Real self-care actions (Episode 56)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about what real self-care looks like and discusses 10 real self-care actions. Whether you like bubble baths or not.

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Transcript: Real self-care actions (Episode 56)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin and you’re listening to From One Caregiver To Another. I am a sandwich family caregiver. I have kids at home and I am the primary caregiver for my own. And I don’t believe the old stories and traditions about being a caregiver have to be true for us. I believe we can have dreams, even when we have caregiver responsibilities. We have value as individuals we deserve to say no, and to have our own lives. Nobody can do it all of course, but we can decide what’s okay with us, what’s not okay with us and we can dare to be ourselves. This is episode 56.

Today, I want to talk about actions that are real self-care. And I mean, not the self-care actions that people tend to tell us we should want, or that we should settle for. And by that, I mean, stuff like taking a bubble bath or getting your nails done because you know what, those aren’t self-care to me.

And I bet for a lot of you, those aren’t self-care for you. You know, for a while now I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and articles that encourage caregivers and parents to ‘claim five minutes a day, just for you!’ I think this is insulting and it’s definitely insulting. Every day, we each have 1,440 minutes every single day.

And as a culture, we really think it’s okay to tell somebody they get five minutes of those for themselves, for self-care. Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t grab five minutes every time you can. Heck yes, you should grab every five minutes you can and enjoy it, please. But this idea about doing an episode about real self-care actions, this has been brewing in me for a while because we are worth a lot more than just five minutes a day to ourselves.

When I recorded that episode last week on how I don’t like the term toxic positivity. And I also talked about instead using the terms, forced positivity and forced gratitude, that I just don’t think those are as helpful as they seem to be on the surface, something really clicked for me. And I do think that I mean for this episode to be a sort of companion to episode 55, that was last week. So you might want to go back and give that a listen when you get the chance, if you haven’t already.

 I want to ask why is this idea of a bubble bath so attractive to so many people and why do they use it as an example? So often the answer that comes to me when I ask that, is that it’s easy. It’s become a cliche for us. It’s just so easy to picture a luxurious bubble bath and how that helps you release your stress. But cliches are really, really similar to stereotypes. And I do not like stereotypes because they keep us from being able to see the individual, the person who is never a stereotype themselves. There was never a person born ever, who is just a stereotype, no matter what people group they come from.

So here’s where the stereotype of the nail care comes from. There’s this stereotype that all women like spa days and we like getting our nails done. And that that’s the way we like to unwind because we are women. So I know that’s true for a lot of people, but you know, it’s also not true for a lot of people for a lot of women. I know it’s not true for me, for me. My ultimate self-care retreat is going camping in a tent. And I mean, not even necessarily with a bathroom nearby, I like to get grubby. I like to get out in nature.

I like to put my devices away and be surrounded by the sounds of the trees and the bugs and the birds. I like carrying everything I need in my car or on my back. I want to spend my truly indulgent self-care time hiking. I want to hike so many miles that I’m tired and I’m hungry. Please give me hiking boots, give me a weatherproof tent and a good book. And that’s my self-care right. I don’t even think I’d know what to do with myself if I was at a spa for an entire day, I don’t even know what to do with myself. I don’t know even how to relax while I’m getting a haircut, it’s just not self-care to me.

And I think self-care for a lot of people just, well, first of all, it’s not stereotyped, but it also isn’t sexy or sensual or anything that would get approval from anybody on Pinterest. Real self-care I think it’s gritty. It’s filled with a kind of wonder and awe. And it’s filled with questions and it’s hard, and it can be raw and sometimes it’s painful and it’s deep. And what’s waiting on the other side of this is growth and awareness and resilience and finding yourself, who you really are inside.

Real self-care sometimes looks like tiny little baby steps, and sometimes it’s more like big, giant leaps forward. Sometimes, unfortunately it can even mean taking a step or two back. Real self-care is a journey. And each of us gets the chance to find the actions we can take and then repeat over time to keep moving forward on our own individual path.

So what if you don’t know what self-care looks like? What if being aligned with your own needs sounds like a joke because you’re just so far from knowing what your needs and your wants are? You’re not alone. That’s part of being human and it’s all part of self-awareness. And as I’ve said, many, many times before, self-awareness is hard, but it’s worth it.

It’s a journey, my friends. There is no destination. There’s no place you arrive. I do wish that real self-care was some kind of destination, but it’s just not, there’s no ultimate place that we end up, at least not here in this life, not while we’re alive. Self-care can continue as long as we live. It doesn’t have to, but you can choose for it to continue.

