Levels of Self-Care and the Quintessential Smoothie Bowl
Our consumerist culture tells us that “self-care” means indulging in high-end candles, cheating our diets with luxuriant chocolate cake, enjoying an I-deserved-this spa day that would cost some of us half a month’s rent. And while I believe that all of these can be a part of self care, there is so much more to it than that and I think it’s important to talk about it. Below I’ve broken it down into three different levels.
Level one: reward or break
This is the kind of self-care that most people are familiar with, the kind that encourages us to step away from it all and get re-centered, or to reward ourselves with a new treat or purchase. It’s relatively easy and usually feels good. Think bubble baths, fancy chocolate, taking a walk in the woods, having a slow cup of tea with a friend, spending a few hours baking a cake or going rock climbing or doing any number of other things that fill us with joy. It can also mean focusing on beautiful and healthy foods - think of all of the superfood vegan smoothie bowl images floating around on the interwebs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of self care, but it’s part of a bigger picture.
Let’s step away from this discussion for just a moment and whip up one of those quintessential smoothie bowls to spoon while you read the rest (if you’d like). Taking a couple of minutes to nourish your body with fresh fruits and vegetables and present a beautiful treat to yourself can be a wonderful and quick way to show yourself a little love.
Anatomy of a smoothie bowl:
1 frozen banana or other soft fruit
1 cup other fruits or soft vegetables
1/4 - 1/2 c. soft protein (see below)
fruit to garnish, cut attractively
something crunchy (chopped nuts, granola, hemp seeds, etc.)
something pretty (like edible flowers)
Directions: Just add the frozen banana, other fruits, and protein to a high-powered blender and blend until smooth (it should have the consistency of frozen yogurt.) Decorate with fruit, something crunchy, and something pretty.
Protein ideas: soft nuts like pine nuts or cashews, nut butters, yogurt, soft cheese like chèvre or cream cheese, harder nuts that have been soaked in water in the fridge overnight (like almonds, walnuts, or macadamia nuts.)
foraged ideas: wild berries, feral apricots, wild greens, violets, wild roses, pine nuts, black walnuts, leached acorns, other feral fruit trees, etc.
Level two: listening to yourself
This level of self-care is all about permission and trust; accepting and addressing what you need in the moment as well as what you need to get through things in the future as well. It comes up often in conversations I’ve had with other friends who struggle with chronic illness, as it is something many people don’t *have* to learn until they are faced with a debilitating issue. That said, I think it is something everyone SHOULD learn, since we all operate more efficiently and happily when we are physically and emotionally healthy.
I particularly like this quote by Jen Gotch:
“Self-care, at its core, is giving yourself permission to do whatever it is that you need to be okay.”
This is when things get a little more subtle and a whole lot more important. Self-care can vary from person-to-person and day-to-day. Sometimes self-care looks like eating a fast food hamburger because you don’t have energy to buy groceries and fast food is better than no food at all. Sometimes it looks like going on a peaceful walk instead of doing the dishes because you only have energy for one and your soul needs to be fed too (taking time to find joy in your life is absolutely important.) Sometimes it looks like cleaning the house and paying the bills so you can feel more relaxed and centered when you’re through!
But mostly, self-care looks like trust. You know what you need. You have permission to be sick, permission to be sad, permission to be slow, permission to do what you need to do to be okay. Self-care is learning to say “no” without guilt. It’s knowing when you need to pick yourself up and get to work, and when it’s okay to lay curled up in bed and cry for a day. Know and accept your limitations.
Another note that’s worth mentioning here: self-care looks entirely different from the outside, and everyone has different needs. Instead of approaching someone with judgement, perhaps instead try to approach them with curiosity. “I know you have been spending a lot of time in bed lately, are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help?”
So take a moment right now and tune into your body. Notice any sensations or heaviness. Then ask yourself: How do you feel right now? Light? Heavy? Excited? Tired? What do you need right now? Emotional support? Physical comfort? More rest? Better food? An adventure? Then, do whatever you are able to do to honor that need.
Level three: a sustainable system
This level is the hardest and scariest to talk about because often, it requires real, actual change. And change is hard..
“True self-care … is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” (From this wonderful article on the subject.)
Sometimes this means looking at your failures and re-strategizing, or realizing that something you thought you’d love doing has actually been giving you ulcers and it’s time to try something new. Sometimes it means disappointing people you care about in order to meet your own needs and wants. Sometimes it means making sacrifices for those same people, because their happiness and love is important to you. It is looking -really looking- at the systems that guide your life, and reinventing the ones that aren’t working. It means thinking outside the box of society’s expectations and “shoulds” to invent your own wonderful and happy life. It is being okay with being normal - with having an unorganized junk drawer and not showering every day and sometimes having dishes in the sink. It’s realizing how much potential is just sitting there, making you feel restless with any job you have until you begin doing that one thing you really love. It means unlearning the social conditioning that has shaped you your whole life and you’re only now realizing has hurt you or limited you for so long.
The first step of this is to really get to know yourself. You need to know and accept your limitations. Pay attention to the pace you naturally work or move at. Notice when feels best to wake up and fall asleep. Think about your core values and how those relate to the work you do or your personal relationships. Keep a gentle running tab of your emotional health throughout the day: are there certain times you feel happy and engaged, and times you feel sad, angry, or bored? If you haven’t already, you may begin to notice repeating patterns throughout your daily cycle or even more long-term (monthly cycles, annual holidays, certain seasons. etc.)
Then: be really brutally honest with yourself. What brings you joy? What brings you pain? What do you want more of in your life? What do you need less of?
Then (I can feel you shaking in your boots by now) think about what of those things you can actively change. Really analyze it and look at problems from different perspectives. You may be surprised at just how flexible your life really is. We are programmed to settle for our current situations in many cases because change is unknown, and the unknown is dangerous. But this habit can be just as dangerous on us if we’re living in a world where we’re always frantically rushing, never-quite-caught-up.
This is when the big scary change has to happen. It’s when we cut out toxic relationships, reassess our employment and what other opportunities are out there for us, make a point to cultivate healthy habits (whether that means eating more salads or making regular appointments for our mental health or finally going clothes shopping for cute things that fit us NOW, not after we’ve lost a few pounds.)
And yes, this is hard. Big change is hard. But big change is worth it. Creating a life that is more sustainable and balanced for yourself is one of the most important things you can do! And the more you model it for yourself, the more you model it for your families, friends, and community.
Everyday life shouldn’t be something you have to recover from. Choose a life that feels good over a life that looks good. Be honest. Meet your own needs.
And lastly, a couple of things that self-care is not: Self care is not an obligation or a to-do list. It is not only for attractive skinny white women; it is for anyone regardless of class, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or any other factors. Self-care is not something to be marketed or achieved, it is something to be practiced. It is not an assignment; it is an invitation. You deserve your own love.
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