Self-comfort is not self-care, and you require both.

Self-comfort is not self-care, and you require both.

My best friend and I began a sacred tradition years ago for bad days: a chick flick (usually “Beaches”), a pint of ice cream, followed by a solid cryfest about whatever was burdening our hearts. Bette Midler, Ben and Jerry have been able to walk with both of us through some pretty big heartaches and disappointments. 

Thinking about those moments, it’s not the ice cream or “The Wind Beneath My Wings” that really serve as a balm to my soul; it’s the fact that I have someone who shows up for me in those dark moments when it seems like everything is falling apart. Someone who arrives with a gentle reminder that we’ve been in the valley before, that we won’t be here forever, and that I’m not alone is what pulled me through in those moments.

For me, this past decade has been filled with epic mountaintops and some deep valleys. Mostly, things are good. Really good. But, sometimes I struggle.

I am the mother of three young daughters under the age of six. I’m a homeowner, a wife, a board member at our church, and I manage a team of nine people as well as a hefty client load in a small growing business in Ashland. Typically when I tell people about myself, their response is, “You’ve got your hands full!” 

They’re right. I do have my hands full. 

Having your hands full is an amazing blessing. I wouldn’t want it any other way - my life is joyful. At the same time, with great responsibility comes a great deal of pressure, and sometimes the stress of it drags me down. I wrestle with anxiety, I struggle to juggle everything well, and sometimes I want to scream, run away, or put my hands over my ears, shut my eyes, and evaporate. 

In the depths of the most stressful times, I have attempted to self-care with my go-to: ice cream, movies and crying on the couch. That can be pretty soothing for a couple of hours, but it doesn’t seem to really help anything. The secret formula in that equation isn’t the treat or the movie - it’s the empathy I’ve received from loved ones. 

Slowly, I’m learning that self-comfort does not equal self-care, and I require both.

Self-comfort is a sort of triage you do in the moment of crisis. It’s the thing that distracts you from the pain so you can get through it. It numbs, it soothes, it distracts. In moderation, it’s truly amazing. But self-comfort doesn’t fix anything. It doesn’t strengthen you, it doesn’t move you forward, it doesn’t help you through, it merely provides momentary relief. In those moments where the pain is most acute, self-comfort is the right prescription.

Self-care, though, is something different. Self-care is the thing you do to nurture your mind, body and spirit. It’s about replenishing what’s been lost, strengthening what is weak, purging the toxicity. It’s the healing thing you know you should be doing to address the pain point. 

Self-care looks like a quiet walk in the woods, time spent in prayer, exercising, journalling, eating vegetables, drinking enough water, soaking in a bath, pouring your heart out to a trusted confidant, reading a book, meditation, getting enough sleep, connecting with your spouse, or expressing through the arts. If you’ve ever said, “I really should be [insert any self-care task here]...” then, you have probably identified what self-care might look like for you. 

The first step toward self-care can feel impossible, and the impact is gradual, but it compounds. Each moment you honor yourself by taking care of your mind, body and spirit, you are strengthening who you are for the battles to come, assuring that you will emerge victorious from anything that aims to steal your joy.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.