"Self-Care is how you take your power back." - Lalah Delia
Warmer and longer summer days, more time outside, more family gatherings, and more time on patios means there is more that we can do to manage our stress. At the same time, always having somewhere to be and something to do can be draining, even if that thing to do is taking a time out at the beach – I see you, mother of four who must pack the sunscreen, the bug spray, the binky, the stroller, the beach toys, the foodstuff, and everything else. Even a time out at the beach can leaves us feeling more fatigued than before we left home.
But here’s the thing. It’s the mindset that matters. By mindset, I mean the established set of attitudes that we adapt towards our own self-care. That’s one of the things I think about when I read the quote. Self-care is simply a practice of taking an active role in protecting your own health and well-being. It’s a way to improve one’s own health. It is a critical self-help activity during times of high stress. As the quote says, self-care is a way of taking your power back. I see that as an opportunity to look into and understand our untold stories about managing stress.
The Rubber Band Analogy
I like to use the analogy of a rubber band when I describe human feelings of stress. Imagine a rubber band; it is designed to be stretchy, that’s the nature of it and how it is meant to work. Now imagine stretching that rubber band. When stretched to a certain point, the rubber band still does its job. Keeping stretching the same band to a reasonable limit for an extended period, and the band will remain intact, but it loses a little of its elasticity over time. With continuous stretching the band never returns to its original shape or size; it adapts to its condition of being stretched out. But if you take that same adapted rubber band and stretch it beyond the reasonable limits of its remaining elasticity, the band will break.
This is the same way stress works in the human body. Without launching into an anatomical description, suffice to say that our bodies are built for stress but only a certain amount of it and for only a specific period of time. When we experience prolonged periods of stress, fatigue sets in. That can feel like decreased energy levels, insomnia, a decreased libido, depression, digestive issues, and even frequent pain. In the end, we are left with a constant feeling of fatigue. You are simply too tired. Too tired to feel motivated. Too tired to remember things. Too tired to concentrate or focus on tasks. Even too tired to feel like you have the power to change your situation.
Self-Care as a Power Story
When I think about the quote that “self-care is how you take your power back,” I see an opportunity to reframe the power of self-care as more than the physical, ‘charge-your-batteries kind of power.’ Yes, charging the batteries is good but real power, the ability to get people to do what they would not otherwise want to do, is where the gem of sustainable self-care lies.
You see, the charge-your-batteries notion of powering up suggests a short-term solution to managing fatigue. With it, we’re working with the mindset of doing enough self-care to safely (and sanely) get another thing on our to do list done. Once that’s done, we may stop to recharge our batteries once again. There’s a certain rhythm to this process. It is cycle of doing just enough for our self-care so that we could keep moving from one task to another.
But taking our real power back, by that I mean directing our influence towards ourselves and our own actions, has a more durable self-care outcome. Imagine the rubber band once again. Picture that as your own body. Your agency and sovereignty allow you to determine under what conditions your rubber band will be stretched. In my opinion, saying ‘no’ to some stress inducing experiences is the epitome of taking your power back.
Self-Care Power amid Life's Chaos
Wait! Before your eyes roll and the ‘she’s in la-la land’ inner monologue sets in, consider this: saying ‘no’ comes from an understanding that there is a difference between working hard and overworking at the expense of your own physical, mental, and emotional health. Yes, you heard me right, father of two who is ruminating over scheduling conflicts for the coming week as you turn your family’s Sunday into a pre-Monday stress-fest.
Even if the stressor is a workplace related one, we could do well to take some of our power back so that we can prioritize our own self-care. And to the father of two and the mother of four, and anyone else with or without children, jobs to attend, or households to run, that prioritization can look different. Nevertheless, what we will all have in common is that treating our own self-care as an exercise of our own power means taking meaningful steps that will serve us better in the long run.
This article points to some of those agency-generated steps. For instance, tracking the things that stress us out and our responses to those stressors is one agency-conferring component. By journaling about our experiences and responses, we learn about our own behavior patterns and triggers. As we learn, we come to better understand so that we can know when to say ‘no’ and when it makes sense to say ‘yes.’
Establishing boundaries is another way to exercise sovereignty over your own self-care. Setting rules for how much time you spend on social media, checking emails, or answering the telephone is powerful if you can see it as putting your self-care needs first, instead of feeling that you are missing out or falling behind.
And of course, learning how to relax and asking for help are other ways to take our power back. Here, the power lies in recognizing that self-care and feeling less stressed have little to do with feeling happy all the time. Good mental health comes from having the appropriate emotional and behavioral responses to stressors.
Our lives have become so determined by things to do that we have succeeded in treating taking time for our own relaxation as a luxury. We have also been programed to think that asking for help is a presentation of our own weaknesses instead of what it really is – a signal of our courage and wisdom. Returning to the story of our own power can orient us to a growth mindset that makes relaxing (just because our bodies need it as much as it needs air and food), and asking for help when we need it, a normal part of our self-care routine.
The Bottom Line
There are many things we can do to begin rescuing our bodies from the chronic fatigue of living with stress. There is no magic antidote to stress, and it will never go away. All we can do is change our relationship to our stressors by attending to our mindset or attitude. There is no quick fix for this. The truth of it is that it all takes practice. The attitudinal shift that will allow us to listen to, and learn from, our own untold stories about our stress and fatigue is also a cultivated practice.
But imagine, if we could take the time to tune in to our stressors and responses, and use that as the starting point for creating a story about our own situational power, imagine the heroic journey that lies beyond that? This, my friend, is the power of attending to our untold stories. Somewhere, in each of us, there is a power story about our own self-care waiting to be lived and told.