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Why we’ve GOT to re-define the term “self-care”

For 15 days, we’re exploring the topic of making our health and well-being a priority as part of the 15 Days to a Healthier You series. You can read Day 1 here.

Prioritizing Self-Care

Before we go any further in this series, I think it’s important that we define self-care. It’s a term that gets bandied around a lot and I think it is often misused and abused.

The reality is this: I don’t want to just survive life. Thus, I’m not looking for survival tactics.

I want to thrive. I want to live life as my best, boldest, and bravest self. I want to live up to my fullest potential.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of making our health and well-being a priority, but I want to be clear: I’m not making self-care a priority so I can cope with life. I don’t want to limp along through life just trying to make it.

I want to prioritize self-care so I can succeed in life. So I can grow stronger, embrace life more fully, love more enthusiastically, live more generously, and serve others more wholeheartedly.

The Difference Between Self-Care & Self-Comfort

I heard Megan and Kelly on the Sorta Awesome show recently discussing the differences between self-care and self-comfort and I thought it was really profound. I think it’s important that we define what this looks like in our own life. It can be easy to confuse the two.

What Self-Care Is: Making our health and well-being a priority. Listening to and attending to what our body and soul needs so that we are able to live our lives with energy and purpose.

What Self-Care Isn’t: Numbing ourselves from reality, using coping mechanisms, or turning to addictive behavior to try to survive life.

To help you understand where I’m coming from with this, let me give you a really practical example. Let’s say your child fell down and skinned their knee and it was bleeding pretty seriously. Yes, you should comfort your child, but you also need to care for your child by getting the bleeding to stop, getting medical attention (if necessary), and bandaging up the wound.

Comfort can be very important, but it’s not enough if our souls are bleeding. We can’t just slap a warm hug or chocolate ice cream and a chick flick on as a bandage labeled “self-care” and think that all will be well.

No, we need to stop the bleeding. And often, that means we first need to determine where the bleeding is actually coming from in the first place.

To me, this is what self-care is. It’s not a temporary fix that might make you feel better in the moment but does nothing for you long-term. Self-care is dealing with root causes, healing from deep wounds, and working on permanent solutions to struggles.

Pay Attention to the Pain; Listen to Your Tears

Until you are willing to admit there is pain, you can’t figure out where it’s coming from or how to fix it. So today, I want you to get really honest with yourself and ask: What’s bleeding? Where does it hurt? Am I trying to cope with life because I’d rather avoid a painful situation? Am I self-medicating in some way in order to mask what I’m really feeling deep down?

That’s how you get to the heart of what’s hurting and discover where the pain points are. These answers might not be obvious at first. They might require some intense soul-searching. They might dredge up things you’d rather stuff down and pretend don’t exist. They might invoke tears or a knot at the pit of your stomach.

Pay attention to the tears. Pay attention to the anxiety rising inside of you. Don’t dismiss it. Don’t run from it.

Instead, when you feel the tears or the anxiety, stop and let yourself stay in it. Ask yourself, “Where is this coming from? What triggered this? Why am I feeling this?”

What does your soul need??

What Does Your Soul Need?

Remember how yesterday we talked about how taking care of ourselves will look different for different people and I encouraged you to make a list of what energizes you? Today, I want to drill down further and I want you to really ask yourself, “What does my soul need?”

This is a question I’ve really been asking myself the past 6 months as part of my Year of Rest.

I’ve talked about the Year of Rest multiple times on the blog and on social media. So many people have commented with things like, “I’m sure that’s been amazing!” Or, “Are you feeling all rested and refreshed?” Or, “It must be so incredible.”

The truth is: It has been wonderful — but not at all in the way I was expecting. I was expecting a year of rest to be filled with more sleep, more time with my family, more fun, more reading, more time for things I love. And it has been that… and that’s been wonderful.

But what has completely caught me off guard is that it’s also been a year of ugly crying. I’m not a crier, usually. I can be the only one in a group to experience something deeply touching without ever shedding a tear. I’m known to be stoic and non-emotional.

That’s all changed this year, however. I’ve probably cried more tears than I have in all the past 20 years put together.

