Taking care of ourselves before burnout is the key to sustaining our health. Many of us are practicing after-care, rather than self care. Preventative self-care practices are the continuous and constant steps we take to love and care for ourselves. Oftentimes we come to self-care from the perspective of need and requiring after-care. After-care is the experience we feel when we are already drained and exhausted, we are spent beyond our abilities to cope or we are pushing forward when an unexpected jolt or issue knocks us off course.
When we practice self-care regularly we are better able to face challenges because we are not already stretched to our limit. I like to think of this like tree limbs or branches. When the branches of a willow tree are blown in the wind they bend and twist – they do not break. But in the winter if the branches are frozen in ice they snap and break whenever the wind blows. We want to be supple and bendy, flexible to life’s challenges, not rigid and unmoving because that will cause us to snap and potentially hurt ourselves or others.
After care typically takes place once we have already snapped and we are forced to confront or recon with damage already done. To avoid being in this position entirely we need to practice regular and intentional self-care, as a preventative health measure that keeps us out of that brittle and icy place. We do that by not over extending ourselves, giving more than we feel comfortable giving, or spending too much time taking care of others and not enough time focused on ourselves.
A lot of times we think that self-care is selfish or a luxury, when truthfully the ability to show up as our best selves in the world is simply health-care. It is staying healthy and that is not a luxury, it is a necessity. What you choose to do to care for yourself can be a spa day, a hot bath, or therapy. It could also be just taking a night off to read, rest, and recover.
Tending to yourself and your own needs is something we all need to do in order to stay out of after-care and comfortably in self-care where we can thrive, grow, learn and engage. This way when challenges come, as they do for us all, we can greet them with ease and balance. These challenges will not throw us off course or overwhelm us because we are already coming from a place of strength, health, and resilience.
To learn more about the distinction between “After-Care,” and “Self-Care,” I would encourage you to check out the work of Nedra Glover Tawwab, NYT Bestselling Author, Therapist, Relationship and Boundaries Expert.