I needed to start seeing a therapist. I kept noticing a cycle of stress in my life, and while I didn’t know what to do, it was clear to me I needed help. I had a lot of great things—I was newly married to my wonderful husband, I had a job I loved, and we had a cozy rental home. But there were cracks in my joy. 

Everything would be great, but then I would have a stressful week at work, the house would be messy, my husband and I would be too busy with family or friends and not spend enough time together, etc., and I would feel like my life was spiraling out of control. Sweeping up the crumbs on the kitchen floor felt as mountainous to me as an intense project at work.  

If I looked only to culture for the answer to my problems, I would probably be advised to practice self-care. “Self-care” is a trendy term that pops up all over social media these days. 

For Christians, I think it is easy to initially be turned off by self-care culture. We think about Bible verses like Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” and Paul’s words about putting on a new self, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24). These verses and others emphasize dying to the self, so the idea that self-care isn’t selfish can sound counter-intuitive.

And though self-care might be trending on Twitter, it’s not easy to implement against a cultural backdrop that pushes productivity. Women especially can have a hard time implementing self-care as we are often socialized to only be givers in the family structure. 

So while I didn’t think stopping to take a bubble bath once in a while was the answer to my problems, I knew if I wanted to be truly Christlike as a spouse and coworker and be able to exist without developing other health issues, I needed to learn some coping mechanisms. I needed an ability to understand what I was experiencing and feeling, including how to practice self-care. So I started seeing a therapist in May last year. 


Self-Care Isn’t Selfish, It Looks Like Engaging Our God-Given Minds and Bodies

Early on, my therapist recommended a book about stress. The first thing I learned from it is that physical exercise is essentially the number one way to deal with the body’s stress response and get that response out of my system. 

Makes sense, I thought. I already knew sitting or being stationary all day was bad for me—God created me with a body that craves movement. But I also learned that there are other simple and everyday things that can reduce stress—creativity, spending time with loved ones, laughing deep belly laughs, breathing deeply, hugs, and even letting all my feelings out with a good cry. 

I began to realize that self-care practices I was dismissing or not making time for were actually essential to my mind and body being able to function as they were created to function. 

When I started therapy, I thought I would learn the secret recipe to living a stress-free life, but it turns out that living the way God created us to live—to move, to be creative, to love, to laugh, to cry, etc. is the “secret recipe” I was searching for. The regular rhythms of what we all know we *should* do reflect God’s created intent for our lives. After studying wisdom, work, and pleasure, King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4–5). 


Self-Care Isn’t Selfish, It Looks Like Engaging with Our Creator

But there’s more. Simply processing the stress in my body through exercise or creativity or other activities isn’t enough. I believe God used this book to reveal to me a new understanding about my relationship with him. 

A later chapter in the book emphasized the importance of having some kind of spirituality or higher purpose to engage with. While I’ve always known engaging in my relationship with the Lord is important, I believe God used this chapter to reveal to me that spending time with him is not just a good thing to do, it’s essential to my wellbeing and existence. Making time to daily engage with God through Scripture reading, prayer, journaling, reflection, listening to my favorite  hymns, etc. reminds me of who I am, who God is, and that I am where God has placed me to be. 


Self-Care Isn’t Selfish—It Can Be Selfless

What I have discovered is that carving out time to care for myself can actually be selfless—it aligns me more closely with God’s intent for my life and helps me prioritize what is really important throughout my day. 

For example, the first thing I do most days when I get done with work is spend 20-30 minutes working out. This practice was initially counter-intuitive for me as I felt the first thing I should do when I got home was spend time with my husband, start on housework, or cook dinner. Prioritizing movement after spending most of my day sitting at a computer, however, helps me process the stress in my body and re-energizes me for the evening, making me a much happier wife to spend time with and helping me approach the evening’s responsibilities with clarity.

Another example is trying to prioritize spending time with God before work. I now approach my time with the Lord not as something to check off my “doing good” list, but as something that is essential to my very existence. I need to spend time reading the Word, praying, journaling, etc. to be reminded of who I am, the purpose God has given me, and God’s love for me. Being reminded of those truths prepares me to be a more loving and generous coworker, spouse, and friend to everyone I interact with throughout the day, and helps my heart and mind have peace. It’s also a simple way to tell God, “I know you made me with limits, and I trust you to lead me to what I need to do today.”  


Finding a New Rhythm for Moving Forward

While I am far from perfect at these practices and still sometimes spiral into stress over little things like crumbs on the kitchen floor, I am continually working at a daily rhythm that honors God’s intent for my life. I am trying to be like Mary, who saw that sitting at Jesus’s feet was far better than wrapping herself up in the cares of the world (Luke 10:41–42).