Self-care is not a luxury – it is a necessity.
This is a message Krystal Reddick-Pollard, LMSW, communicates to her clients in her work as a self-care coach. The founder of Total Life Care Coaching, Krystal specializes in providing teachers and social workers the tools they need to prioritize and implement self-care.
As a middle school English teacher, Krystal knows how challenging it can be to incorporate self-care into a busy schedule, and also how rewarding a consistent self-care practice can be: she credits her strong self-care practice with helping her manage bipolar disorder in her own life.
Krystal and I attended college together, and since then, I’ve followed her personal wellness journey via her candid and encouraging posts on social media. I’ve also absorbed the wisdom she imparts about how to incorporate self-care practices into everyday life. In fact, I regularly use her Acknowledge the Good gratitude journal as part of my commitment to nurturing myself.
I was excited to talk with Krystal about how she defines self-care and the steps we can take to invest in it. She offered simple, practical advice that fits any schedule or budget – and that I hope empowers you to include more self-care into your wellness practice.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Irie: How do you define self-care?
Krystal: I define self-care as any intentional practice for your short-term and also your longer-term health and wellbeing. I like to think of it in six areas to really help you think holistically: mentally, spiritually, physically – we know those, those three main ones – and I like to add: financially, professionally, and socially.
I: Those last three I don’t typically hear. Why was it important to add those as part of that more holistic definition?
K: Because we tend to focus on mind, body, spirit – those are the main core, which I don’t disagree with. But I think that we are more than just those three spheres. We spend a lot of time working, and we don’t oftentimes think of professional self-care as a category we need to pay attention to. Like: Are you taking a lunch break? [Are you going] to professional development trainings? Are you subscribed to a journal for your industry? Things like that: Wellness for your career.
There is a lot of free self-care, but it also takes money to be healthy and to be well. So, managing your finances is really important. And then social self-care because I like to say that self-care is incomplete without community care.
I: I want to go back to that financial piece, because I think you’re hitting on something that I don’t just see a lot of talk about in self-care, which is: money does make some of these choices easier. But I think it can also bring about a certain amount of stress and a certain amount of anxiety. What are some of the ways you help [teachers and social workers] think about the financial and professional aspects of self-care in a career where I think, a lot of times, we’re encouraged to do it because you love it.
K: And not for the paycheck?
K: The saying in social work is: “Be in it for the outcome, not the income.” That’s bullshit. [Laughs] Like, the outcome does not pay my bills. The outcome does not send me on vacation. The outcome does not save for retirement. I think a lot of it is around mindset and also budgeting. Like, what is your mindset about your career? Why’d you choose this career? And being happy with that decision, that you did go into it because you want to help people [and] make a difference – but you also want to be paid your worth.
I’m not a financial planner. But I do want people thinking about: How can you take this notion of self-care and apply it to your finances? Money is a big stressor, especially right now with many people laid off or underemployed. So how can you manage the money in ways that will be less stressful?
I: On your website, you say that self-care is more than a job for you – it’s personal, particularly after your bipolar disorder diagnosis. How did self-care in particular become personal for you?
K: When I got my diagnosis, I realized that some things I had been doing were not for the best, health-wise. If I don’t get enough sleep, it can trigger either depression or mania – it can trigger either opposite end of the bipolar spectrum.
I think in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the bottom of the pyramid is physiological needs, like drinking water, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, having sex – things that are basic necessities for human existence. I like to think of that as basic self-care. That’s the bare minimum you have to do for yourself. Are you showering? Are you brushing your teeth? Are you eating three or four times a day? Things that sound simple, but if you’ve been depressed, you know how hard it is to keep up with those kinds of things. So, I like to count that as self-care.
Actually, [there’s] some dispute in the self-care/wellness circles, of “That’s just self-maintenance, that’s not really self-care.” And I’m like, You’ve never been depressed then. Those are the first things that go when you are depressed. I like to honor where my clients are. I have worked with women who also deal with anxiety or depression and those so-called “simple” things can be hard to do when you’re feeling anxious or depressed.
Then you move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to other types of self-care. Like community care or things that build your self esteem – those other areas of Maslow’s pyramid. But the basis is showering, eating, drinking water – things like that.
