If you’re like me, the words force a sardonic little snort. I mean, who has time for that?
For me, the non-holiday months are already chock-full of responsibilities to (and for) others. For example, I take care of my elderly mom full-time and write freelance articles for a living. There’s also the usual, day-to-day stuff like cooking and housework like wiping up the kitchen, swishing out toilets, daily trash recycled or dumpsterized, the cat’s litter box scooped—the chores are never-ending, right? You say I should practice self-care? When?
On top of all those responsibilities, now add the holidays.
I’m inching along in holiday traffic just to get to the packed-to-the-doors grocery stores. Then there’s shopping for presents, putting up and decorating the tree, and preparing for holiday parties, meals, travel, etc. Self-care? Hah!
I do all of this while trying my darnest to be kind, caring, and pleasant to the many grim-faced, sometimes grouchy and frequently rude fellow human beings I encounter along the way. Because that’s how I’m made. I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m a die-hard optimist, too. You know: pay it forward. That’s self-care, isn’t it? That little inner glow you get when you’ve made the Grinch smile?
Jeez, I’m little Suzie Who!
Oh, and did I mention that I’m doing all this while enduring grindingly painful joints and sometimes soul-killing fatigue, both caused by my rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? I bet you know all about it! We’re RA soulmates, right?
Self-care? You’ve got to be kidding me!
Whoa there, Wren! Take a nice, deep breath (thanks, Rhonda Waters!). Step—slowly!—back from the edge of the abyss. Yes, there is such a thing as Santa Claus—I mean, self-care. And yes, it’s vital for survival. It really is. If we don’t care for ourselves, we’ll be less able to do all those things we have to do for ourselves and others, let alone the things we want to do. We’ll pay the price of ignoring self-care with plenty of general unhappiness.
When life gets even busier, fuller, more chaotic and way more stressful—particularly during the holiday season–I tell myself that I just don’t have time for self-care. But if I’m honest, I know that’s not true.
Self-care is easy. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. I might like the idea of a lengthy soak in a nice, warm bubble bath, complete with soft music, flickering candles, and a lovely glass of wine, but I can’t really do it. My reality is a three-minute morning shower. What I can do, instead, is add a single, extra minute to just stand there beneath the spray, breathing deep, eyes closed while simply allowing the hot water to flow over my head and down my body. It’s a full 60 seconds of luxuriousness taken just for me; a minute of being as my tight muscles loosen, my stiff joints warm, and all that lovely steam clears my danged sinuses.
Is that self-care? Yes.
So maybe I don’t have the time (or the bucks) for a nice manicure. But what I can do, instead, is take a minute or three, fill a basin full of hot water, and just soak my hands. They’re usually tender and achy, and the hot water feels heavenly on those creaky, aggravated joints. Then, I’ll soap my hands and give them a gentle, slippery massage. I close my eyes. I breathe. I try to stay right there, in the moment, thinking only about how good it feels to have such warm, cared-for hands. After I rinse and dry them off, I smooth on lavender-scented lotion, continuing the massage until it’s absorbed into my skin. Then, I get on with my day.
Is that self-care? Mmmhmm.
And sometimes, self-care is as simple as taking care of something you’ve been putting off doing for a while. I’m a chronic procrastinator. Have been all my life. I set things aside for “later” even though I know that doing so is not only going to make more physical work for me later, but it’ll also stress me out mentally and emotionally. And the longer it stays “out of sight, out of mind,” the worse that stress gets. I know this. I do it anyway. So, for me, self-care is taking care of a procrastinated task. Whatever it is, I just dig in and do it. The relief when it’s done and gone is sublime.
Is that self-care? Absolutely.
Self-care can also be a 15-minute catnap, taken in the middle of a busy day. It can be taking the time to use a paraffin bath for painful hands, or for wrapping a flared ankle in an ice-pack. Self-care is singing “row, row, row your boat” under your breath in time with your steps as you walk to distract yourself from your painful knees. It’s learning and practicing simple mindfulness techniques (like singing “row, row, row your boat” when you walk).
Additional self-care practices can include talking to your primary care provider or rheumatologist about your RA, and asking for help with medications or ideas about how to cope with flares during ongoing treatment; seeing a pain management specialist or a podiatrist or an acupuncturist; or doing gentle exercise when you don’t feel like it, and eating nutritious and healthy foods instead of junk. Self-care is a conscious choice.
A large part of self-care also includes education. Make sure you know all you can about your rheumatoid arthritis: what it is, how it’s treated, and about the medications and alternative treatment options available. A terrific way to learn more about RA, how it’s treated, how others cope with it, and to learn about other tools and resources is by visiting the Joint Decisions Facebook page and JointDecisions.com.
Above all, self-care is about staying positive! That’s not to say you can’t have the occasional pity-party—I sure do. But personally, I feel better (even when my RA is tossing its worst at me) when I see my glass as half-full. I’m mentally and emotionally better balanced when I take the time to notice the many unique and truly exquisite gifts the world offers to us each and every day, like sunsets and a child’s uncomplicated smile. When I take the time—even just a few minutes—to take care of me, just me, I’m doing the right thing.
Self-care is for everyone. Happy holidays!
This post is sponsored by Joint Decisions, an educational initiative developed by Janssen Biotech, Inc. that empowers people living with RA to take a more active role in the management of their disease and have more open and honest conversations with their doctors. I was compensated by Janssen for my time spent collaborating on content for Joint Decisions.