Pampering vs Self-Care:
Why Manicures & Pedicures Aren't Enough
I take a bath almost every night. And by every night, I mean my husband asks me what’s up when I don’t follow my evening ritual. For years,a bath has been a great source of stress relief (unless you count the times my toddler slipped through the perimeter and invaded my bathroom while his dad caught the end of a football game).
I typically hoard reading material in a nearby basket, bring in a cold drink (is red wine really cold?) and generously add aromatherapy beads to create an in-home spa experience.
Recently though, I wasn’t getting the usual relief from my aromatic soaks.
It donned me in the midst of an over-scheduled week that I was neglecting a self-imposed mental to-do list. At the end of the day, my undone items were following me into sacred space. I had traded quiet reading and reflection time for lists, notebooks and electronics.
It didn’t seem so bad at first, but it quickly became a habit that negated relaxation.
It was then I considered how we, as women, take care of ourselves.
Is pampering the same as caring for ourselves?
In my mind, an act of pampering is a momentary release. If I were running a marathon, it would be the part where I pause to walk or take a drink. The break wouldn’t be long, but it would be enough to restore resolve to cross the finish line. Pampering allows us to breathe, regroup and gain strength to face one more meeting, one more toddler outburst, or make one more meal. It is like a break in the marathon of motherhood. But, while these indulgences are temporarily delightful, their affects feel a little too fleeting for me.
When I leave for a spa weekend with friends, the countdown to Sunday night re-entry begins the minute we navigate the mini-van through a local gourmet coffee shop drive through. From the first sip of Carmel Macchiato, we spend the rest of our weekend trying to slow the hands of time like we try to control the homework habits of teenagers.
While pampering feels great and has benefits, self-care practices provide long term effects known to impact our brains (if we still have one after helping Johnny learn “new” math). When we practice self-care, we begin acting differently – which positively impacts our whole family (don’t tell my teenager).
A 90 minute hot stone massage induces feel-good hormones promoting relaxation. Those biological benefits wane the minute my little sniper hits me with a Nerf bullet at home. I instinctively react by fruitlessly throwing the Nerf bullet into the wind while yelling something incoherent and motherly. My adrenaline infused parent reactions erase massage bliss faster than a nude toddler on a sidewalk.
Self-care is more about gently shifting our thoughts and actions to avoid reactions based on momentary frustrations. Self-care teaches us how to create internal calm without indulging in massages and that chocolate stash every 10 minutes. Self-care is far more personal and introspective.
How do you do it?
Breathe – It’s a good thing breathing is an unconscious biological response or I’d probably forget to do it. Most often, we shallow breathe, tensing our bodies and holding stress in our muscles. By taking one to three deep breaths when you feel tense, you relax and counteract the fight, flight or freeze mechanism (which may or may not be necessary when attacked by a child sniper in your own home).
Be in Nature – Taking that Nerf War outside is actually good for your health! (Again, don’t tell your kids). Running around, laughing and being outside has been proven to reduce depression, anxiety and general malaise. Nature is highly underrated.
Yoga – I used to avoid yoga like a mom with a toddler avoids the candy aisle. It seemed impossible to quiet my mind and be still. I had secret visions of getting up and running over my yoga neighbor for entertainment. And the pretzel poses? I don’t think so!
Who knew this was the perfect attitude for beginning a yoga practice? The point of yoga is not to be still and flexible on the first try. It’s a place to learn and practice those things. Yoga has many documented benefits including stress reduction, increased flexibility, and pain reduction. It also keeps us calm when parenting, negotiating with spouses and dealing with snarled traffic.
Meditation – Sorry, meditation is not napping (although there are benefits to that too!). Being in a quiet, reflective state without distraction can actually grow brain. Meditation is not about learning to control your thoughts; it’s about learning how not to let them control you! Start with three minutes – even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom.
Be Mindful – As a parent, I still wonder if I even have a mind. When you are overwhelmed, ask yourself how you can make it easier. Often, that means delegating or letting go of something you “have” to do (like make dinner). On a busy night, I will throw together sandwiches and call it dinner.
When you are stressed, sk yourself: How can I make this easier? Will this matter in five years?
While that massage you received today won’t matter in five years, diving into some self-care will.(And, if you want, you can put those sandwich cucumbers on your eyes to reduce puffiness or to shield you from seeing the stressful things family members are doing around you.)
Now, where did I put that Nerf gun...
Peace & Light,
The Busy Buddha
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What are your favorite ways to practice self-care? Add to this list!