When we think about self-care, we might think first of taking care of our physical being: fitness, beauty, keeping up appearances. Or we might think of dealing with stress, physical illness, or mental burnout—emergency care, as it were. Or maybe we imagine jumping on the latest self-help bandwagon, hoping that this one will make a difference. I'm going to challenge you now to think a little outside the box when it comes to self-care. I want you to try and imagine it more as an attitude that permeates your life, a consistent self-replenishment. Self-care is a state of mind that offers a sense of abundance, a well that never runs dry. It has many different layers, and when we dig down to the depths of self-care, we see how it relates to truly being an adult. I believe that the ability to do real self-care is one hallmark of adulthood, even though most of us aren't exactly perfect at it. When I was in graduate school 20 years ago studying to become a therapist, many of my professors would mention the importance of self-care in our profession. "Being a therapist is hard, so be sure to do lots of self-care," the prof might say, and I'd create a heading in my notes and underline it—Self-Care—and then expectantly wait for the details. What was this vital and necessary thing that would allow me to do the work I wanted to do without getting drained and depleted? But the secrets were never shared. Having duly noted the need for self-care, the professor would move on to the next topic, such as legal and ethical issues, and that Self-Care page of my notebook remained empty. As I built my career over the next decade, I kept hearing the idea of self-care mentioned in professional settings: in conversations among therapists, in consultations, at conventions. And then the mainstream media picked it up, and the topic expanded outward: self-care was seen as critical not just for health care professionals, but for all of us. "Life is hard, so be sure to do lots of self-care," the women's magazines cooed (or screamed)—but just like my professors, they never outlined the steps, the details, that would assure me I was doing this ongoing self-care thing right. We were all supposed to take time for ourselves in order to deal with stress, achieve balance, be better parents, better workers, and better mates. A good, solid concept. But where was the how-to? The self-care advice and examples always seemed simplistic and superficial: Keep a journal. Take a yoga class. Light a candle. Lovely ideas. But really, how impactful is that candle in the face of a life filled with the daily ordinary and extraordinary challenges and stresses that we all endure? Herbal teas, massages, pedicures, and more recently, memory improvement apps and meditation MP3s: all of these offer to ease our stress, tame our tensions, or widen our bandwidth, but in the long run, they don't—not really. Used on their own, they're the equivalent of self-care Band-Aids; they hold us together and treat the pain for now, but they don't get to the heart of the matter. Now don't get me wrong: there's a place in our lives for these things. But when we treat ourselves with these small indulgences as an attempt at primary self-care, we might as well be saying this: "I deserve this day at the spa (or night out with the girls / dark chocolate bar / new smartphone / pretty dress / scented candle) ...because I am burned out and poorly taken care of. So, to postpone caring for myself in the really critical areas, I am giving myself this little treat." Looking around at the array of treats, I knew there had to be more to it. Was there some secret society of self-care practitioners who could enlighten me if only I could figure out the secret handshake? Where did they meet? I wanted to find them and ask so many questions. What does self-care really mean? Where do I start? How do I change the habits of a lifetime? How do I maintain my progress? And how, exactly, does self-care mitigate the difficulty of being a therapist charged with helping people through trauma, heartbreak, and hopelessness? When I started my own therapy practice, my understanding of self-care got a lot more practical, because I could feel the impact of my work on my mind, body, and spirit. If I didn't eat well, sleep well, or take regular breaks, I burned out, melted down, and had a hissy fit or three. I began to see that to do a good job for my clients I needed to really care for myself. Soon I was mentoring interns in self-care and reminding my clients about it, too. But even as I did, I wasn't fully practicing what I was preaching. You see, I am not naturally good at self-care. I hate to admit it, but I've been lousy at it at times, coming as I do from a family that neither modeled self-care nor taught me its value. So I've always tended to neglect my needs, even well into adulthood. Once, during a period of exceptionally bad self-care, a friend suggested that if I were treating a child the way I