There was a time where I thought the words “self-care” were kinda spooky. Here is this concept that you must treat yourself better and work to live your best life. When you have a chronic illness or disability, this can feel next to impossible to do. It can also feel like yet another thing to add to the list of things you should be doing but simply can’t accomplish. Self-care loomed over me like this dark, foreboding cloud. Yes, I should be exercising… But what about exercise intolerance? Or the crippling fatigue that plagues me like, well, the plague? And yes, I should be staying hydrated, finding time to de-stress, and taking time to feel moments of gratitude. I just can’t help but feel like it’s all too much sometimes, especially when I am struggling to just make it through the day.
Self-care isn’t spooky though (at least that’s not its intended purpose). It is important to utilize self-care as a means to reset, rest, and find joy.
So what’s a disabled and chronically ill gal to do?
The first step to tackling proper self-care is to know what it is and what it isn’t. Self-care isn’t just bubble baths, face masks, and indulging in your favorite guilty pleasure. Self-care is about taking the necessary steps to bolster your daily routine with practices that serve your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. The goal of self-care is to enrich your health and make life better. As a chronically ill or disabled person, this is especially important. Let’s delve into a few ways to get the most out of a self-care routine.
First, pick an area of your life where you feel like you need more attention and focus. Maybe you need to be better at hydrating or solidify a more beneficial sleep schedule. Start with an area of your life that would benefit you the most and work on that. Add specific, yet gradual changes and be intentional about it. A water tracker or sleep meditation app may be a huge help to hitting your self-care goals (consider trying the Calm app or purchasing this water tracker). You’d be surprised at how easy it is to add a little more hydration or be a little more focused on quality sleep. The improvement will be worth it!
Next, consider pairing your self-care with something that brings you joy. This is a concept widely talked about in the world of habits and how to stick to new ones. Amy Bucher calls this concept “concurrent” and describes it as “combining something you like with something you don’t, such as doing your work while sitting on the comfy couch,” (you can read more about her habit tips here). When you are beginning to incorporate self-care into your life, what you are really doing is creating new, healthy habits that optimize your health and wellness.
For those of you who have maybe attempted to utilize self-care and found it to be “not worth the time/effort/etc.”, consider trying a new approach or shifting focus to a different area of improvement. When I wanted to be more mindful about stress-relief, I tried so many ways to do it and ultimately felt like it was just another stressor. I decided to shift focus to including more moments of fun in my day. I love making things and made sure to add bits of fun into my days and weeks by “scheduling” things like paint time and baking. By adding a few minutes each day to something I truly enjoyed, I found that my stress levels went to a more manageable level.
Self-care can certainly be bubble baths, cocktails, and that reality television show you hate to love. Treating yourself (or treating yo’self for my Parks and Rec fans out there) is an important piece of the puzzle. Just remember that it isn’t the only piece. Focusing on areas of health and wellness that you hope to improve can and will lead to doing this in other areas of your life, too. Pairing necessary tasks with something more fun can also make the task of self-care more enjoyable. Choosing a different focus of self-care when you aren’t finding success can also give you the confidence to tackle areas that you need to. Self-care doesn’t have to be spooky. In fact, it can be quite the treat!