Prioritizing Self-Care is Not the Same as Being Selfish

We all have dark days sometimes. We feel under-appreciated and under-valued, because maybe we aren't getting the recognition we feel we deserve at work, or because we're drowning in housework and motherly duties. I've had my fair share of "dark" days entering into adulthood venturing out on my own in a new place, then becoming a wife, and then becoming a mother. I went through so many identity crises in such a relatively short time that's it a wonder I wasn't a crumbled, irretrievable mess on the floor by 25.


But can I tell you something that it took me a ridiculously long time to realize? Well, two things really. First, did you know that to get that plastic guard thing off the top of your deodorant, all you had to do was start raising the stick by twisting the bottom? The plastic things just pops right off, no fingernails or teeth harmed in the process. Took me a whole 25 years to learn that, but there you go. You're welcome for blowing your mind, if you didn't already know.

The second thing it took me FOREVER to learn, is how to practice self-care. When I used to hear that term, I would equate it with cutting my nails, making sure I ate good food, and merely thinking positive thoughts. Um, those are all just normal things, things that everyone should be (or already is) doing, and nothing ground-breaking. I figured that by regularly showering, I was practicing self-care. I was literally taking care of my self. Or was I?

I think the root of a lot of MY dark days is my own insecurities and grievances throwing a pity party in the back of my mind, which leads to unnecessary grumpiness and lack of motivation. When you're grumpy and unmotivated, it's really hard to excel at anything. And the subsequent failures would then put me further in the dumps, and this mood ALWAYS has a ripple effect on my immediate family and those I interact with regularly.

What I'm learning is that I can stop (or severely minimize) all that by simply prioritizing myself. Practicing TRUE self-care.

Once I understood that, I had to ask myself, "Why haven't I taken these steps before?". Honestly, I know exactly why. I have an addiction to productivity. I always want to feel some sort of progression, whether that's accomplishing a task more efficiently than last time, planning far in advance, or simply avoiding down-time or sitting down/resting at all when my boys are napping.  Sometimes I feel like I have so many responsibilities that if I take a break or they don't get finished, then the world will come crashing down on me. I used to consider any time taken for myself as "selfish time", and that any lack of productivity would hurt both me and my family, whether financially or emotionally or whatever. This is the world I'd created for myself, and it instilled in me the VERY limiting belief that taking time for myself was selfish and disrespectful. In reality, I was only disrespecting myself.

I'd like to outline what I've started doing different, but let's back up a bit. I want to explain exactly what "practicing self-care" now means to me:

The beauty behind this term is that you can define "self-care" however you'd like, but just make sure you understand that it's not just as simple as making sure you have good hygiene. I define it as "doing things that provide me with an opportunity to feel joy, every time I do them." They don't have to be productive or benefit anyone but me. I started to discover ways I could prioritize myself by making a list of 10 things that make me happy, things that I could actually do or provide for myself on my own.

My list started out with things like reading, taking baths, doing puzzles... and then I got stumped. Everything else I thought of would only bring me joy because it would make me feel productive. It was really, really hard to come up with things to add to my list, and to be honest, it's not completed, even now, several months later. I did come up with a few more personal things and feelings that bring me joy, every time, no matter what mood I'm in. And now my goal is to start carving out availability to receive the joy from those things daily.

For example, I added "reading" to my list, because I really do enjoy books, but for some reason I'd got it into my head that as a busy mother and side-hustler, I had no place wasting any time reading a stupid, made-up story. It wasn't going to bring in more money, and it wasn't something I could do with my family. Similar to my realization about how I was prioritizing finances, this was a huge step for me in a more positive direction.

I started in on a series that I'd been wanting to catch up on for like ten years, no joke. I got, like, seven of the books from the library (it's a long series haha) and just started in on them. The boys would take a nap, and I'd let myself have anywhere from a half hour to an hour to read my book, and then I could start in on the dishes or catch up on social post planning, etc. The results were immediate. Honest-to-goodness, I was happier. I got more done. I read like freakin' 20 books in a month. What the?! It was so liberating to realize that I could actually enjoy something, just for me, and I truly believe it had a positive impact on my family as well.

I make it a point to do something every day for myself. I indulge in bath bombs and take a couple baths a week. I am practicing not feeling "guilt" for the time I spend reading alone or watching TV without doing something else at the same time. And I can feel my self, my SOUL, growing and expanding as an individual. I'm learning more about myself, and discovering new things that bring me joy. I love knowing that I am an ever-changing individual, and that my purpose is not defined by how many things I check off my list at the end of each day.

My hope is to instill in my own children an understanding of how prioritizing self-care can allow them to be more productive, more influential, and ultimately more successful. Kendrick Lamar said, "I can't change the world until I change myself first." I am determined to be an example to those around me of how to minimize the dark days and amp up the joy.

Peace and blessings, y'all. 



Rachel Cottrell | @rachelacottrell

mama to twins • drinker of the Dew

Rachel is a huge fan of TJ Maxx and chocolate chip cookies. She is currently working on updating her 1940s home with her husband.


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