I: As you say that, I think about working people that I know who aren’t necessarily publicly dealing with depression that have an issue meeting those basic needs. Hearing people being like, “I didn’t go use the bathroom” or “I didn’t get a drink of water” or “I skipped lunch today, yesterday, the day before.” I’m wondering, these things that are really simple – how challenging can they be for a lot of people? What are you seeing in terms of people being like, “Well I can do without it. And it feels luxurious to get up and go get myself a drink of water.” What are you seeing with people experiencing that and how do you coach them through it?
K: The most simple answer is: Listen to your body. The bathroom is hard for teachers, I do know that. It’s hard to go to the bathroom when you have class. The time in between classes is so short. It’s like: How do you have time to go to the bathroom? I get that. [laughs]
The advice is: Listen to your body. When you have to go to the bathroom, go to the bathroom. When you feel thirsty, take a sip of water. It’s easier to drink water if you have a bottle next to you, so keep a bottle near you filled with water or tea or coffee, whatever you want to drink. It makes it that much simpler to take a sip if it’s next to you. Also, in terms of eating, eat when you’re hungry. Don’t ignore those hunger pains, because then what’s going to happen is you’re going to overeat later on. You have to pay attention to your body’s cues and just listen to your body – it won’t steer you wrong.
I: Building on those different layers – [does] going up the pyramid to each of those levels become easier, do you find, once you’ve established a foundation and a habit?
K: I think consistency is hard for many people, myself included, but once you have a few wins in a few key areas, it makes it easier to add new habits onto it.
I: What does your self-care practice look like now?
K: My favorite self-care practice is acupuncture. When the quarantine first started, I stopped going. A few months ago, in January, I started back. I go once a month. It helps with my mood; it helps with being even keeled in terms of bipolar disorder.
I started working out with a personal trainer, literally last week. I was tired of being sedentary and I needed the accountability. I’m doing that twice a week. I drink at least four cups [of water] a day. Sleep’s important, so I’m in bed by 11. Social self-care: I check in on people. I’m the friend that sends the text message, like “Hey, how you doing? How’s your day going?” When I do it, I’ll sit down and scroll through my text message history in my cell phone and I’ll probably send like five or six different messages to people. I’ll send like five in that five-minute span. Then I’ll get messages throughout the day or the next day, and it’s just nice – especially since I’m not seeing people in person right now.
I: I love that so much of what you offer – it’s very specific, it’s very achievable. That seems a little bit different from the hashtags that I might see on self-care – I guess, what’s in my mind when I first heard of self-care, which was somebody wrapped in a bath robe. Why has it been important to you to have these very tangible, specific – I would say achievable things?
K: I like the word accessible. I think sometimes people get into the mindset of, “Oh I can’t afford it” or “I don’t have time.” Yes you do, and yes you can. We need to reimagine how we think of self-care. It doesn’t have to take an hour or a day or be a weeklong vacation. You can do it in bite-size chunks of five minutes of doing deep breathing. Or ten minutes of journaling. Or silence and meditation. It doesn’t have to be these huge swaths of time.
I like to tell my clients to think of self-care in three parts: What are things you can do in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening? That’s your daily self-care. In the morning, I make myself a cup of coffee and I make myself breakfast. In the afternoon, I make sure I eat lunch. In the evening, I journal and I also take a shower.
And you also have weekly. So weekly, I’m exercising twice a week. You have monthly. I do acupuncture once a month. And then annually. I had my annual physical at the doctor last month. Those are the four areas: daily, weekly, monthly, and annually. Think of self-care in those four parts and then break your day down into those three parts. At least for me in my head, it makes it more simple to manage. Because it’s not something you have to cram into 24 hours. You get your whole life to do it.
I: Working with women, what kind of themes do you notice in what kind of barriers they have to self-care, whether they’re mental or financial or circumstantial. What are you seeing in terms of self-care among women of color, in particular this last year? We had this double whammy of Covid and all the stress that goes with that and then all of the videos and social unrest and kind of that bubbling up of people, some people, acknowledging that racism does exist.
K: I’ve seen a lot of women feel selfish, like guilty for self-care. Lots of them feel they don’t have time to do it. Time is a huge barrier, which is why I try to get people to think of smaller chunks of time. Like, you have five minutes. Or you have three minutes. There are things you can do that don’t take a lot of time. But time’s a barrier. The selfishness, like feeling like I’m not prioritizing my children or my spouse and feeling guilty around that – those are huge mental blocks to self-care I’ve seen in women, especially in mothers.
