Self-care has practically become a mantra in online feminist spaces.
For most of us, it conjures up images of pampering – bubble baths and masses of cupcakes that allow us to relax and indulge. Self-care paints a broad brush though, and it can look like many different things to different people.
Put very simply, self-care is an intentional practice of taking care of ourselves. The way we do this looks different for different personality types.
Now if you’re a type A productivity monster such as myself, you may have already stopped reading because pampering yourself with self-care isn’t particularly productive, and you’ve got things to do. Am I right?
I’ve said that all too many times before to myself.
For many type As obsessed with achieving, we have a hard time letting ourselves practice self-care, which is partially why it is so important that we do.
I hear my friends all the time tell me, “You do too much.”
In a lot of ways, I take pride in this statement because I love letting my achievements define me instead of doing the real work of self-reflection.
Now, I’m not saying that achieving is wrong. For many of us, doing is as central to our being as anything else.
What I am saying, though, is that if our obsession with productivity is keeping us from taking care of ourselves, we’ve got a problem.
Self-Care and Productivity Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
Dr. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
For myself, I feel great shame when I don’t meet or exceed expectations.
Therefore, to practice self-care and take timeouts from receiving validation through work, we enter seemingly dangerous territory.
If our self-worth is caught up in just our achievements, it feels uncomfortable and selfish to act on things purely for our own enjoyment.
So before we can begin to practice self-care, we must first own our truth, an essential part of feminism.
This begins with vulnerability.
Ask yourself: What are things that bring you shame?
For example, I judge people for taking time for themselves because I’m not comfortable taking it for myself.
So make a list.
From there, deconstruct why you feel shame.
For many of us, our shame is rooted in past experiences, and many times, the way that we define our worth is hardly on our own terms.
Our Western society has a stake in the way that it defines women’s worth. Frankly, it makes money off of it.
Cosmetic companies, diet products, and applications that seek to help women “do it all” are all playing into the idea that women must give in order to receive their value.
While race, socioeconomic status, and other factors play a role in the way society aims to define your worth, most definitions require that women give far more often than they take.
Setting your own value may feel practically impossible to master, but it’s a practice –and like any practice, you will get better with time.
That being said, how do we as women value our type A inner control freaks while also acknowledging the importance of letting go.
It’s tricky, but it starts by realizing that self-care and productivity aren’t mutually exclusive.
Self-Care Tips for an Obsessive Doer
Here are a few ideas about how you can combine self-care and productivity.
1. Learn to Say No
Being an overachiever means having a hard time saying no.
In a lot of ways, it feels like an honor to be asked to represent this or to speak on that. For your own self-care though, it’s time to practice declining offers.
Outline your weeks and commit to making sure you have sacred time for yourself.
On top of that, make sure that you prioritize what will be meaningful to you.
Saying no doesn’t have to mean letting someone down. A lot of times, it just means having enough respect for yourself (and your valuable time and energy) to set boundaries.
2. Ask for Help
I hate asking for help.
Yes, you heard me.
I’m a part of many communities that are committed to helping me grow, but my pride still takes a hit when I have to admit that I don’t know the right answer.
Whether this is in your job, your relationships, or just learning to love yourself — ask for help.
Seek counseling if that’s possible and affordable, ask your friends (online friends count, too!) for specific support, and most of all, don’t be shy about being human.
You may never be as good with words as John Green or as effortlessly cool as Melissa Harris-Perry, but you might never know if you don’t ask for help in getting there.
At one point or another, we all feel that we have no idea what the hell we’re doing – and that’s okay.
3. Do Casual Exercise without Competition
I get anxious in gyms.
I have a hard time not comparing and competing with the person next to me.
For my own self-care, I prefer a walk or run outside either solo or with a friend.
This can be a great way to listen to your body and receive some clarity on all those thoughts inside your head.
If you’re like me, the thoughts never stop, so accepting that truth and listening to them in a serene environment such as the outdoors is essential.
4. Write Anonymous Love Notes
I have an annual New Year’s tradition where I write ten anonymous “love letters” and leave them in unsuspecting places.
I’ve left them in airport bathrooms, on top of cars, or just on park benches.
Taking the time to sit down and think of positive affirmations causes you to slow down and reflect.
Writing an anonymous note to a stranger about how lovely they are can provide you with the right words to tell yourself, too. Try it out!
5. Celebrate Yourself
As women, we have been socialized to downplay our accomplishments.
For example, in a class or group setting, I find myself lowering my hand if I realize I’ve already spoken once or twice.
Sheryl Sandberg speaks about the negative correlation between likeability and success for women in the workplace and the positive correlation associated with these factors for men.
So even though I obtain value from succeeding, I’m shy about expressing my successes with the world.
But the idea of celebrating yourself isn’t about showing off. It’s about letting your close friends know when they can be excited for you.
Misogyny exists to shrink women by policing our bodies and voices.
By taking that voice back and vocalizing your truth, you are fighting the patriarchy.
So practice self-care by letting the people around you celebrate your successes with you.
Make a big deal about small moments that are important to how you value yourself as a productive person.
Overachievers, like myself, can be brutal about self-forgiveness.
I remember as a ninth grade English student, I received a B+ on a project and broke down in tears.
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I was that girl.
And while I’ve thankfully gotten over receiving Bs, overachieving can take many different forms for different people.
At the end of the day, our obsession with achieving usually has little to do with the actual achievement and more about a measuring our self-worth.
I wasn’t really upset because that blip of a B would mess up my high school GPA; I was upset because I felt shame and embarrassment that I’d let myself down.
Focusing on self-care that is also productively dismantling how we define our own self-worth gets at the heart of feminist work.
It’s not just about owning your truth. It’s about bearing your truth.
So take pride in your type A self that asks “What can I be doing?” while at the same time setting boundaries that allow you to grapple with the more important question of: “Who am I becoming?”
Amy Shackelford is a Senior Online Community Manager at Everyday Feminism. She’s a senior at Wake Forest University studying Communication and Women’s and Gender Studies & Sexuality. She co-founded Gender Equality Allies, a student organization that aims to educate and raise awareness to gender issues such as body image, sexual misconduct, and stereotypes. Recently, Amy traveled to Paris to research the concept of beauty. Post-grad, she hopes to work for a feminist organization to fight injustice and spread the message of self-love. She also enjoys chocolate, traveling, and Shania Twain, always. Find her on Twitter @AnthemofAmy and Tumblr.