life coaching

My 5 go-to self-care practices

If there's one thing I know pretty well, it's the struggle to practice self-care. I mean, it's taken some long, hard hours of reflection and brainstorming to even come up with self-care practices for myself, let alone actually regularly practice them. This has been something I've focused a lot on this year as part of my theme of getting back to what's Essential — happiness, health, and a simple but well-lived life...all things that — surprise! — a self-care practice can support.

But it'll only work if it's actually things you want to do. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Then ohmygod why was this so hard for me to do?

I think part of the challenge was that for so long I tried to make other people's self-care practices my own — things I'd read in books, recommendations I'd gotten from courses, or the typical suggestions that often float around the life coaching/coachee world. But the truth is not all self-care practices are a one-size fits all, so they won't feel like self-care practices to you. And guess what? If they don't, that's totally okay. Just move on to the next! Sometimes you can tell right away — usually because the thought of doing it feels about as exciting watching paint dry...there's no feeling of "Yeah, that needs to happen like, yesterday." And then sometimes the self-care suggestions you read about may sound appealing after all, so you give it a try. But for some reason, using it just doesn't feel natural. You don't think of doing it in those moments when you probably need it the most, so they instead become this thing that you're not doing right, that you're failing at, and that must mean the whole self-care thing is a giant bag of crap altogether, right?

Here's the thing: the easiest self-care practice you can create starts by taking the activities you already love, the ones that really refresh + replenish you and don't just feel like more commitments to check off your to-do list (that last one's huge), and building a go-to list around those.

So here's my own list of self-care practices that I use on those days/weeks I'm feeling either a little blah and a whole lotta run down.

1.  A day-time shower

This is probably the one I turn to most often as sort of "self-care maintenance", both because it's super accessible (important!) and it feels like I'm pampering myself. I tend to be an evening showerer, so that's where the idea of a morning or day-time shower as a luxury became a thing. There's just something about stepping out of the shower into a daylight filled room that makes everything feel new and better than whatever it was before.

Now, if this works for you, awesome, and remember that it can be anything you want it to be. But my "day-time showers for self-care" tend not to be just your run-of-the-mill showers-for-cleanliness. Because that doesn't say pampering to me. That just says I'm clean. No, this kind of shower involves:

  • Music: I have a bluetooth shower speaker I bought on Amazon specifically because of this self-care practice. It let's me control volume and tracks, and thankfully means I can now stop reaching out of the shower and dripping water all over my phone every time I wanted to change a song. My music choices often depend on my mood and the season (no joke) — in the summer I listen more to reggae/island music or country; in the fall it's all about folk/americana singer/songwriter.
  • Body wash: If I'm not using either my Alba Midnight Tuberose or Lush's The Olive Branch body washes (both cruelty-free), then it's just a random shower. I incorporate new favorite scents as I stumble upon them, but these are my go-to's in terms of feeling relaxed + rejuvinated all at once. (And if you've ever wondered what a high school graduation in Hawai'i smells like, it's that tuberose body wash.)

About bath's: I'm honestly not the biggest bath fan. I end up feeling overheated and bored. But if and when I do suddenly crave a bath, you'd better believe there's a Lush bath bomb in it. Their Sex Bomb bath bomb is my favorite at the moment.

2.  A day out of the city

Driving into the mountains saved my sanity once up on a time, and it still does to this day. Because it's such a huge part of keeping me from feeling like I'm being pulled in a thousand directions, Nate and I try to take a day-trip out of the city at least once a month. And these are legit day-trips. Like, at least 3 hours in one direction. There's always a point I hit in the drive where I finally feel like we're far enough away from the sheer busy-ness of life that every muscle I have releases.

Not only is this one of my personal self-care practices, but these drives have also become a self-care practice for my marriage. It's a time when there's no one else around (for now, soon there will be a baby boy in the car with us!) and we can check in with each other about how things are going for us individually and as a couple.

The main thing here is to identify something that's tried and true: what has made you feel better in the past? How can you incorporate that into a daily, weekly or monthly practice? Even if I can't get out of the city everyday to clear my head, knowing that it's coming up does help...a bit like a release valve at the end of the month.

3.  Journaling

There was a time when I journaled on a daily basis. Then there was a time when journaling felt like another nagging thing I had to do before I could just stop doing things for a second. So when I began thinking of self-care practices I could turn to on a regular basis, I knew I needed to find a middle ground somewhere when it came to journaling.

