The 3 Levels of Self-Care You Need to Know
What comes to your mind when someone says the word self-care?
If you're like most people, you think of things like massages and manicures, a night on the town or even a weekend away. These are all great and worthy examples of self-care but they are also all examples of what The Parachute Project™ considers to be Self-indulgent Self-care. Self-care actions on this level tend to require more effort and resources to practice. For this reason, they might leave you feeling like self-care is selfish and unnecessary or, even worse, unattainable.
The good news is that there is far more to an effective self-care practice than just self-indulgent self-care. Did you know that there are actually three levels of self-care? It’s true!
Why is this good news?
When you understand what self-care really is, on every level, you can choose the self-care practice that best fits your current needs and circumstances. As a result, your efforts will become more attainable and have a greater impact on your overall well-being.
The 3 levels of self-care that you need to know are...
This level is crisis management self-care. These are self-care actions you will take when you are facing a really difficult challenge that overshadows anything else. Like throwing a life preserver to someone who is drowning, this level of self-care will help to save something precious that will be lost if you do not take action now.
Perhaps you are struggling with crippling anxiety or a deep depression. Taking action to seek professional support would be a form of self-preserving self-care that safe guards your mental health, for example. Maybe you have to learn to manage a newly diagnosed health condition. Perhaps your bank accounts are in the red. Maybe you are struggling to nurture a difficult relationship with your partner or your child, etc. These are all examples of circumstances that need prompt attention and must be prioritized over your other self-care needs, for the time being, because of their current fragility and urgency.
At this level, you can focus on self-care more broadly with long-term growth in mind. At the self-sustaining level, you are no longer practicing reactive self-care, as you would be in a time of crisis. Instead, your self-care practice becomes proactive as each self-care action builds on the last and lays a foundation for the next. This level of self-care provides the fuel and sustenance necessary to maintain the strengthen, energy and resources you need to be the parent and caregiver you want to be for the long haul.
Self-sustaining self-care might look like habits, systems, rituals, or organizational strategies, for example. These are practices you develop over time, and often through trial and error, in order to maintain a level of wellness necessary to manage the weight of your circumstances, day after day, year after year. It may be as simple as brushing your teeth daily or as involved as going back to school.
Self-sustaining self-care is the level where most parent caregivers will camp out for the long-term, as we practice life-long self-care. Think of it as the open planes in between the mountain peaks and the river valleys. The journey will take us through ups and downs but the goal is always to get back to level ground and then to stay there for as long as we can.
This level of self-care often requires a larger investment of time, energy and resources, financial or otherwise. These actions can feel big and out of reach. They can feel unnecessary or superfluous because they are not necessary to sustain your physical wellness. However, they are still a valuable part of your self-care practice.
Like all forms of self-care, self-indulgent self-care strengthens the connection you have to your parachute which directly impacts the support you receive in your caregiving role. While not crucial to your survival, this level of self-care provides opportunities for restoration and connection you simply can not access any other way.
For example, a night out with the girls requires an investment of time, energy and resources. You may not NEED a night out with friends, or a cocktail, to physically show up in your caregiving role. However, spending time with friends will nurture those relationships and strengthen connections you have to those who you rely on in times of difficulty. Self-indulgent or not, a night out with friends is social self-care that plays a critical role in your ability to carry the weight of your circumstances.
Why is it important to clarify the differences between these three levels of self-care?
As a culture, we have gotten a bit off track when it comes to the definition of self-care. It has become a big and broad buzz word that is used more as a marketing tool for the health and beauty industries than as anything else. This distortion can cause real problems for parent caregivers
For example, when we consider the topic of self-care, we very often think only about those examples of self-indulgent self-care. These are the actions that require the most investment of time, energy and financial resources. For this reason, it is so easy to believe that self-indulgent self-care is beyond our reach because, often, it is out of reach in our current circumstances. Unfortunately, we tend to lump all kinds of self-care together and dismiss it as unattainable, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
This does such a disservice to our overall well-being!
Fortunately, when we recognize that there are actually several different levels of self-care, we can choose the one that is best suited to our current circumstances. In this way, it becomes easier to clarify which self-care action will have the positive impact we need and to be reassured that self-care will work for us too!
Under The Parachute Project™, our goal is to always to focus our self-care practice on just one self-care action at a time, until it becomes a natural part of our every day routine. Understanding the differences between these three levels of self-care helps us to more accurately evaluate where we are in our circumstances as they are today, and determine the level that is most relevant to our current needs.
For example, if you are currently experiencing a crisis or a difficult challenge, your chosen self-care should be of the self-preserving variety and it should be directly related to managing that challenge until the crisis is handled. If you are not currently facing a pressing challenge, you can focus on a self-care action that is self-sustaining. You should focus on an action that will provide the fuel and sustenance you need to maintain a level of well-being that sustains you over time. If you are presented with an opportunity to experience self-indulgent self-care, you should do so freely knowing that it will help to strengthen your connection to your parachute. Self-indulgent self-care should be enjoyed at any time in your caregiving journey. However, it should only become your priority when you are already feeling well sustained in your self-care practice.
Self-care at any level is a practice. Ultimately, the goal of your self-care practice is to help you to maintain a level of well-being where you feel sustained consistently and for the long-term. Your circumstances may not allow you to start there and they may not always allow you to stay there. You might find that you will fluctuate through the different levels of self-care at times. That is ok! It is not a reflection of your efforts but rather the uncertainty most parent caregivers face.
As caregivers, our circumstances are always changing and our self-care needs change with them. That is why it is so important to re-evaluate your self-care needs frequently and to consider which self-care action will best serve your well-being before you begin a new self care practice. Understanding the three levels of self-care can help to clarify which self-care action will have the greatest impact on your overall well-being in your caregiving role.
Self-Care Action Discussed in this Post:
Consider the three levels of self-care; self-preserving, self-sustaining and self-indulgent. Does separating your self-care needs and actions into these three levels of self-care help to bring clarity and focus to your personal self-care needs? What level best applies to your circumstances as they are today?