Self-Care for All Stages of Life
by Marlaina Donato
To be female is to be blessed with an innate gift for multitasking, but in our fast-paced, jam-packed world, daily life for most women is a juggling act that can come with a steep price tag if self-care isn’t on the to-do list. Depression, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed are all too common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in eight women experience depression during their lifetime—twice the rate of men.
Seasons of a Woman’s Life
Each decade poses unique challenges. For women in their 20s and early 30s, comparison and finding one’s own path can be significant. “The feminist movement of our mothers’ generation opened doors, but so many 20- and 30-something women have interpreted that as ‘I have to do everything and be everything,’” says Christine Hassler, life coach and author of Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life.
The San Diego-based motivational speaker views self-care to be as vital as education. “Women are not taught in high school and college how to take care of themselves. Prioritizing self-care is so important. I see so many young women with adrenal or thyroid burnout and eating disorders. All of that comes down to stress, relationship to self and lack of self-care.”
The personal interests of women in their 30s and 40s trying to balance motherhood and career often get lost in the tangled underbrush of daily logistics. There can be a deep longing for identity well into the 50s, especially when children leave the nest. Fears of aging and loneliness often accompany women ages 60 and older. By passionately and joyously taking care of body and spirit, women of any generation can find renewal.
Self-Care As Bedrock
Women play vital roles in family and community, much like the foundation of a sound building, and if self-care is not the bedrock, all that is supported by it is likely to be compromised. “I believe we’ve taken the bait, the promise that if we arrange our life circumstances just so, we’ll feel ease and happiness. We’re getting to a place as a collective where we see a bankruptcy in that,” says Miami-based holistic women’s psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan, bestselling author of A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives.
Body-mind-spirit self-care is the heart of Brogan’s approach, and self-love is the lifeblood. “Self-love is quite elusive for most of us, perhaps because our self-esteem is contingent [upon it], and we only feel good about ourselves under certain circumstances. The daily choice to prioritize caring for oneself can ultimately lead to an experience of self-love and wholeness,” says Brogan, who compares a ritualized system of daily self-care that comes first to putting on the proverbial oxygen mask before attempting to meet the needs of others.
“Balancing self-love and caring for others starts with recognizing and accepting that it’s possible for you to effectively do both. Self-love at the soul level is the catalyst for healing on all levels, which in turn drives our level of self-worth,” concurs Teigan Draig, a spiritual life coach and busy home-schooling mom in Spencerville, Ohio. She reminds us that putting our needs above the wants of others is not being selfish, but is an emotional necessity that helps women get out of the loop of self-defeatism and self-sabotage. “The first step to finding your fire is learning to love yourself, all of yourself. Self-care and self-love are a total wellness package.”
Benefits of Self-Nourishment
Many psychologists agree that self-care can help to improve concentration, promote relaxation, fortify relationships and boost productivity. Most women crave more me-time, but don’t know how to implement change. “Without a premise of self-care, we react based on stress patterns. We react with more tension, irritability, guilt and obligation. We say ‘Yes’ when we want to say ‘No’. However, when we take stock in our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, we’re less reactive,” observes Hassler, who underscores self-care as an investment for life. “Most women have inner critics and a negative relationship with self. Self-care is essential so we can turn down the volume of the inner critic, stop people-pleasing and make self-honoring choices.”
Balancing motherhood and career or other obligations can leave many women running on empty and resentful. “We would never tell a loved one who desperately needed some TLC to get over it and just keep going. As busy women, when we don’t take the time to care for ourselves, the consequence is our children getting a mom who is preoccupied, anxious and disconnected,” says women’s life coach Veronica Paris, in San Diego. Catering to everyone’s desires and spreading ourselves too thin can backfire. Paris asks, “How do I want my kids to look back on me as a mother? By taking the time to self-care, we’re taking accountability for how we want to show up in our world rather than shape-shifting from one situation to the next. We can teach our children how to do the same.”
Our Emotions As Wellspring
For too many women, another common byproduct of self-neglect can be emotional numbing and feeling “flatlined”. A toxic or addictive relationship to food, alcohol or shopping can be a symptom of a deep need to nourish the self and give a voice to suppressed feelings. “One of our greatest challenges is that we’ve become disconnected from our deep seat of power, which is our capacity to feel,” says Brogan. “We’ve been enculturated to disregard our experience of feeling emotions, and because of this, it’s been reduced to a very narrow bandwidth.”
Brogan believes that it is key for women to re-establish a connection to nature’s rhythms and their own feminine, fluid energy, as well as giving up the need to control. “I think it’s the work of many women to understand that we’re not here to meet the needs of everyone on the planet—and with our loved ones, it disempowers them as much as we’re feeling disempowered. We’re here to meet our own needs, and then offer compassion and caring in a way that comes from a more boundaried space.”
Hassler affirms that when women are fully present, every aspect of life can be viewed through a clearer lens. “Self-care helps us tap into our super power, which is our intuition, and by doing that, we know what we need and act on that.”
Thrive With Small Changes
Beginning the day with self-care can be as simple as taking the time to meditate and breathe deeply for a minute or two before getting out of bed and opting for a healthier breakfast. Feeding our senses and feasting on what gives us joy can be a way of life. “Self-care does not necessarily have to involve time; it’s a way of being,” says Hassler. “The more time we spend on self-care tells the subconscious mind that we’re worth it.”
Draig suggests setting personal boundaries, and part of this means reserving time for ourselves. “When I became a new mother, I was running on fumes. Sometimes my daily me-time was only five minutes here or 10 minutes there, but it saved my sanity. Learn to schedule self-care time in your calendar as you would anything else,” she says, noting, “My house was not always spotless, but it was a trade I was willing to make so I could take care of myself and be a better mother.”
Being innovative can be an ally. “Ten minutes walking the dog or taking the baby out in a stroller can become 10 minutes spent saying positive self-affirmations,” suggests Paris. “That 15-minute drive can be spent deep-breathing instead of listening to the news on the radio.”
Blooming into our best possible self is returning to our essence. “It’s about taking off the masks, no longer living according to expectations and other people. It’s about radical self-acceptance,” says Hassler.
Each decade poses an invitation to grow and commit to self-nourishment. “There will be days where you feel like you can’t get the hang of it, but you’ll arrive, and when you do, no matter what age you are, it can be magical,” Draig says.
Marlaina Donato is a composer and author of several books in women’s spirituality and holistic health. Connect at AutumnEmbersMusic.com.
Simple Self-Care Strategies
- Schedule me-time on the calendar.
- Unplug from gadgets.
- Spend lunch breaks in the park.
- Rest before hitting the wall of exhaustion.
- Take 10 minutes to stretch and breathe in the morning.
- Meditate in the shower; choose a luxurious natural body wash.
- Wear your favorite jewelry.
- Designate a beautiful tea cup or coffee mug to use on hectic work days.
- Buy yourself flowers; take yourself out to lunch or a museum.
- Sprinkle lavender, rose geranium or ylang ylang essential oil on your sheets.
- Opt for a gentle workout over a high-intensity session when tired.
- Choose a healthy breakfast..
- Play, be silly and be a kid again.
- Designate 15 to 20 minutes after the workday to color, doodle or journal.
- Listen to your favorite music during commuting or cleaning the house.
- Abandon perfectionism.
- Connect to a higher power, however you define it, even if it is inner peace.