I remember camping out in my parents’ bathroom the night before I took the SAT for the last time. I had worked myself up so much thinking about how important this standardized test was for my future that I threw up. A lot.
I remember curling up on my dorm bed during my final semester of college. It was late evening, and I was supposed to be studying, but I was so stressed that I had given myself a migraine. The only lights I could tolerate were the strand of Christmas twinkles stretched across my room. The pounding in my head got worse as I thought about how much I wasn’t getting done thanks to this forced break.
I remember turning off the lights in my church office and working in the corner, where no one could see me through the window to the hallway. My ministry environment was toxic, but I still had responsibilities to fulfill. So I tended to them, in the dark and in isolation as often as I could.
I remember hiding and crying in my closet as the brand-new, low-supply mom of a baby who grazed all day. I felt like I had completely disappeared into this new parenting identity, but it felt too much like failure to ask for help.
I share these vignettes to let you know that you are not alone if you struggle with self-care. I have always wrestled with the swirl of responsibilities, expectations, and passions. And almost everyone I have coached has raised the issue of self-care at some point. There are many reasons that the need to create or maintain margins is so difficult. For my coachees and me, it often comes down to some combination of the following:
- Constant accessibility, thanks to technology
- The availability demanded by the pastoral life
- Gender norms that try to push more tasks onto women’s plates
- Assumptions about women that make us feel like we have to work doubly hard to be perceived as competent
- Family realities, such as care for an aging parent or small child(ren)
- A chaotic social and political season that is tugging at us to become more engaged in service and/or activism
- A broad range of interests and/or gifts that makes it hard to know where to specialize
I’m not an expert on self-care (obviously, as the anecdotes above show!). But in making my own changes and in working with coachees, I have developed a framework for designing a self-care strategy. It is built around five Ps:
- Priorities: working out of one’s own sense of purpose and gifts
- Permission: getting blessing from self and others to plan for replenishment
- Planning: naming tangible steps to creating space for self-care
- Parameters: identifying what it is important to (almost) always say yes or no to
- Partners: creating a network of accountability partners, encouragers, and helpers
The framework is bookended by some reflection on what about self-care is important to the individual and what it would look like to be (somewhat) ok leaving some things undone.
Originally taught as a webinar and workshop, this series of reflection points is now available as a workbook. If you’re interested in checking it out, this guide is available for purchase here.