So I started coming up with prompts. One of the toughest parts of journaling for me is always feeling like I have nothing to say. Or (and especially when I'm using this in a more targeted, self-care sort of way), that I have too much to say and isn't that just super exhausting? Prompts help me to focus my writing for a certain period of time. So, for example, if I'm in a slump, am feeling unmotivated and as a result unproductive, then I can commit to journaling for a week (or any time period) and choose 7 prompts I can use to tackle the big issue in bite-sized pieces, just one each day. These prompts can range anywhere from questions like "If I were doing the one thing I wanted to do right now, what would it be and how would doing it make me feel?" to "Why do I feel the need to be productive right now? What happens if I'm not? What real impact does this have on myself/others?" etc.

Prompts help me to articulate my thoughts, as well as keep me from feeling overwhelmed by having to write for 5 hours in one sitting just to get it all out. As a bonus, because I sat down at the start of my 7 days to write up these prompts, I've actually thought pretty deeply about what I feel I need to address in order to help myself feel better. Win!

4.  Coffee + creative work with friends

A few years ago, a group of friends and I started Creative Nights once a week where we'd get together at a cafe and work on purely creative projects — the books we wanted to write, posts for a food blog or articles to submit for publication, a graphic novel. It wasn't very stringent...we've worked on job applications, grad school readings and, when it would have otherwise stressed us out not to, even work for our paid jobs. But the intention was always there, and there was a commitment from all of us that we'd support one another to actually get things done during that set aside time. Plus, because at its core it was just a casual gathering of friends, it made the entire process completely enjoyable.

While things get busy for all of us on occasion, we'll sometimes still meet up on a weekly basis for actual work sessions at cafes, and it always reminds me of what I'm shooting for in life — freedom of time to spend it doing the things I want to do with the people I love. It's a taste of location independence that never fails to re-motivate me.

5.  A personal retreat day

This is the big one. My go-to when I need to pull out all the stops and nothing else seems to be working. It's easier to do right now when it's just me and Nate, and we don't have a child to coordinate care for, so it's not without its own challenges for those who do have very real external commitments.

But if you are able to carve out some time to take a personal retreat day, remember that it doesn't need to be huge. You don't need to rent a house in the woods and book a personal chef or anything (though if that's what you need and can reasonably do, can you invite me?). My personal retreat days are mostly a vacation day I've taken from work or another day when I can arrange to be the only one home for the entire day. I plan everything from start to finish, including:

  • Making sure I have my meals covered, whether it's ordering in from my favorite spot, or making sure I have all the groceries I need to make the exact thing I want to eat.
  • Scheduling time for movement (taking a walk with a friend or going for a swim at the gym first thing in the morning, or going to a restorative yoga class at the end of the day).
  • Actual sessions to tackle specific areas of my life. This usually depends on why I'm feeling the need for a personal retreat day to begin with, and I often write out the prompts for these sessions the day before the retreat starts, or during the morning hours so that I can tackle them in the afternoon.
  • Something fun to do to treat myself in the evening (could be a date night with Nate that I ask him to plan, or a solo night at a spa — especially good if I've been super stressed and tense lately).

The personal retreat day is like a shot of nothing but self-care for 24 hours straight. For me, it's mostly used during times where, for some reason or the other, I haven't been great about regular self-care maintenance for a while and ended up depleting all my reserves. The personal retreat day ideally fills those right back up. But I can see having these quarterly just to be sure I'm not getting to that stage — probably a way healthier option!

Do you have your list of go-to self-care practices that you can turn to on a regular basis?

A Recipe for My Life

This post was inspired by a similar post written by Dee Bordenkircher for Season 4 of Stratejoy's guest bloggers. If you haven't checked out Stratejoy yet, I so encourage you to go and do that like, right now. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

First, gather the ingredients | brown hair, brown eyes, skin that burns before going brown too. A handful of whatever you would typically add to a "mixed plate" in Hawai'i. Big, loving family, fondness for romance novels, self-deprecating humor, and indie folk songs played in minor chords. Extra large portion of introversion and driving need to be in the country. Insatiable lust for travel, deep conversations and Diet Coke. Pinch of stubbornness, to taste.

You'll need a solid — though misaligned — dish, and then a secondary, more free-form way to hold everything together once the first dish breaks. Always be prepared.

Start by building a delicious foundation | A small, rural community on an island in the middle of the sea. Add family trips to the mountains, sunny days at the beach, trade winds, country music and reggae. Find hidden streams and waterfalls with your cousins in the summer, and go fishing with your dad as a kid. Play with your sisters, get loved on by your parents and grandparents.

Mix until somewhat smooth. When it's mixed thoroughly, throw in boarding school at age 12. Be careful here — your mixture is going to get tough at first, but will combine completely the more you work it.

Call your mom nightly for the first six months you're away at school, telling her that you love her and hate her in the same breath. Know only that you miss her, you miss your dad and your sisters and your grandparents. You miss your bedroom and your island, and you don't fit in here. You don't want to fit in here. Stick it out, because you have no choice. Grow up quickly, because you have to. Realize how incredibly lucky you are, and how much of a sacrifice your family made sending you away.

