Self-care is a buzzword in our world today. Podcasts, ads, Instagram influencers: They all say if we find enough “me time,” we’ll be able to truly enjoy our lives. However, so much of what is being pitched to us only offers surface-level fulfillment and are at best temporary fixes. 

In “It’s Okay to Start with You” (Our Sunday Visitor, $13), Catholic therapist and speaker Julia Marie Hogan presents some ideas about the importance of authentic self-care, and what that looks like in a Catholic life.

Kris McGregor: Do we realize we’re stressed out? That may seem like a silly question, but most people I know loath to admit they can’t handle things or that things are out of control. And yet they are demonstrating the classic signs of burnout.

Julia Marie Hogan: There was an article in The New York Times years ago called “The Busy Trap.” The author talked about how being busy is equated with being important. If people need us, then we have value in the world, but that comes at a cost if we’re constantly busy, and that’s stress.

If we see being busy as our source of value, to admit that we can’t handle it all feels like failure. A common excuse for not practicing self-care is, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I don’t need to take time for myself.

The reality is we’re mind and body, and both of those things are not meant to handle sustained stress for long periods of time. Practicing self-care is a way of giving yourself that chance to see what it’s like to not be stressed.

McGregor: What is authentic self-care?

Hogan: Think about what it means to be rooted in your knowledge of God’s love for you and to use that as motivation for taking care of yourself.

Self-care is actually a discipline. It’s not self-indulgent or lazy, or trying to get out of responsibilities. It can be hard to practice — think about getting enough sleep! I’m tempted to get as much done as I possibly can, so going to sleep sometimes feels like, “Oh no, I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to do today.”

McGregor: Because of the lightbulb and the other electronic devices we’ve created, like television and smartphones, we’ve pushed ourselves to stay up so much later then what our bodies were designed to handle.

Hogan: Because we’re constantly connected through the internet and social media, it can be hard to break yourself from that connectivity. Ultimately, it goes back to self-care being a discipline. It’s hard to avoid screen time. It’s hard to go to bed on time and get those seven to eight hours of sleep.

McGregor: How much does your self-care depend on where you are in the season of your life?

Hogan: The life of a new mom is very different than someone in the corporate world working an 80-hour week. They can both practice self-care, but it’s going to look different for both of them.

With self-care, you need to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, all of those things. It’s not about being perfect, it’s a continual process.

I wrote about making an effort not to skip meals when I’m at work, because sometimes it’s tempting to fill my lunch-hour slot with another client. And the past couple of weeks have been really busy, and I found myself skipping lunch here and there, so I have to remind myself, you wrote about this! 

McGregor: Where can a busy person start?

Hogan: The idea is to start with something really small in each area: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Research shows that when we take small, concrete, easily defined steps, we’re more likely to be successful at sustaining them in the long term.

If my goal is to exercise more, if I say I haven’t been to the gym in three months, but I’m going to run five miles tomorrow, I’m going to be really sore the next day, and discouraged, and I’m going to think, “I can never do this.” But if I go and just do a slow jog, and then walk, and keep increasing slowly, that is much more sustainable. You’re showing yourself that you can do it.

You need to find those small goals that make the most sense to you, and then define them so that you know exactly what you need to do to make that happen.

We live busy lives. That’s the reality of our modern world. So by helping you identify those small steps, my goal is to help you see that self-care is something you can incorporate even when your life is busy. 

McGregor: Is it worth it to slow down and practice these things?

Hogan: When you experience all those benefits of self-care, you’re a better person. Your memory is better, your energy levels are better, your body metabolizes better, and you just feel better.

But it takes that commitment to get enough sleep, and make that happen, to feel the benefits of that. It’s far from selfish.