I now know (after I stuffed myself with self-care) that it’s not about condensing it but about being consistent over time with it.

Search results yield 3 trillion websites on the internet that talk about or use the word “self-care.” The definition on the side panel tells me that “In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.” Let’s put these bolded words in the back of our pocket for now, as we’ll come back to them later. Under this term, there are probably many articles and blog posts that discuss what self-care looks like for those of us with introverted souls. And for those of us that are HSPs. Because let’s face it, the introverted personality type needs just a liiiittle bit more self-care. And not in the form of face masks. Truthfully, we need a whole routine of self-care to make it out successfully in the real world.

This is why I somewhat went overboard when I stuffed myself with self-care activities for four months.

During these four glorious months, I had countless hours at my disposal. Call it COVID or maternity leave, but I could freely decide how to treat myself at any moment throughout the day. I decided that the time was now or never, so I stuffed myself with self-care daily. Sure, the ratio of self-care activities skewed more towards the external rather than the internal, but let’s be honest, a massage can ALSO be a moment of meditation. I can have my muscles released while also thinking about where my life is going. As an INFJ and HSP type, I need a lot of alone time to process information and feel productive.

For me, self-care is any activity that puts me out of the way of people and into the depths of my mind. I took myself out for lunches galore (so many options in Amsterdam!), scheduled weekly massages, rode my bike around town with earphones in, napped whenever I felt like it and read one book a week. At some point, the baby appeared, but I kept doing these things because I knew they’d come to an end at some point. I told myself that I had to keep going because this was IT. I’ll NEVER have time again in the future. Unfortunately, this line of thought flows into other areas of my life.

This absolute way of thinking must be what did me in.

But there’s another reason why I stuffed myself with self-care, and it’s the fact that I knew our lease would end on August 31st. Boring. But, see, after moving the whole family overseas last year, we decided to move back to the states in October. This meant that September would be up for grabs. We couldn’t exactly be homeless with a toddler and a newborn baby (and we didn’t want to spend the month in a small apartment with the in-laws), so we decided to stay an entire month in the middle of nowhere France. With the in-laws. Why? Vacation! Countryside! Family time! But in my mind, I was getting myself ready to enter “survival mode.” And, to make it through “survival mode,” I needed to be armed with all the energy in the world, hence why I stuffed myself with self-care activities.

When I say “survival mode,” it means being strong enough to make it out alive day in and day out with constant noise, loudness, people, and lack of personal space & time without asking for it to be different. We can also call it suffering without making a sound. As an HSP, it’s tough to have someone around constantly and not do ONE thing for me. By one thing, I’m not talking massages or fancy lunches. I mean, literally sitting down to open my laptop and write. The ONE thing that gives me the most peace.

Because what happens when that ONE thing that gives you the most peace is taken away from you?

Cue, breakdown.

I really thought I could last through the entire month, but exactly two weeks in, I had a total mental breakdown and started crying as I put my baby to nap one day. The next morning, as I walked down the stairs and heard my son scream at the top of his lungs, I started crying again. It was like a knee-jerk reaction, I couldn’t control it. I reached my limit. I could no longer sustain this “survival mode.” Without practicing self-care consistently, the frustration accumulated to a breaking point. In my mind, I believed that if I stuffed myself with self-care for a few months, I’d have the sustenance needed to handle this chaotic time. Unfortunately, it was not so.

I know that as an intuitive person, I’m pretty good at making sure that everyone else’s needs are met and taken care of, but it seems that I suck at knowing what I need. By the time I do know, it’s too late, and I’ve left bodies behind me. All the resentment that boils inside me has to come out, and unfortunately, it hurts those closest to me. The victims have no idea that I’m about to burst. It’s really unfair to everybody.

This is why I want to give you a new perspective on self-care if you’re an introvert, and more especially an HSP because we need it as much as we need air.

I stuffed myself with self-care but still exploded.

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Here are 3 things I learned:

1. What good is it to know what you need if you don’t tell others?

I could feel the anger stewing in my distant core. Every loud noise, off-key laugh, scream, and cry made me cringe as the days wore on. The incessant noise piled up. I knew I needed a few hours to myself to cool off and not be around people. But I also knew that everyone in the house was still working full-time, with me being the only one without a job. I wanted to accommodate them as much as possible, knowing how hard it is to work and take care of kids. Unfortunately, I also ended up doing the laundry, vacuuming, clearing the dishes, and packing lunches.

Although beyond overwhelmed, I still refused to ask for help. I should have delegated earlier. Or at least make the intention known that I needed to go for a solo drive, as I was desperate for some alone time. But I kept pushing that desire down because I believed they needed it more than me. I should have self-initiated this instead of my husband making me take a few hours to myself after my breakdown.

2. Self-care doesn’t have to be an involved process

The most invigorating and restorative self-care activity for me is sleep. That’s it. Going to bed on time is the best thing I can do for my mind. And the best part? It’s under my control. Well, for the most part. For those who have newborns and toddlers, the night doesn’t truly belong to us anymore, but I can still get my hours in if I go early to bed when the kids do. And if I really have a bad night, I make sure to take a nap the following day. Naps are the coolest man.

Apart from sleep, the other self-care activity that I’ve implemented recently is stretching for half an hour after the kids go to bed. All you need are your legs and a mat. Seriously, that clears my mind like nothing else. I don’t need to schedule 20 massages, 10 pedicures, and 5 drives to get my self-care time in. All I need is a dedicated half-hour EVERY day to keep from exploding.

3. Be deliberate with how you spend your time

Let’s say you finally get the time you desperately need. One glorious hour. What do you do? If you’re anything like me, you want to shower, eat, nap, check social media, write a blog post, read a book, do yoga, go for a walk, sit in silence, listen to music, reply to e-mails, clean the kitchen. Oh my goodness, how I could go on! How does one fit ALL of that in one hour?

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with what I want to do that a whole hour goes by, and I’m still paralyzed. To avoid losing that hour trying to figure out what to do with it, I now always choose the one thing that will give me the biggest energy boost. Suffice it to say, I NEVER choose watching TV or reading the news. Those things drain me instantly. I’m deliberate with the time that I have. I make sure I make the most out of it.

If you haven’t noticed, I used all three terms from the definition of self-care in the first paragraph, “In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated,” in my 3 pieces of advice. We all know it’s necessary to take special side time for self-care, but we don’t know how necessary it is until we reach that breaking point. I want you to avoid that (I‘m sure you do too!), which is why it’s important to remember that it’s under your control, that you must self-initiate it, and you have to be deliberate with your choice.

As for me, I’m lucky my husband kicked me out of the house and forced me into the alone time I wanted and needed all along. Sometimes others do know what’s best for us, even when we don’t want to admit it. Like I know that what’s best for you is to follow this advice!

This article was featured in Introvert, dear.