And I have to say for each of us, it’s probably gonna look a lot different in our future than it does today. I might not enjoy camping in a tent quite as much 40 years from now. And that’s okay. I just don’t ever want to give up for myself on the idea of real self-care that helps me get to be more of myself. It helps me get to be I guess more aligned with who I am on my best days and even, or maybe especially who I want to be, even on my worst day.

So what is a self-care action then? Well, it’s action that helps you feel more like yourself. Self-care gets you more closely lined up with who you really are, who you want to be and knowing what you need.

And I’ll tell you what, true self-care will lead you to be more loving towards yourself and toward all the people around you. So if you’re doing something that you think is self-care but you don’t come away from it with even a little bit more love in your heart for yourself or for other people, that’s probably not self-care that’s right for you. And maybe it won’t ever be right for you, or maybe it’s just not right for you now. So try something else.

And I want to talk about human giver syndrome here for just a second. I’m not going to go into what it is because of course I’ve done a bunch of podcast episodes about it, but for those of us who really struggle with human giver syndrome and also with setting boundaries, self-care can seem like a cosmically bad joke.

And I want to recognize this here, because if we really are struggling, we might not know where to even begin. We might not know how to get started. We probably don’t have any idea what we as individual people really think and want and need. And that happens because we’ve been focusing so hard on what other people think we should want and need, pinning down what we ourselves personally want for us, that can just seem too hard, that can seem too far away.

And the one thing I will say here about human giver syndrome is that it’s not something we choose. It’s a set of beliefs that other people have put on us. I didn’t choose human giver syndrome. It was kind of chosen for me a long time ago. I inherited it and the people in my life while they play into it, whether or not they do it on purpose, they still play into it.

And my very best self-care these days is setting boundaries so that I’m not at the mercy of all these other people and what they think anymore. My best self-care frees me up to know myself and know what I think is best and really to worry about me and what I think about myself.

So I’ve got a list here for you of some self-care practices that most people probably wouldn’t call self-care practices. Well, the first two of these would probably end up on more lists than the others. But these practices always rise to the top for me and for my clients. And my clients are family caregivers and parents leaders and entrepreneurs. We are people with busy lives with full lives. So for me, these are the practices that I use so that I can make more time for camping.

And if you really like bubble baths, good for you. These are the practices that will help you fit in more bubble baths. And I will tell you that these practices are all about being intentional. But that’s what self-care really is in the end. Self-care is deliberate. It’s thoughtful. And it’s usually pretty slow. I know that sounds like it sucks, but it’s the way it works and it’s worth it.

Real self-care is what I would say is paced. So it’s kind of measured. It happens over a long time in little bits and there’s no instant gratification and self-care that builds up over time. Real self-care has got a lot of pauses in it. There’s a lot of waiting and there’s growth while you’re not actively doing these things. And it’s just so, so hard for most of us, but that’s what it’s really like.

So here are the 10 self-care practices that will help you make more of your life so that you can take better care of yourself.

Number one set boundaries. This should come as no surprise to you if you’ve listened to any other episodes or heck even if you’ve paid attention during this episode. So. If you’re not ready to make decisions about your boundaries and to tell people about it, that’s totally okay. It just means you’re human, but I would highly recommend right now that you start learning about it. So when you are ready, you’ll have the foundation of skills. Yeah. A foundation of skills that you can start tapping into.

If you haven’t yet joined my free community to talk about boundaries. There’s a link for that, that you’ll find over at slash boundaries.

Number two practice then is thought downloads and journaling. These aren’t exactly the same, but they’re, they’re so similar that I thought I put them together here. They’re both really great methods for taking the thoughts that are weighing you down and getting them out of your head. By writing them down, there are a lot of ways to do this and they can all be really helpful. Thought downloads are something I use a lot in my life and with my clients, and it gives a lot of relief fast.

If you want a free guide on how to do a thought download, you can get that over in the boundaries community that I just mentioned.

Number three self-care practice then is manage your thoughts and emotions. This isn’t about controlling your thoughts and emotions, but it is about not letting them control you.

You don’t have to be a robot to understand what you’re thinking and feeling and to make some choices about, uh, whether or not you want to keep going the way things are or make some changes. If you do want help managing your thoughts and emotions. If that just seems like way too much to try to take on, on your own, please get some help from a therapist or from a life coach like me or from a real time support group. That can be a big help too.

Number four, decide it’s okay to need and want things for yourself. Look, every human gets to have their own needs and wants their own likes and dislikes and preferences. But that’s really easy to say, and it’s a lot harder to believe it for yourself because for a lot of us, the culture around us and the people around us act like it’s not really, maybe all that true for us.

