It had been one of those weeks.
By Friday night, my inbox was full, my fridge was empty and my blood pressure was off the charts.
The stress of another 70-hour week at a startup nonprofit caught up with me. But the icing on the cake was the unpleasant encounter from earlier that week, when I’d allowed myself to be bullied in public by an acquaintance.
Why did taking the high road feel so awful?
After ruminating in stress and frustration all week, I opted to start my weekend peacefully. I figured I’d decompress by listening to the infinite wisdom of mindfulness expert Thich Nhat Hanh on an audiobook, light a bunch of candles and take pride in how well I was taking care of myself.
But my Amazon search was quickly rendered useless since the audiobook wasn’t available in my Canadian city. Before I could express my fury at how the internet hates Canada, my phone started buzzing with a chain of rapid-fire group text messages from my boss and a co-worker about a work issue. Furiously, at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, I was back on the job, still steeping in rage about the bully and the audiobook (which—ironically enough—was titled Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames).
By about 10:15 p.m., I’d given up on my self-care attempts. It was too much work.
Self-Care Is More Than a Bubble Bath
In a way, caring for ourselves has never been more accessible. These days, you don’t have to go too far to find a yoga studio or an adult coloring book to de-stress. Self-help books are a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone. Mental health conversations are being de-stigmatized through a surge of awareness campaigns.
And yet, self-care has never been harder. We’re surrounded by distractions. Our chirping phones remind us there’s always somewhere else we should be, someone else we should be prioritizing. Wi-Fi and smartphones make it hard to get away from work—especially if measure our success by how busy we are.
Our solution is the quick fix: Unwinding with a twenty-minute bubble bath. Pouring a tall glass of wine. Tuning out by watching half a season of Suits in one sitting.
Not all quick-fix coping mechanisms are inherently wrong. It’s good to have small joys to help keep us going. But there is no bathtub, no bottle of Merlot, no amount of Netflix that can solve the deeper problem with our struggle to take care of ourselves.
As much as I wanted to believe an audiobook could undo my stress, I wasn’t going to fight all that hard for my needs if I didn’t feel deserving of meeting them in the first place. Caring for myself starts with believing I’m worthy of the time and space to address my burdens. And doing that requires me to start by doing something radical: loving myself.
In a Christian context, that may seem counter-intuitive. Churches tend to look at self-love as selfish or indulgent because being a good Christian means pouring all our love into caring for others—and denying the self, no?
I bought into that belief for years.
I strongly valued extending grace and care to others, but I got to a point where I denied myself those very things. It took an existential crisis or two to finally understand that the bedrock of Christianity—loving our neighbors as ourselves—implies that we love ourselves to begin with.
For myself on that stressful Friday night, I needed to identify that the real problem wasn’t the bully. It wasn’t my workload or my co-workers, either. The problem was not loving myself enough to say “no”—to being mistreated by others, to taking on too much, to compromising my boundaries.
Perhaps I wouldn’t have jumped into a work dilemma at 10pm on a Friday night if I believed my worth didn’t come from my productivity. Perhaps I would’ve behaved more assertively with the bully if I believed I deserved more respect in the first place.
The Journey to Self-Compassion
Caring for ourselves is more than a band-aid fix. It’s an intentional, long-term strategy that requires us to be proactive, not just reactive. That may look different for everyone, but it might include doing some of these five things before we hit the point of burnout:
1. Make space for fun and rest.
Instead of viewing the limits on your energy as a weakness, consider them an invitation to do something every day that brings you joy or comfort. It’s less about the activity itself and more about growing into the mindset of self-compassion. And sometimes, the most productive thing you can do is rest.
2. Own your attitude.
When the world is telling you to work harder, do better, and be more, it’s up to you to choose which voice to listen to. Being self-compassionate is a state of mind that you deliberately choose and consistently hold onto, even when you’ve made a mistake or fallen off the track.
3. Find the balance.
As Christians, we need to be careful about confusing compassion with martyrdom. Especially for those of us in helping professions, we tend to put off rest until our work is done—even though it never is. That’s why we need to stop seeing service and joy as mutual exclusives, because they function best together. Being kind to the world also means being kind to ourselves.
4. Create community.
When we isolate ourselves in adverse times, the best we can hope for is to survive—but in community, we can thrive. We nourish our souls when we intentionally seek out safe relationships where we can be authentic about our shortcomings, vulnerable about our struggles, and honest about our need for support.
5. Let go.
Some of us struggle with the insatiable need to be perfect, which seldom leaves room to take care of ourselves. Many of us need to give ourselves the grace to not always take on everyone’s burdens, and to unload some of our own. And most of us could stand to let go of finding our value in our productivity, and instead remember we belong to a God who invites “all you who are weary and burdened to find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Maybe taking care of others actually requires us to take care of ourselves after all. Maybe we need to love ourselves as we love others.