A big thing that I have learned is to try to separate home and work. In the quarantine, we learned to enjoy pursuits of our own, but work and home life were blurrier than ever. I remember when I was younger, bringing home a big pile of work for the weekend and feeling like I couldn’t make fun plans, but then also procrastinating and not getting much work done, either. Now, I give the proverbial 110% whenever I’m at work, and for the most part, when I’m home, I’m home.
I love spending time in my garden, so while overall it’s not a quick endeavor, I can go out and weed a small portion or pick some tomatoes and feel accomplished, but I also love spending a morning on my own in the dirt. I love crafting and making of all sorts, so I’ve developed a broad range of crafts that I enjoy, some that take just a few moments, while others can take weeks or months. I always feel best when I’ve produced something out of my self-care. Another huge self-care activity for me is organizing something in my life that’s been driving me crazy. It’s not the traditional sense of self-care, but having an organized t-shirt drawer or computer drive does wonderful things to calm the noise in my head.
When I haven’t addressed my own needs, I am far more easily irritable. The shortcomings of others feel like personal slights, rather than them being human, too. I am also far more likely to use the quick mood boosters (which are then mood busters) such as unhealthy food, drinking, or mindless media. Good self-care and bad self-care are both habits; it’s easier to keep a habit than break one.
I hate the idea that basic hygiene or other life functions are self-care. People who care for others—especially mothers—are made to feel that these basic things count as self care. It really is a human right to be able to take a reasonable length shower when needed or sit and eat a meal without multi-tasking.
That said, self-care is a lot deeper than a shopping trip or pedicure. It really is about maintaining balance in your life and sometimes taking care of less fun items so that you are better off in the future. For example, self-care can look like going grocery shopping so that you have healthy food in the house, rather than eating takeout. Or setting up the coffee maker the night before to wake up to hot coffee, rather than fumbling around the kitchen half-asleep. Or taking the time to budget rather than binge-and-purge spending, so that you can feel good about buying the things you need or want and secure about enjoying them. Just as we mother others, we can also extend that thoughtful care to ourselves.
A friend of mine once talked about pursuing mindful interests in her free time, rather than mindless interests. This really stuck with me. While things like mindless scrolling can definitely be a nice side distraction, I generally feel worse afterward, instead of better. I feel much better after I engage in doing a craft or spend time outdoors.
I think that although motherhood makes self-care so much harder, it also inspired me to make sure that I’m the person I want to be. I don’t want my daughters to equate motherhood with giving up things one loves. I want them to see the joy I take in my interests and friendships.
I hear a lot about learning to say no, but I think that learning how to say yes in a more empowered way is at least as important. If something gives you joy, lean into it in a completely unabashedly nerdy way.
- Brooke teaches mathematics at a public high school in New York City. When she’s not teaching or volunteering (she has been a Girl Scout Troop Leader since 2019) Brooke loves spending time with her family and friends, mastering a new craft and working in her garden.