As I’ve been weaning myself off my addiction to “hustle” and intentionally sought quietness and stillness in my life, I’ve struggled to figure out who I am without all of the noise, the accolades, and the accomplishing.

I’ve realized that the busyness was a bandage I tried to slap on. Instead of addressing deep wounds and aches and longings in my soul; I tried to medicate with productivity.

It felt good in the moment. It numbed the pain. It filled the empty spaces. And as long as I kept up the out-of-breath living, I didn’t have to confront the reality or deal with the broken parts of me I’d rather hide.

I realized that instead of dealing with the pain and hurt and hard situations of life over the past number of years, I’d stuffed them down deep, pretended they didn’t exist, and heaped on more busyness to distract myself.

What Self-Care Looks Like in This Season for Me

As I’ve asked myself, “What does my soul need?” I’ve realized that self-care in this season has been me allowing myself to cry. Allowing myself space to really feel. To acknowledge the pain. To open up with safe friends in safe spaces about how much my heart feels broken by situations in my past.

Self-care has meant letting other people see the under-belly of who I really am. It’s meant welcoming people into the authentic messiness and rawness and not apologizing.

It’s been ugly and real… and oh so healing for me! Allowing myself the space and permission to feel, the permission to acknowledge the pain, and welcoming people in to see that I’m a broken, hot mess some days, has made me so much stronger, happier, and healthier than I’ve been in, well, probably ever.

Self-care has also looked like making weight-lifting a priority, giving myself permission to gain a little weight, becoming more spontaneous, working a whole lot less, experimenting with new things, saying “yes” to what once would have seemed way too crazy for me, sleeping more, and making space for a whole lot more fun in my life. {Read more about all of this here.}

We've got to re-define "self-care"

Note: Want to talk more about this with me live? I’d love to have you join me on Periscope (around 8 to 8:15 a.m. CT) and Facebook live (around 8:30 a.m. CT) every morning where we’ll be discussing each day’s topics more in-depth and you can bring your questions, chat with others, and we can share together what we’re learning! (You can watch today’s Facebook Live video here.)

Day 2 Project

  1. Is there deep pain or past wounds you’ve been trying to stuff down, hide, or run from for a long time? Give yourself permission to acknowledge these, cry about them, grieve your losses, and process the hurt with a safe person. {If you feel comfortable sharing in the comments section here, I welcome that. You are also more than welcome to email me privately if you’d like a safe place to share. I would be honored to listen and pray for you.}
  2. Ask yourself, “What does my soul need?” Give yourself time and space to really contemplate and ponder that question. If you feel comfortable, tell us in the comments section what self-care looks like for you in this season of life.

Resources to Check Out:

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  • Jennifer says:

    Wonderful, honest and much needed post. Thank you for talking about real stuff. I appreciate you.

  • Amy says:

    Thanks Crystal, for sharing these things. It’s very thought provoking, especially the “self-medicating” part. I can think of a handful of seemingly innocent things I do on a daily basis to avoid situations and cope with frustrations and hurts, such as staying busy or reading and staying “productive” even when it’s time to rest so I don’t have to think about things. I will definitely give this more thought. I read your Instagram post that is linked in your blog post. When I was done, I remembered one of my favorite Bible passages in Isaiah 30, part of it talks about our salvation and strength coming by repentance and rest, quietness and trust, but so often I am like the next part that talks about how the people would have none of the resting and trusting, but instead fled on horses. It ends in saying “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you, therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.” What a mighty gracious tender God. The invitation for healing is there…we have to decide whether we will get quiet enough or flee.

  • Marsha says:

    I am currently listening to the audio book The Fringe Hours (a book you recommended in the past) and following along on this 15 Day journey and it’s really opening my eyes to see that it is necessary for me to not only make time for myself but to also take care of myself.

  • Lisa says:

    Much appreciate! Will spend some time soul searching…

  • Maryalene says:

    This really spoke to me. It might also be one of your best posts ever (which is saying a lot because I like so much of your work). Thank you!