For women of color, they’ve actually been doing okay, the women I work with. I’ve had more workshops this year than one-on-one clients and among my workshop attendees, they make the workshops a part of their self-care practice.
They seem to be doing alright with their self-care. I think it just hit most people hard this past year in terms of being in the house and being more sedentary and being less social than usual. I think that’s been hard.
I: You were one of the first people I knew personally who publicly talked about your struggles with mental health. Did that feel challenging or lonely at the time? What gave you the ability to do that when not many people were doing that?
K: I’ve just never been weighed down by the stigma. Luckily, I’m in a career where it’s not a taboo, so I’ve just talked about it openly because it’s just a part of who I am. So, when I started blogging back in 2014, it just was something I did. I love the community that I connected with through the blogging. It felt freeing to be able to tell my story.
Part of my self-given mission was to talk about mental health within communities of color because within the Black Christian community, it’s seen as like, “Oh, just pray about it. God got you.” No, God got me, and I also take this medication. I wanted to just talk about it, and so that’s what I did. It brought me to self-care because I saw how important self-care is for my daily maintenance. I found that it was important to talk about it.
I: How has sharing your story helped you connect with your clients?
K: I think it makes me more human that this is something I live with and something that I’m navigating successfully, I might say. I have not been hospitalized in six years, whereas for a period – I think it was 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 – I was hospitalized every year like clockwork for four days in a row. And to go the last six years with no hospitalizations is pretty damn incredible. I’m so grateful for that.
[Mental health issues] are in our community and we have to talk about them. I think I give people the space to talk about it. I am a licensed social worker, but I’m not a therapist and I’m not your therapist, so I don’t cross that line. But, how can we talk about things you can do to manage the pressure or to manage anxiety in terms of the realm of self-care? I think just holding space and making space for these conversations – especially [for] women of color, especially Black women.
I: Do you consider therapy as part of [self-care]? How do you view that line between what’s a necessity [and] what’s self-care?
K: I definitely consider therapy self-care. I don’t make the distinction between necessity and luxury. I think that all self-care is a necessity. Maybe if we think in terms of: I want to move my body and so I’m going to go for a walk, and that’s free. I’m going to go walk around my block, I’m going to walk in my local park, versus I’m going to pay $175 for this boutique fitness class. Moving your body, exercising, is not a luxury. You can work out in your bedroom. You can go for a walk in your neighborhood. Paying more than $50, $100, $175, that might be a luxury for some people – so there are levels to it. But I think as long as you’re doing the act of moving your body, who cares if you’re paying $175 for it or if you’re going for a walk? Just move your body.
I: I like that distinction. Moving your body, that’s the self-care, and how you do that –
K: Is up to you. One, what’s your schedule like? Do you have 10 minutes to take a walk at lunch time? Or do you have 35 minutes to an hour to work out at the gym? Second, what’s your budget? The last one is value. What do you value? Are you valuing moving your body for health reasons? Or for mental health reasons? Schedule, time, and values. Those are three of the things that I like to have people think about. Your self-care is going to look different than my self-care because those three things are going to be different for each person.
I: What are some of the tools that you provide that you like to get people started with?
K: I think a nice place to start is to assess where your self-care is. In those six areas – mental, physical, spiritual, financial, social, and professional – where are you like, You know what? I got this. And where are you like Hmm, I need more help in an area? You start where you need more help. Keep doing what you’re doing and then address the areas that need more addressing.
If you’d like some guidance on your self-care journey, Krystal offers one-on-one coaching as well as workshops tailored for teachers and social workers. She has also created several products to help guide people on their self-care journey, including:
- A downloadable self-care inventory that helps you assess your self-care journey and make a plan for your self-care
- A weekly self-care planner that contains reflection prompts, space for gratitude lists, and to-do lists
- Acknowledge the Good: A 90-Day Gratitude + Happiness Journal
- Downloadable affirmation stickers for social workers and teachers
- The Ultimate Teacher’s Self-Care Journal, which contains self-care questions, self-care plans, templates, coloring pages, and journaling pages