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Flavors of Self-Care

I've already talked at length about the importance of making time for self-care to the collective benefit of ourselves, the teams we lead, and the people we serve. Today, I want to talk about the different varieties of self-care.

Many of us are familiar with what I'll call Passive Self-Care, the variety where you find yourself eating junk food and curled up in front of the television. This variety is the much-maligned target of people who would like to suggest that self-care is basically laziness. Another form of self-care is what I'll call Active Self-Care, which involves spending your available energy and time on improving your daily life in ways with fairly obvious benefits. Some examples of this latter variety include exercise, cleaning, redecorating, or serving others.

I've heard many proponents of self-care claim that what they really mean is what I'm calling Active Self-Care, but I'd like to argue that there will often be times where the best thing for our overall well-being is really and truly Passive Self-Care

I guess this topic comes to mind lately since I’ve been rediscovering the energy to be active after spending the last several months recovering from medical complications and their subsequent surgery. It wouldn’t be very helpful for me to shame myself for the time I needed most of all to listen to the needs of my own body and not over-exert myself. I’m not better for being able to be more active now, but doing so is also now best for my overall wellbeing.

Sometimes, your self-care takes the form of yoga, running, deep cleaning your home, working in your yard (if you have one), or taking your neighbor's dog around the block to save that person the trip. Other times, self-care takes the form of binge-watching Gossip Girl while you share a pint of ice cream with only yourself. That's okay, too. Both are important to ensuring we're taking time to care for our well-being so we can perform at our full potential throughout the rest of our lives.

When I hear people criticize the importance of self-care, or any of its various forms, I think of the now relatively ubiquitous criticism directed toward Millennials by older generations often involving the perception that Millennials are too self-involved or lack initiative. Both types of criticism (self-care and Millenial lifestyle choices) are directed at other's lives and choices that seem to conflict with the values we hold most important, but that’s not the full story.

"Millennials don't appreciate the value of hard work," one could say. "Self-care is just you finding an excuse to sit around and be lazy," could say another. What's often lost is the nuance and context of what we may be criticizing. Younger generations may be struggling to find their place in the world because they face extraordinary challenges to afford education, accomplish basic life goals, and find a career. Practitioners of self-care may very well need a moment to rest and recover from the hustle and bustle of the rest of their lives, but it's important precisely because they're generally not lazy in the first place.

In case you're wondering, I don't really consider myself much of a Millennial. I suppose I am one, technically, but I was born just on the cusp. More importantly, I didn't really start finding myself until I embarked on the gender identity self-discovery process that eventually led to transition in my mid-thirties. With that being said, I find it both comical and sad how much that particular generation, I suppose you could say my own, is often maligned. Most of the Millennials I've met, like the ones included on the team I lead, are some of the hardest-working people I know.

As far as self-care, what's important here is for us to understand that being kind to ourselves involves first taking the time to listen to ourselves. Just as Yoga practitioners may turn to different styles of practice when they need to burn energy and stay fit then they would when they need to take a moment to breath and calm down, we can also find needs in our lives for both Active and Passive Self-Care. 

An important distinction here may be between typical flavors of self-care and what may be more accurately termed survival. If you think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most essential levels at the base of the pyramid generally must be met before we can focus on the levels above. Sometimes the needs of survival and the fight-or-flight mentality that may be brought on when those needs aren’t fully being met may overshadow some of the benefits of what others may consider to be self-care. 

As we lead and serve others, it's important for us to realize that not every person cares for themselves in the same ways at the same times. Really, that's just another way that our beautiful diversity enriches our lives. The more we can celebrate that diversity, the better we'll all be.