-care is more than the familiar acts some of which are listed above. Practicing extraordinary self-care means you are holding yourself in a sacred way.
Boundaries create a sacred space for self-care, so establish and maintain boundaries that protect your spirit, time, energy, space, and resources.
Perfectionism is the antithesis of self-care. Release your beliefs that there is a right way to “perform” self-care; that it’s one more thing you might do wrong. Instead, do your best and give yourself encouragement. Talk to yourself in a kind, caring voice:
- “Good for you for taking a break”
- “Congratulations on going for your walk”
- … or other self-affirming words.
Remember to create a sacred space around your self-care by establishing boundaries of time and space. Let go of the pressure to be perfect, especially in how you practice self-care. Keep yourself at the top of your list by doing one or two caring gestures for yourself every day.
How do you take care of yourself when things get difficult? You can post an answer, suggestion or comment below. Share any strategies you have used that may help others who read this post.