  • Renee says:

    This is exactly what I needed this morning. I came to the computer in tears because of my feelings of hurt, this morning. I opened your blog like I do each morning, after my husband goes to work, and this was the post that was first on your blog this morning. Wow! Struggling with a lot of self esteem issues, and trying to keep telling myself the words that you posted before “You are Enough”. I’ve had a past of always being asked my weight and size from family members, and have struggled with being enough. My poor husband married me as a broken, very self conscious person because of the things I was told in my past, and also even up until this past weekend when we visited family, I was asked about my diet, and my size. I’ve struggled with eating disorders in the past, and I was actually praying after my devotions for God to help me with my self esteem issues, and to help me realize, that “I am enough”. Thank you for your honesty in this post this morning, and for posting exactly what I needed to read. Thank you to your readers too, who comment, and share their honesty as well. This MSM community is a blessing, and it usually comes at just the right time. Have a blessed day.

    • Kim says:

      I relate to so much of what you said here. Struggling and hoping right along with you. ?

    • I’m so sorry that you’ve dealt with those things in your past, Renee. Have you reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown? If not, I would love to send you a copy as I believe it might really encourage you.

  • Lauren says:

    Amazing post! Gets right to the heart of what so many women are going thru. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. Continued blessings to you on your journey to healing and fulfillment.

  • Kelly says:

    I currently have a deep wound I am trying to get past and I just have guilt! I have a next door neighbor who we used to be friends. She went through a divorce and shut down a lot of people including me. She accused of my husband and myself of spying on her, invading her privacy and sent me a few accusing e-mails. She unfriended me on facebook and blocked me. She still to this day (about 2 years later) will not acknowledge me or even say hi to me when she sees me out in my yard and will not let her kids out of the house to play in the neighborhood. Then out of the blue she sends me a facebook friend request? After much thought and prayer I deleted it because I feel she owes me an apology and I’m not sure I want her friendship. Yet I feel guilty! Guidance on how to overcome this?

    • Guest says:

      Hi Kelly – I don’t know that I have fantastic advice but I had a somewhat similar situation. Here’s what I learned through my own experience (which may or may not apply to your experience)…the individual had a history of this type of behavior and, I don’t say this flippantly, has issues that go all the way back to childhood that she needs therapy to work through. I also reflected that I never really enjoyed this relationship for a number of reasons but kept at it for her sake because I felt badly for her. In the end, boundaries are healthy and important. The only comment I would make is that if you’re not friending her simply because you feel she owes you an apology, there’s a forgiveness issue. In my case, I am consciously and intentionally making the decision to not have a relationship even though I have forgiven her for past behaviors. I don’t feel guilty in my situation but I do still feel some confusion that things happened the way they did which is normal because her behavior was abnormal. It may be that you decide to have contact but cool the frequency/depth. Hope you have peace about the decision very soon, Kelly.

    • Kim says:

      I’ve been through a divorce and I remember feeling embarrassed and like such a failure. I didn’t want to tell anyone or talk about it with people I knew. It is something that she is going to have to work on through counseling, small groups, a divorce recovery group, etc. I remember there were times I just wanted to be alone even though I felt lonely. Maybe now she feels she can socialize again and she is trying to deal with her issues, but I’m not saying that what she did was right. When things like that happen in life, people aren’t themselves and she is learning to redefine herself as a person.

  • Jenny says:


    I’m curious if you’ll include a post in here about HOW you went about finding things to pursue that would energize you. I remember you saying in the past that you stopped pushing yourself to exercise (in an attempt to rest and conserve energy) only to find it left you more depleted. How do we go about changing the course of our lives and questioning what we HAVE done without being certain what needs to be done? Are there some basics in the meantime that we can guarantee will improve quality of life even if we’re not sure what our personal list is? (ie daily prayer, daily exercise, daily time with a loved one)

    We are so close to Dave’s BS 7. Back in BS 2 I thought life would magically improve when the house is paid off. Final payment, and bam, we would live like no one else. Now I feel more confused about purpose and what daily life should look like than ever. What should I be doing with my days? Can I give up this job? What else would I do? If I give up this job, what do I do with myself for the next 30-40 years?

