What’s Up with Our Self-Care Wrestling Match?

001026-F-1644L-024Last night, I had the privilege of participating in one of the bi-weekly Medicine X Live Google Hangouts. These are video conferences conducted with Google+, and simultaneously live-streamed on YouTube. There is also a parallel tweet chat that accompanies the video conference, so that people from all around the world can offer questions to participants. It was great fun for me–I got to see the faces of some of my fellow MedX alumni, and this week, I got to talk about self-care and wellness. I will probably have a few posts that bubble up from that conversation. But the thing that really grabbed me last night were questions posed by panelist Britt Johnson (@HurtBlogger) and moderator Liza Bernstein (@itsthebunk). Britt, who blogs at HurtBlogger, brought up the issue of feeling as though her self-care falls into the category of being selfish. I have written before about this verbal mix-up that trips so many of us. And Liza, who blogs at ItsTheBunk, cut right to the heart of the matter when she asked, “Why do so many people seem to struggle to actually do self-care?”

The Difference Between What We Know and What We Do

Liza’s question is a critical one. If you ask anyone on the street whether they think self-care is important, you will probably get a clear, quick “Yes!” If you follow that up by asking what they do for self-care, you may get a “deer in headlights” look, a few stuttering sentences, etc. We have a clear difference between what we know is important and good for us and what we actually do–where we put our effort. I think that this difference isn’t about being lazy, or lacking willpower. Honestly, I think that this difference is complicated enough that I could (and probably will) spend multiple blog posts addressing it. But I think that there are a few issues that come up pretty quickly when we start to unpack this difference.

  • We have gotten into the cultural habit of not carving out time for ourselves–because we’re caring for children, partners, loved ones, job duties, etc.
  • Many of us have not really taken time to clarify our central life values.
  • Sometimes, we can articulate our values, but we get confused in how we act them out.
  • When we feel tired, sore, or overwhelmed already, the idea of implementing self-care can just feel too big.

Changing the Conversation (Step out of the Ring)

Changing the way we think, talk and act around self-care isn’t something that happens overnight. But it can happen. And it doesn’t have to be a constant wrestling match with our inner selves. The first thing we need to do is spend time sorting out our most important values. Blogger and patient advocate Jody Schoger (@jodyms), who is living with metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer, nailed it last night when she said this, “My disease has forced me to be very clear about the priority on my health. There is no stage 5, so I need to make healthy choices now.” Whether or not you live with serious illness, Jody’s statement rings true. If we neglect our own physical & emotional health, we will not be available to complete action toward our other values. The next thing we need to do is to remember that all change is composed of small choices. You don’t need to upend your life–you need to choose to care for yourself in this moment. That can include a glass of water, a few moments outside, time on the phone with a good friend, even checking in with a community on Twitter. And then make another small choice to care for yourself. One step at a time. This isn’t the end of the discussion–and I’d love to hear your favorite strategy to stop wrestling and start acting.

Oh, and if you want to get a first-hand listen to the wisdom shared by the #ePatient panel last night, here’s the video:

Image used under Creative Commons License.

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