And it’s self-care to decide this for you. And if you aren’t ready yet then the self-care practice is going to be to do the work you need to do to get there. And again, I’m going to say, if you need help with this, please go to a professional.

Number five, figuring out what you need and want. This one’s going to be mighty difficult, unless you can decide first that it is okay to need and want things for yourself. All of the other practices I’m listing here, will help you get to this most amazing self-care understanding, which is knowing what you are all about on the inside.

Number six, take a pause to consider what you actually want next. There is nothing quite like the feeling of not rushing yourself into speaking before you’re ready or not rushing yourself into making a decision before you’re ready, giving yourself permission to pause whether it’s for a minute or for a year is powerful.

Self-care number seven, responding versus reacting. Viktor Frankl had an amazing quote about this, and it goes like this: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” I posted a graphic of it in the boundaries group and on Instagram. If you want to take a look at the way I’ve interpreted this visually, I will warn you, I’m no artist, I mean, I’m no visual artist, but I really do like the way this one turned out.

And yes, I’m telling you responding versus reacting, if that sounds a lot to you like an advanced version of pausing, you’re right. It is. And I just love it for self-care.

Number eight ask questions. This one does come really naturally to me, so I’m going to admit that I use it a lot and I have throughout my life. And you know what, sometimes it makes people mad, but it just feels so good to me to get the information that I need to make a decision or whatever it is that I need to do. A lot of times asking questions actually leads to, now I hope you’re sitting down for this. It can lead to working on solving the right problem instead of spinning your wheels on the wrong problem.

And believe me, that is it’s, you know what? It’s an astonishing. To take care of yourself to not waste effort and energy on working the wrong problem so that you can use that energy and that effort somewhere else, like on yourself. That’s beautiful.

Self-care number nine, ask for clarification. All right. Yes, this is a lot like asking questions, but it’s more specific than that. And this probably sounds more like saying, “Okay. Here’s what I heard you say. Did I get that right?” Or it sounds like, “you know, I’m not really sure about the timing of this. Can we go over that?”

And again, this is self-care that helps you put effort and energy where will matter the most, which frees you up in other ways to take care of you.

And number 10 is make decisions ahead of time. This is the best self-care practice I can think of to reduce the drama in your life. It’s true that we don’t always make the best decisions when we are pushed or when we’re rushed into something or when someone’s kind of got us backed into a corner and that’s just part of being human.

That’s our brain chemistry. That’s the way we work. And most of us have a habit of putting other people first, if we do get backed into a corner or if we feel rushed. And so, because that’s a habit, we just go on putting other people first and not thinking about ourselves. But when we decide ahead of time what we will and won’t do, we can take better care of ourselves because we don’t end up making these self-sabotaging decisions when we’re in a pinch.

I think the best example of this is number one on this list, which is setting boundaries. Boundaries are decisions you make ahead of time about what’s okay and not okay with you and what you will and won’t do when certain things come up. If you make a decision ahead of time to have a boundary that your uncle can not be in your house if he’s drinking, all right. So you’ve decided that ahead of time. That’s your boundary decision. So when it happens, you can just ask your cousin to drive him home, or you can call a driver to come pick him up and your brain doesn’t have to turn it into such a drama. You don’t have to make a fuss. You don’t have to make a scene.

You can say, inside of your own head, I made this decision that if this happens, I’m not going to let this man stay in my house and you can actually – believe it or not, please trust me on this – You can make that decision and then take that action from a place of love and kindness for everybody.

So that’s my list. And of course, these are not the only self-care practices out there in the world. There are a lot more. Only you can know what works for you, what the unique things are that you need. But I hope that when you are considering what self-care means to you, that you’ll think about this list. Because these actions are going to make the difference for you in the long run, as you do the work of learning to really take care of yourself.

Thank you so much for listening today. You can learn more about me and about this work at and yes, that’s facilitator on fire dot net. I’m biased, but I think there’s a lot of really good stuff there. And there, you will be able to find links to my book, to my free online community to talk about boundaries. And if you haven’t joined that, please go join. And you’ll also find links to learn more about human giver syndrome.

If you want almost daily doses of healthy support messages for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me who want to dare to live their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. And there’s a link for that in the show notes.

If you liked this episode, please leave a review and think of two people you can tell about it. If they’re new to podcasts, show them how to subscribe. Word of mouth is the very best way to help podcasts grow. And if this podcast grows, it’s going to help more caregivers find their way here to get the help they need. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2024. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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