    Seeing your blog grow, knowing you moved and started new work together in another state, and seeing your travelling bloom I would NEVER have guessed all three kids are bunking in 1 room. So many times I envy what others have only to find out that pulling back the curtain surprises me that someone lives in a way I didn’t imagine or does something I’d never considered. It’s hard to see the sacrifices others have made to get where they are unless they bare that to us. Even then I imagine it can be difficult to fully understand someone’s sacrifice, unless you have sacrificed the same way.

    Thank you for so openly pulling back the veil on your life, in the past and the present, to share that all may not be what it seems on first glance. It helps so many of us to reconsider what is necessary, what is important, and what it means to “have it all”.

    Now to answer the big question– what are the next big steps for our family? Or is blossoming where we’ve been planted (another quote you’ve given that I adore) in order? What can we do to energize and live our best lives where we are now?

  • Sara says:

    Really fantastic post.

    I cannot seem to come to terms with health issues I have (undiagnosed autoimmune something or other). I live fearfully about what the future holds, whether I have the energy and stamina to do what needs to be done just to care for my family (forget thriving some days). I’m an introvert and therefore needing plenty of recharge time is essential to my wellbeing but also with my condition I fatigue easily as well depending on what we are doing. So, I have to be very careful with what I invest my energy into. I struggle with how do I accept this life I was given? It’s not what I envisioned it to be. It’s been 8 years of an up and down roller coaster ride and honestly I thought suicide was a good option at one point. It’s like I feel like I make good progress with my mental health and then boom…something else physical comes up and I feel like I’m right back to where I started. Like I never really completely worked through the issue. I’ve done psychologists and anti-depressants. Exercise and meditation are integral pieces to maintaining my mental health. But it’s a frustrating cycle and one I just can’t seem to break free from. The fear is crippling. I’d love any prayers to help guide me where I really need to be. I don’t know how to get there.

    • Sara: Thank you so much for sharing so honestly and authentically. I just stopped and prayed for you — for wisdom to know how to have hope in the middle of such discouragement.

    • Sarah D. says:

      Sara – for me, as a child of God, the following have been helpful (and I do understand anxiety about health problems – one physical problem or ache and pain after another for me this year!): meditating on certain Bible verses, choosing to find things to be thankful for instead of thinking of what ifs, praying for others or looking for ways to help or encourage others. A friend at church shared with me that Satan wants to sift me like wheat (from a Bible verse) to keep me away from God, and it sure feels like it with one health-related thing to worry about (if I choose) after another. I’ve had to consciously make the decision to redirect my thoughts away from my health time after time. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it has definitely helped. As a fellow Sara(h), I will pray for you every time I pray for me. 🙂

      On a more physical level, have you researched adrenal fatigue? Your situation sounds familiar to mine. It’s something very real that many medical professionals refuse to acknowledge. I found help working with functional medicine practitioners. You could check out Dr. James Wilson’s site – he has a quiz you could take to assess whether that might be your issue.

  • learning to thrive says:

    Thank you so much for your raw honesty. I have had anxiety and self loathing issues my whole life, and have measured my worth based on my productivity. If I cannot meet someone’s demands, my own unrealistic expectations, or I make a mistake, I am consumed with guilt. I have a hard time trusting people and entering into situations out of my control. I did not face these things until recently, so I was not able to begin dealing with them fully. I had to get down to the nitty gritty core problems first, and now am in the midst of the painful process of healing from things from my past. But there is such freedom in facing the truth, even when it hurts! I dont want to sit on the sidelines and allow fear to be my master. I want to thrive and be at peace and truly FEEL. I want to get to the point of taking care of my self without a speck of guilt. I want to stop obsessing over things not in my control and surrender completely to Jesus. Thank you for these posts. It does help to know I am not the only one going through these things.

  • Thank you Crystal – this post has really resonated with me. I’m especially reflective right now because my birthday is tomorrow. Somehow those dates always make us focus on past accomplishments and plans for the future.

    I’ve been feeling very stuck for the past couple years. I am the breadwinner for our family. We’re still paying off my student loans and have a lot of debt. While really unhappy in my work, it doesn’t feel like there are many options. I try to convince myself that we’re working towards a better future, with more freedom. But, I’m pretty exhausted and stressed out most of the time. My soul needs rest, but it feels like everything will fall apart if I loosen my grip on all of my responsibilities.

