An essay on self-care.

This essay comes to you courtesy of my three-week old cold, which landed in my throat on December 21st and has been snuggling up to my sinuses ever since.

Self-care is not always easy.

It’s crazy, really. Shouldn’t taking care of ourselves be one of the most natural things we do? Something that summits our priority list, every single day?

My life, personally and professionally, is centered around trying to make the healthiest possible decisions I can for my body, mind, and spirit. I do that for me and my health, and I do it for you, so I can have as many tools in my arsenal as possible to help you create your healthiest, happiest life.

So why, this week, was it my husband who had to tell me I was too sick to go to work? Why did it take me 24 hours of hemming and hawing over whether or not to cancel plans with a friend when my nose was a running faucet and I couldn’t stop sneezing, had zero social capital, and was d y i n g to just lay on the couch with a box of tissues and watch Grey’s Anatomy? Why did I drag myself to a yoga class that was 20-minute walk away in 20 degree weather when I was utterly exhausted?

Because I, like you perhaps, like so many of us, struggle with saying yes to expectation. When really, I, and you perhaps, should be giving ourselves a giant hug, a freaking NAP, and a mug of something warm and healing. Like the matcha tea below, which I have on repeat these days.

Self-care is, at its core, the art of taking care of oneself. And honestly, you generally know exactly what you need. So when we’re talking about self-care, it’s not about trying to figure out which course of action is best, it’s about listening to what your body is telling you and actually doing it. And I hate to break it to you, but this is particularly difficult for women, because we are hard-wired to nurture, bless our souls. I could write a novel on this topic, and the bitter irony that causes this instinct to turn on itself exactly when we need it the most, but today I’m going to break down a few expectations and habits you need to check at the door — especially when you’re not feeling well.

 

Get rid of the word “should”

This nasty little harbinger of guilt is just a limp commitment to something you know is not in your best interest. Ellen Burstyn did a riveting interview with Anna Sale of the podcast Death, Sex, and Money during which she talked about how she gives herself “should-less” days, which is a day where there is nothing she should do and she only does what she wants. This felt revolutionary to me, and when you are sick that is a SHOULD-LESS DAY. Except for when it comes to sleeping and eating nourishing foods and resting. Those things you should do. When you do use the word “should,” ask yourself why? Why do I think I should do this? What expectation am I giving in to that is pulling me away from what I need?

 

Skip the gym

This is the only time I’m going to tell you to do this, so listen up and listen hard. Unless it is restorative yoga in your living room with a candle burning and some Stevie Nicks on the Sonos, you need to take a break. When you are sick your body truly needs rest more than anything, and I hear you on the guilt of foregoing the gym, but just like running through a sprained ankle isn’t going to heal it, forcing your body to exert effort it does not have is only going to make you feel worse.

 

For the love of god, take the sick day

Guess who loses when you go to work sick? Everyone. Your co-workers, to whom you are now a contagion and whose hacking and coughing they have to listen to all day. You, who can’t possibly be giving 100% when all you have to offer are fumes. And society, because we all lead (or don’t) by example, and every time you go to work sick you perpetuate the notion that there is something more important than your health and wellbeing. That’s right. I said it. When you go to work sick you let society down.

 

Cancel your plans

It sucks. It’s the very worst part of being sick, feeling like you’re letting someone else down or having to say give up something you were really looking forward to. But I promise you, when you give yourself the gift of doing what you really need, which is to rest and relax, you will be so grateful for it and will truly feel its positive impact.

 

One of the most amazing things about our bodies is that they know exactly what they need to do to run properly and take care of themselves. They are incredible machines, truly the coolest, but they have limits and it’s important to know them. When you get a cold, or feel exhausted, or can’t summon the energy to do certain things, that’s not your body revolting against you, that is your body delivering a very distinct message. That it’s time to slow down for a sec and give it the love it deserves. It does a lot for you. Throw it a bone and love it up.

And in the meantime, here are some delicious, nourishing goodies to fuel yourself when you’re unwell.

Miso soup. Miso is a beautiful kitchen sink soup, so feel free to toss in any extra greens or veggies you have lying around, add some soba, or throw it over some brown rice for a heartier meal.

Heidi Swanson’s Immunity Soup.

Fire Cider!

Homemade fire cider. Image credit: Emily Han / The Kitchn. 

Homemade fire cider. Image credit: Emily Han / The Kitchn

Or go for a healing smoothie.

Warming, blended soups help detoxify and cleanse.

Have a super anti-inflammatory happy hour with this turmeric milk latte.

xx — a