Several months ago, I had a really tough day. I got some difficult news, followed by having a few big things fall through. I felt heavy with the weight of it all and reached out to a friend who had been checking in on me across the weeks.
As I gave her a quick rundown of the news, she did all the things a friend should do when supporting you. She listened to my experience. She heard my fears and validated my feelings. And she withheld judgement and advice. Her response was kind and compassionate and incredibly thoughtful. And then she asked me a question that caught me completely off guard.
She asked, “What are you doing to take care of yourself today?” I stopped, a bit stunned for a second. As a psychologist, I’m a pro at taking care of others and their emotions, and I’m great at doing that for friends and family. And while I consider myself pretty skilled in self-care, her question surprised me. And really made me think.
What are you doing to take care of yourself?
She didn’t say it as a statement. She asked it as a question. A question that invited me to really think. To think about what I needed and how I could carve out the space for that in my day. Her question leaned into my emotion, rather than leaning out, which is easy to do when friends give us heavy stuff to hold. Her question took time, when I know her day was busy and full. It would have been easier for her to throw out a one liner. “Be good to yourself today,” or “Treat yourself later”, followed by a heart emoji.
But she didn’t. She asked me. She prompted me to be thoughtful. What are you doing to take care of yourself?
So often after a tough day, we feel a sense of heaviness. Like we’re out of gas, with nothing left. It’s easy to want to distract or numb out or just melt into a puddle. We want to fix how we feel. We want to make things better. To feel better. But it’s not that simple.
After a tough day, it’s important to tend to your emotions. Pay attention to what you feel and take care of yourself. You are a precious resource, and therefore, you work best when handled with care and tenderness. Don’t ignore how you feel; don’t try to push it away. Make time to tune into what you need, and give yourself a dose of that.
When life feels hard, when you’re hurting, borrow the words of my friend. “What are you doing to take care of yourself?”
PS: If self-care feels hard, this is the secret.