  • Aimee says:

    All i can say is wow. Thank you for being real, vulnerable and willing to share. I identify so much as a person who has always kept busy…often because it was easier than feeling.

  • Kristi says:

    Ok, processing through my ugly stuff with a safe friend – check!

    Self-care for me is taking the time to sow into my spirit with daily Bible study and prayer time, and my intellect with classes (like this one), and others. It’s also making sure to make the hard decisions with food that will create long-lasting results, versus immediate enjoyment.

    • “making sure to make the hard decisions with food that will create long-lasting results, versus immediate enjoyment.”

      Oh! That’s good! And it can be applied to other areas, too! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Anne says:

    Great post! I also use my to do list and productivity as a way to avoid dealing with my sensitivity and anxiety. I’ve worked hard over the past few years to listen to my body when I have negative feelings and let myself experience them.

    My MIL died after a long battle with cancer on June 3 and we had a baby boy on June 30. He got stuck with shoulder dystocia and I had postpartum hemorrhaging. Breastfeeding is really challenging again. So there is a lot of ugly crying here as I wrap up week one of the postpartum period. I got PPD with my daughter and am using all the strategies I have learned in the past three years to care for myself so I don’t get it again!

    • Praying for you, Anne! It sounds like you have a LOT on your plate. But I’m celebrating how you’re being intentional in this season to make wise choices to take care of you!

  • Deena says:

    What a blessing this challenge ( my first challenge in forever!) is. I can imagine being in the public eye can be difficult and hurtful sometimes, and I am thankful for you. I am praying for you too. You have been such a blessing to me and my large family of eight. I have beautiful magazines to read which you helped me get for free- something I would never splurge on, I have gotten birthday gifts incredibly cheap, and have had date opportunities thanks to you. So, thank you. Honestly and sincerely.

    Finding spiritual white space has made one of the biggest impacts on my spiritual life. It took me some time to go through the book, open and heal wounds I forgot about, but it was so helpful. I highly recommend it.

    Excited to complete this challenge!

  • Aubree says:

    I’ve had some good crying myself today. I think current hurts in my life have needed to come out and i’ve decided I need to express my feelings to those who have wounded me so I can heal from it. I feel like i’ve been so alone lately and i’m an extrovert, so that’s not good! I think God is wanting to draw me closer to Him instead of my normal reaction to run to a friend. Thanks for sharing your life with us and helping encourage me.

    • “I think God is wanting to draw me closer to Him instead of my normal reaction to run to a friend. ”

      Oh! That’s powerful! Thank you for sharing. And I just stopped and prayed for you. {Hugs!}

  • Jenna says:

    I’ve been following your blog for a few years and have been blessed by your transparency on life. How you organize your home, finances, and time have been especially helpful to me too! As I read your blog articles I have been wondering if you’ve heard of or perhaps even read the book, Margin by Richard Swenson? I cannot say enough good about this book. May you be richly blessed as you rest and strive to be the best you God ceated you to be!

    • I have read parts of the book but never the entire book? Can you believe that? I really need to make that a priority!

      And thank you for your kind encouragement!

  • Crystal,

    Thank you for such a raw post! I loved that you dove deeper into ‘self care’ and urged us to get to the root of the issue. Why are we struggling? What are we trying to cover up?

    We all need self care, but why? What is going on?

    As moms we play the comparison game, we keep too busy and we neglect ourselves. But taking care of yourself IS taking care of your kids.

    An exhausted and snappy mom is worse than a few minutes of TV. So when I have my terrible days and all I want to do is cry, yes, my kids watch Frozen.

    And I recover and rest so that when hubby comes home I’m not snappy at him.

    Self care is not selfish 🙂

    Thank you for posting!

  • Linda says:

    Is that your handwriting in the picture? It’s so lovely!

