Monday Musing: Self Discipline As Self Care

I’m going to start by saying I don’t have any of this mastered.  I’m not an expert in time management or emotional health management, and I battle my own will constantly when it comes to how I spend my time.  And I know there are a number of articles out there promoting self care and an equal number decrying it as self indulgence.  And I can definitely see both points of view.  But can I offer a third?  What if we treat self discipline as a form of self care?

Here’s the thing – I’m an introvert single mom in a full-time career with a busy church volunteer schedule who also tries to spend quality time with friends occasionally.  I mean, if just reading that sentence didn’t make you feel some of my daily tired, I don’t know how to help you.  I live the stereotype – I will keep going until I run myself down into either illness or an emotional meltdown – and I will try to keep going even then.  Because people count on me.  And my kids.  And my job.  And who will do the things if I don’t?

As you can guess, the idea of self care is very appealing to me.  I know that I need it.  But all the promotion of self care seems to be either extravagant in money and/or time (spa days, shopping, pampering etc.) or “giving yourself the freedom to choose” the alternative to “adulting” – eating junk food, binge-watching the current favorite show, sleeping in.  (The quotes there don’t come from any place in particular, it’s just me summarizing what I see on social media when people hashtag “selfcare”)  I’ve used it myself for days when I put aside my responsibilities for a bit and just sit and enjoy a cup of tea and my knitting.

I definitely think we need the encouragement to take care of ourselves.  For too long, we’ve defined success as a destination we reach, milestones we hit along the way.  But in that headlong rush to reach milestones, we lose parts of who we are as we’re going.  So I’m in favor of an approach that includes time to slow down and reflect, to truly engage with the people around us, to evaluate where we’re going and who we’re becoming at the same time.

I’ve been thinking on this for a little while, and trying to pay attention to the way I feel after time spent in a more self indulgent style of self care.  Some times I honestly feel refreshed.  But most of the time I felt a little guilty (probably normal, given society’s emphasis on productivity).  I know that at those times my “self care” was more like “self soothing.” I gave in to doing only what I wanted to do, neglected what needed to be done, and it didn’t accomplish anything that benefited me beyond those few hours.

So I wonder, is there a way that self-discipline can be a form of self care?  Maybe this only applies to people like me who deal with stress through self soothing, I don’t know.  But what if I choose to practice things that feed me – my spirit, my mind, my goals – on a regular basis instead of retreating into the things that allow me to disconnect my heart and mind from my troubles?

As a Christian, what if practicing holiness and truly applying myself to spiritual disciplines also offers a way to fill the need for self care? (I think I’m coming back to this in a later post, I have many more thoughts on this.)

Like I said, I don’t have this figured out.  It’s something I’m actively thinking about, and looking for ways to implement.  As an example, I’ve started to schedule some white space in my days (not taking a full day off, just a couple of hours here and there), and I’m setting that time aside specifically to write.  I could do anything with that time – I could do laundry, or meal prep.  I could make new things with yarn.  But I’m choosing to put in the work towards achieving a goal.  And so far, I do experience the same amount of “refreshing” I would from a more indulgent form of self care, with the added benefit of the satisfaction of seeing my word count grow.  But it takes some discipline to sit down at the computer and put the words on the screen – this is where battling my own will comes in.

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on this?  Disagreement?  Let me know in the comments!

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