Make friends, lose friends, and fall into a deep depression. Get help, struggle through it, and meet your best friends. Think about college and traveling for the first time. Feel grateful as opportunities are laid at your feet.

Your ingredients are looking good at this point. You're about to make it better.

Next, add college | Leave Hawai'i for Washington state and put a label on the bowl that simply states, ADVENTURE. Navigate this new world with wide eyes and a passion for everything. Fall in love with Seattle and seasons and especially the fall because it feels like you feel — crisp and cozy and full of joy and community. Get drunk with your friends at football games and house parties, take courses in Philosophy and Human Rights (regret taking that Intro to Logic class sophomore year). Kiss boys (and regret some of them too). Find out who God is to you, rather than who He is to your dad or grandmother. Find a major no one understands and declare it because questions of identity speak to something deep inside you.

Apply to study abroad in Northern Ireland without telling anyone. Get accepted and have your life changed. Apply to study abroad again, this time in New Zealand. Go, meet the guy of your dreams, and really have your life changed.

Now that everything's really come together, decide to go to law school | Add a heaping dose of what has up to this point been a fairly quiet voice inside you: Fear. Then add a little more. Taste your mixture. Does it taste a little off? A little overwhelmed by all that fear? Then you're right on track. Tell yourself you chose law school because it's your passion while ignoring the truth: it's a secure career, it'll make your family proud, it feels like the adult thing to do, it delayed having to figure out what else was out there, and getting in made you feel like you were good enough. Spend everyday of the next three years wondering why don't feel anything but not good enough.

Find that sturdy dish you set aside earlier and begin pouring your mixture into it. It'll overflow — that's to be expected — but stuff it in there anyway. If you need to (and you'll need to), dump half of your mixture out into a side dish to figure out what to do with later.

Crank up the heat and be careful not to touch what your mixture has become — the soft center and fragile crust could collapse at any second.

Survive each day by enveloping yourself in the guy who loves you despite how sad you are, who reminds you of who you were before you let fear unbalance the entire dish. Save your sanity by heading to the mountains as much as possible. Lose yourself, and don't even realize it until it's almost over.

Graduate, blow off the Bar, get a job that says nothing to your soul because now your confidence is shot and you no longer know what you want or who you are, but you've got rent to pay and you're up to your eyeballs in student loans. Find yourself in the midst of a quarterlife crisis and a depression that leaves you feeling small and shaky every morning.

Hear something shatter | That sturdy dish you worked so hard to fit your mixture into has broken, and everything seems to be spilling out everywhere. But don't worry, you set some of your mixture aside a little earlier.

Grab the old mixture and find a new bowl to put it in. A free-form bowl. One that may not be quite as sturdy, quite as traditional, but you kinda maybe like that about it. Pour your mixture in and start fresh by trying to water down that overwhelming taste of fear.

Find a therapist and begin learning how to deal with your shit, to manage your depression, to recognize your ebbs and flows. To find strength in what you thought were broken places. Find a life coaching course and dive headfirst and arms wide open into personal development. Really think about where things went wrong, what your values are, why everything comes back to your skewed ideas of self-worth. Re-learn your passions. Journal. Create vision boards for every season of life and a playlist for every mood. Admit what your dream life looks like, then admit that the way you're currently living is not it.

That taste is starting to balance out, but it's still missing something.

Add a touch a risk — just a little zest of defiance in the face of your fear — and quit your job.

Incorporate thoroughly.

Fill your new life with more people who are still trying to figure it out too. Who have dreams they're trying to realize, and who encourage you to go after your own. Who are passionate about food, family, politics, culture, social justice, Creative Nights, feminism, sex, sunny summer days spent poolside, travel, Friday night backyard dinners, and each other. Pay more attention to your relationship. Fix what got damaged there when things got messy. Fall in love with him — that boy you met on a trip to New Zealand nearly a decade ago — all over again, even deeper than before. Marry him.

Start to understand that life is not one way or the other — it's not all carefree joy, not all worry and sadness. It's shades of blues and grays and reds and yellows. Learn to stop letting fear (of failure, of feeling) make your decisions, to experience every emotion in its entirety as it comes, and to process them in healthy ways. Recognize every dream as it comes too, and be brave enough to name them, to declare them. Start a blog to help you express all of it — the beauty, the rawness, your journey to live simply, but fully.

Blend, blend, blend.

Take a step back. Look at what you've made and realize that it is in no way finished. There's still so much more to add, so many ways it could go awry and turn out perfectly imperfect.

Smile, because that's sort of the point, right?

Grab your free-form bowl and keep mixing.