Self-Care for Everyone Else
by Jennifer Pharr Davis
I’ve never loved the phrase “self-care.” It sounds so indulgent. I hear the words and my mind conjures up pictures of women wearing terry cloth robes and lounging poolside at a health and wellness spa. Don’t get me wrong, I would gladly volunteer for a Swedish massage and cold glass of cucumber water right now, but I don’t think that treating yourself offers the true essence of self-care. It’s not about giving yourself a reward or even a rest, the highest form of self-care is experiencing something that stirs your soul.
This Mother’s Day, I woke up before my kids and husband could and set off for a solo 20-mile hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I shut my car door and started jogging towards the forest, I already felt rushed. I needed to get home so I could praise my children for their handmade cards and help my husband with clean up the craft and kitchen projects that were planned to occupy our 3-year-old and 7-year old that day. I had spent the past 61 days with my children - without school, without a sitter, and without a playdate – and I still felt guilty for taking time for myself on Mother’s Day.
My pace slowed as I reached the end of the mile-long gravel road and arrived at the
trailhead next to a roaring river. The noise of the water overtook my stream of consciousness and the mesmerizing swirls of blue and white water forced my feet to slow down. As I hiked down the dirt path my gaze drifted between the rushing river on my left and the wildflowers on my right. A part of me wanted to start running again so I could travel deeper and farther into the forest and another part of me wanted to crawl, both were born from a desire to see more.
You know those moments when you actually feel your blood pressure drop and tension leave your body? This was one of them. Along with the rising sun kissing my face, there was a warm fullness that filled my chest. In between looking for morel mushrooms and lady slipper orchids, my thoughts would drift towards family and work but then I would be grounded in the present discovery of wild ramps or enraptured by an owl silently gliding through the forest canopy. When the path became a stair-stepper, I appreciated the strength and ability of my body as it climbed a 5,842 foot mountain. And when I finally passed two other hikers, it seemed that our pleasantries disrupted our pleasantries. After we parted ways, I recognized the gift of solitude and the joy of smiling without anyone else around.
When I finished my hike, I didn’t feel guilty; I felt grateful. When I arrived home, I didn’t feel rested. Instead, I came home feeling rewardingly sore, renewed, and improved. I was more loving and patient towards my family and when I started work the next day I felt invigorated by new ideas.
To others, the experience spending a day alone outdoors may seem way more indulgent than an hour long massage, or perhaps too frivolous or frightening to deeply enjoy. But everyone has something that makes them feel alive… and full… and fully alive. If you haven't found it yet, then keep trying new things until you find what ignites your soul. Because, when you find something that helps you to be the best version of yourself, what you have discovered is a form of self-care that is more than an indulgent pause, you have discovered a form of personal investment that will pay dividends for everyone around you.