  • Tyla Milian says:

    I really liked this post. I have and continue to experience healing from past wounds. It kind of comes in waves and not always when I’m expecting it. Giving yourself permission to feel is one of the best ways to do self care. I suffer from a variety of mental illnesses and one thing I’ve learned through treatment is sometimes you need to be with the pain, instead of running away from it. Lean into your pain, sometimes riding one of those uncomfortable waves of pain leads us to a place of hope and well-being.

  • Kate says:

    Thank you for writing this. I was directed here from Chronic Babe, and I need to thank Jenny for sending us here. For the past three and a half years, I’ve been dealing with a knee injury–multiple surgeries (Surgery nine is this Friday), multiple complcations (failed surgeries, infections, c diff), and a number of disappointments. Everyone comments on how I seem to take everything is stride–it’s mostly because I don’t know what else to do. I try to focus on the people around me who are supporting me and the doctors who haven’t given up on me. But I’ve lost so much over the last 3 1/2 years. I never considered myself disabled before, and I’m struggling with that label. I used to be a teacher and a theatre director–those jobs and hobbies are no longer available to me. I’ve missed a lot of work due to surgeries, healing, and pain. I live with pain every day; not just physical pain, but the pain of cancelling places because I’m sick or another surgery comes up suddenly; the pain of not being able to visit my family because flying is too difficult; the pain of not being able to visit friends and their visits becoming fewer and far between. My genetic condition used to be part of me, and now it’s taken over my whole life. I had to break down and buy a wheelchair. I’m 34 and I have a wheelchair and am considering going on disability. This isn’t what my life was supposed to be like. But I go through the motions of doctors appointments and braces and rest and pills and “why don’t you try this?” and everyone’s well-meaning comments, and sometimes I just want to scream that this all isn’t fair. That all the sympathy in the world doesn’t matter; I just want to walk again. People call me pessimistic when I say I’m probably going to need another surgery at some point in the future; it’s not pessimistic, it’s realistic. It’s the crappy way my body is put together. If it were put together better, I wouldn’t have this knee injury in the first (9 surgeries due to slipping in the bathroom.) My life just looks like a series of doctors and surgeries and “I need to be out of work again.” I’m not sure how to process all of this or heal it. Maybe I already have; maybe my pain medication is too numbing. I try to do nice things for myself and take care of myself, but I’m so limited in what I can do. It feels like suggestions like, “Paint you nails to feel pretty!” or “Take a shower even if you’re not going anywhere” just cover everything like a bandage. How do I heal these wounds to my identity, self-esteem, self-image and overall life? Thank you for reading this far and for any responses.

  • Bonnie says:

    WOW…..eye opening and enlightening…thank you for bringing such raw honesty and questioning into this discussion..I really do need to do some introspection of me. I know I have deep hurts that only Jesus can heal. I have beeen in a Study at church with the Gifts of Imperfection . some tough questions ,helpfil to be with ladies you can be raw and honest with!!!

  • Harmony says:

    So necessary for the season I’m in right now. Thanks for writing about this!

  • Ashley Kaye says:

    I am a little late reading this but I just wanted to let you know I loved it and think it is one of the best entries on here. So many people mask inner pain and doubts with busyness and accomplishments. I include myself in this group. It is much harder to recognize than something like overeating or alcoholism because it does not appear to be overtly detrimental, but can leave people always searching for the next “fix,” just like a more obvious issue. You have given me a lot to think about with this, thank you!

  • Kerry Hunt says:

    When I first so this post and read the difference between self-care and self-comfort I felt deeply convicted and immediately closed out of the page! But it stuck with me and today I am ready to embrace the difference and make different choices. I’ve decided not to condemn myself for seeking comfort through the past few very challenging years of serious medical issues and changing relationships within our family. So now I will forgive and support myself with new choices.

    Crystal-I needed this! Thank you!

  • Emily says:

    This hit home!!!! We’ve been in a better financial situation recently, and I’ve found I’ve been buying more and more because I enjoy the feeling of when I buy! We’ve been overbooked, and I’ve been overly stressed by it. Thank you!! I took a break from Money Saving Mom for a couple of months because I kept feeling disappointed when I couldn’t keep up with the super low prices, etc. I’m so glad I came back today.

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