In this ultimate 6-minute guide to spiritual self care, I define what the term means, how it impacts your mental health, examples from the Bible, and practical ways to make self care part of your daily practice.
Self-care includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Good self-care is a challenge for many people. And it can be especially challenging for survivors of interpersonal violence and abuse. It can also be an important part of the healing process. Self-care is unique for everyone.
Why do I care about self-care?
It matters to me because I was a pastor six years ago when I nearly died by suicide. I was dealing with depression and anxiety and PTSD from childhood abuse when I was a preschooler. I had been raised in the church and was never told that I had permission to see a therapist. Or a counselor.
Unfortunately, the way I was raised, the answer was always “Jesus.”
Jesus is an excellent answer for a whole lot of things, but I also think Jesus would encourage us to take care of ourselves: go see a doctor, go to counseling, etc. And you have to understand, especially when we’re talking about mental health, that if you have a diagnosis, or think you might have a diagnosis of depression or bipolar or anxiety or all the other lists of things that are possible, you should probably go get that checked out, and not be ashamed of it.
Anyone can get cancer. Anybody can get high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Well, mental illness is a disease just like anything else. So we’ve got to strip away the stigma. We’ve got to be able to talk about it openly from the pulpit, in front of the cross, and say, “You know what? Yes, Jesus will save your soul. And the doctor might save your life.”
When I finally went to my primary care physician and said, “I’m not okay. I need help. I don’t know what any of this means,” but I started explaining all my symptoms, she said, “Let’s start you on this little white pill right here.” She knew I needed help.
So I started an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety prescription, and it started helping almost immediately. A lot of people say it takes two to six weeks, but I could feel a difference in about a week. I felt like I could breathe a little bit. I felt my shoulders drop. And that was a good thing.
So the first step toward practicing better self-care is to slow down. Slow down! You don’t have to do all the things. And you sure don’t have to do all the things today. So consider, what is one thing you could take off your plate today to give yourself space to breathe and just be?
Maybe you want to adopt a baby or finish a degree or write that book or go to Europe or form a non-profit or record an album or start a podcast. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But because you’re doing so many things that you either don’t want to do (or feel pressured to do but don’t feel passionate about), you aren’t able to focus on the things you actually want. The things that just might make you come alive; that might change somebody’s life.
You’re probably going to have to set some boundaries. You’re probably going to disappoint somebody. You’re probably going to make somebody mad. You’re probably going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations.
But if you feel like you’re drowning, if you feel like you can’t catch your breath, if it feels like life is happening to you, but not for you, it’s time to make a change. If you feel like you’re no longer in control of your own life, you’ve got to do some of these uncomfortable things.
These are affirmations for when you are struggling. When you feel bogged down, these are really good reminders:
I have the right to rest. I have the right to take a mental health day.
You’re not telling a lie when you take a sick day because you’re stressed to the max, and you can’t possibly work today. Take a mental health day! I give you permission.
I have the right to say “no” and stand up for myself.
Y’all, “no” is not a four-letter word! It’s a two-letter word. You can say “no.” I promise.
I have the right to start over.
If you have blown it, you have the right to start over. Everybody gets a second chance. I promise. I’m on my billionth or something. It’s this little thing called “grace.” Jesus talked about it a time or two. We all get it! We all get grace, and grace is messy. Life is messy. Parenting and recovering from the things that have wounded us – it’s all really messy.
You know the story about Jesus on the cross, and the thief on either side of him? The guy on one side was really mad. He had one heck of a chip on his shoulder. And he was rough – he said some not-so-nice things to Jesus.
Then you’ve got the other guy who says, “Hey, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” What a great way to look at grace! Here I am, in the middle of the worst day of my life! There are railroad spikes through my wrists. This is a bad day! I’m nailed up here. I’m fully exposed for the world to see. I’m dying. This is it: the worst day of my life.
And I turn my face to the side, and there’s Jesus. Right in the middle of the mess with him. So whatever your cross is, whatever your pain is, turn right over there, and I promise you, if you look closely, you’ll find Jesus right there in the middle of all that mess.
We’ve all been through some kind of living hell. We all know how hot and miserable it can be. How unbearable it is. And in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, when we approach our lives, and the lives of other people around us with compassion and understanding, we choose to create heaven where there has previously been hell.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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