was treating myself, I would likely lose custody. I knew she was right, and I was mortified. I was depriving myself of sleep, rest, healthy food, even water. I took no time to care for my home or my body, because, as I saw it, I simply didn't have time. No time to grab a sweater if I was cold or a snack if I was hungry. A doctor when I was sick? No time. So my education in true self-care was difficult and took a long time. But eventually I got there—and, as for everyone, it is an ongoing work-in-progress. As our needs change, we adapt our self-care practices to fit us. So you see, I wrote this blog and my book in the time-honored tradition of, "You teach what you had to learn yourself—the hard way." But that's why I may be just the person to have written the book, An Invitation to Self-Care. I am not going to stand on the self-care mountaintop and tell you to do what I do. I'll be honest with you. I'll tell you where I still suck, where I used to suck but got better, and most importantly, what we can both do to get better at this. Self-care Is Essential to Live Why is it so hard? Self-care is so clearly in our own interest. So why aren't we already doing it? Many people have a lot of resistance to self-care, and for reasons rarely discussed in the literature on the subject. Many are reasons we aren't always aware of ourselves: guilt, shame, a sense of inadequacy and low self-worth, self-sabotage, self-harm, family-of-origin issues (modeling our parents' treatment of themselves or us), depression, masochism, victim mentality, a too-stringent work ethic, a refusal to grow up (including an infantile desire to be taken care of by other people)—the list goes on. And what about the claim—or the unquestioned belief—that self-care is selfish? If nothing else, I want to challenge that claim. It is bologna, BS, hooey, hogwash and balderdash that self-care is selfish. You may know this, deep down. We can't give when we have nothing to give. We all know the drill: the airline attendant reminds us that, should we need to use an oxygen mask, "Secure your own mask first before assisting others." What we learn here is that we can't take care of others before we take care of ourselves. The subtext of that narrative, however, is that we wouldn't need self-preservation for any other reason than to be able to take care of other people. It's as if we're all supposed to be totally selfless, and other peoples' needs are the only way to justify self-care. Is someone else in dire straits? Then I'd better make sure I can show up for them. In my book, I challenge that notion. Sheer survival isn't selfish; doing a better job of caring for yourself isn't, either—it's just common sense. Let me underscore this: If you're worried about selfishness, it is absolutely more selfish to not do self-care than to do it. If you don't do it, there will be consequences for your health, happiness, relationships, and longevity. If you don't take care of yourself, someone else is going to have to take care of you, making it indeed selfish to not engage in self-care to begin with. And with self-care, we might just reach a level of clarity and creativity that we've dreamed of but never thought we'd attain. In taking care of ourselves, we move into becoming real adults. We may be breaking a whole lot of rules we learned from family, society, and even our religion, but we become real and self-actualized adults. Through taking extraordinary care of ourselves, we may be choosing to treat ourselves differently than we've been treated by others. We're saying that we are important and worthy of being treated well—and that may take extra effort if we're still overcoming some past trauma or difficulty. We all need to learn how to love ourselves, and self-care is often the first step. Because sometimes the action has to come first. Doing self-care is a way of saying that we matter. And when we start to treat ourselves like we matter, we start to actually believe that we really do matter. And others see it, too. The more we take care of ourselves, the less likely we are to tolerate bad behavior, abuse, and disrespect from others. Self-care is not an add-on, not something you have to schedule, but rather a central part of how to live a life. Please consider this your invitation to self-care. I request the pleasure of your company. And let's think about that phrase "RSVP" for a moment—Répondez, s'il vous plaît, or "Please respond." We need to learn to practice self-care by responding to our true selves. Not reacting to our stresses, our cravings, our burnout. Responding. When we pay attention to ourselves every day, we can respond to our deepest needs over the long term. We invest in ourselves, and that investment yields wonderful rewards. None of us is perfect at self-care, and we can all improve. If nothing else, I hope my book shows you that self-care is about loving yourself, warts and all, and that you are more than worthy of that love. Welcome.