Ep #242: If Self-Care Feels Terrible, You’re Probably Doing It Right

The Widowed Mom Podcast Krista St-Germain | If Self-Care Feels Terrible, You’re Probably Doing It Right

If self-care feels terrible, it’s probably a sign that you’re doing it right.

Self-care is not a luxury, indulgent, all about spas and vacations, or a sign that you’re not grieving “right.”

Join me this week to hear how self-care feeling terrible is a green light to keep going, not a sign that you should stop, and three strategies for improving your sense of self-care.


Listen to the Full Episode:

If you want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to apply for Mom Goes On.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What we think self-care means, and what it actually is.
  • Why, if self-care feels terrible, you’re probably doing it right.
  • 3 things you can do to improve your self-care practice.


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  • Ep #239: Make 2024 a Should-Free Year


Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 242, If Self-Care Feels Terrible, You’re Probably Doing It Right.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. It’s been a minute since I recorded a podcast. It’s actually pre holidays and here we are post holidays. You will be hearing this in mid-January. So since then, holidays were great, family all got together, everybody was healthy and well.

Hugo’s 50th birthday was a couple of days after Christmas. That felt like a big milestone to me. He was 42 when he died. And not having him here for 50, it was hard, but I let myself feel all of it. I let myself miss him and celebrate him, be sad for what I lost and be grateful for what I have. And it felt like the and experience that I want all of us to have. So that was a good thing.

My daughter went back to Costa Rica. Well, actually, as I’m recording this, she is on her way back to Costa Rica. She’s not actually there, but she decided, having fallen in love with it as a freshman in college last year, that she would go back and do online class from there. And she found a hostel that she could volunteer in and get lodging there for free essentially in exchange for work and study from there and have a grand old adventure. She is a brave one.

I was not that brave at 20 at all. I didn’t even want to leave the city that I lived in, neither here nor there. She will have a great time. I will miss her terribly again embracing the and. And I will go and visit her once, if not twice. I’m planning that right now. Because who doesn’t want to go to Costa Rica and work from there? That’s a really nice thing about having a job that allows for the kind of flexibility that my job does. I can do this from anywhere that has internet, which is a beautiful thing, so that’s that.

And then also I’m not sure, but it’s possible that there might still be a spot or two left in my Advanced Coaching Certification in Grief and Post-Traumatic Growth Coaching Program. We start on January 23rd. There might be a spot or two left as this episode releases. So I want to let you know that in case you heard me talk about it and you intended to do it, in case you never heard me talk about it and now your ears are perked up, coachingwithkrista.com/advanced-coaching-certification. You can find all the information there.

But basically I want to make sure that people who want to coach grief are comfortable coaching grief. This is not for brand new coaches. This is for people who understand the model, the self-coaching model, which is Brooke Castillo’s model. I will not be teaching the model in this course. You have to already understand it. You don’t have to be a Life Coach School certified coach, but you do need to understand the model and be able to use it.

And this is really for people who feel called to help others in grief, even if they don’t intend to be grief coaches but they’re holding back. It really bothers me when I think about the amount of people who aren’t getting the kind of powerful coaching that they need because their coach is holding back. And I understand why we hold back as coaches, I really do because it took me a while to get comfortable, years, honestly, if I’m really being truthful to get as comfortable as I am now. Also though I think we can fix that in a relatively short order if we work together.

So that’s why I created that Advanced Certification. I want people to come to it who love coaching but want to feel really good about coaching grief. And might be holding back because they’re worried about doing harm because maybe they don’t feel like they understand how to stay out of the pool and be empathetic. They’re worried they might be too empathetic. They might fall in the pool and not be able to pull themselves out. That’s what this certification is for. So if there are spots left, then when you go to that website it should still work. If you go to that website and it says, “Sorry, we’re full”, then disregard and I’ll catch you next year.

So let’s talk about self-care and why, if it feels terrible you’re probably doing it right because I think first of all, we don’t talk about self-care in a way that is accurate or helpful. So we want to clear that up first. And also as women and specifically as widows, we struggle more with the idea of self-care even when we are defining it accurately than I want us to. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about. What we think self-care actually is, what it actually is, why we struggle as women with it, why we struggle as widows with it.

And then three things that we can do about it so that we actually start doing more of it, even though it does feel terrible. So self-care, I wonder what comes to mind when you think of self-care. If you’re picturing it right now, what are you picturing? I know what I used to picture when I thought about self-care. I thought about pedicures and manicures. I thought about getting a massage. I thought about vacations by the beach. Alone time. Shopping. I thought about things that felt maybe luxurious or extra, not necessary.

And also in my mind, all of those things didn’t feel like needs. They felt like wants and they felt a little selfish. And having coached enough women and widows specifically I know I’m not alone in that. I know that that’s what most of us are taught to believe self-care is. And that’s not actually what it is. Well, it is whatever you decide it is. But what I’m offering to you is that I don’t want us to define self-care in that way. Self-care to me is not a luxury. It’s not a thing that we could do if we wanted to, but it’s extra, but we don’t really need it.

Self-care is not indulgent. It’s actually when we’re taking really good care of ourselves, when we’re taking care of our physical needs, of our emotional needs, of our mental health. And it doesn’t necessarily happen in a salon. In fact, it most often doesn’t. It looks more like setting boundaries and having difficult conversations and telling people no when we want to say no, even though we’re so used to saying yes. It looks like feeling our feelings. Nobody likes me when I say that, but truly it looks like allowing ourselves to process emotion.

It looks like learning what’s going on in our mind so that we can decide whether it’s helping us or not and if it isn’t, changing it. That’s not what shows up in the movies is it? What shows up in the movies is shopping and spa days and bellinis. And that stuff is great and fun and by all means, if you want to do that stuff, great, I love it. I get manicures and pedicures every couple of weeks. I haven’t been doing it lately, but I’m pretty good about getting a massage consistently since Hugo died. I wasn’t good at that before. So I’m not saying those things are bad.

I’m just saying true self-care means taking care of yourself, your physical needs, your emotional needs, your mental health, your wellbeing, your wellness. That is not a luxury. That is not indulgent, but it feels terrible. And why does it feel terrible? Well, number one, it feels terrible, because if you’re listening to this podcast you’re probably a woman or you are socialized as a woman. And guess what women have been taught? Women have been taught, take care of other people first, put yourself last.

Your job is to care for the wellbeing of others. That’s what I was taught. Social conditioning, social conditioning tells women that taking care of ourselves is indulgent, that taking care of ourselves is selfish. I mean, yes, we can call it that if we want. But listen, it’s important, it’s critical. It’s not a luxury. But are we told to prioritize ourselves or are we told that we’re supposed to take care of everyone else?

And also, what are the messages that we’ve received about productivity and doing it all and being perfect and excelling in all the places and getting A’s in everything? We’re supposed to be great at work. We’re supposed to take care of all the kids’ needs. We’re supposed to take care of our friends, take care of our bodies. We’re supposed to do all of these things, do it all. Is that familiar to you? Because that’s what I was trying to do for a long, long time. And that’s before I became a widow.

And then when you become a widow, a whole different dimension of drama as it relates to self-care because now we’re not even sometimes sure who we even are anymore. We don’t feel like we know what planet we’re on, in a way. We’re dealing with the profound effects of grief, the hormonal changes, the sleep changes, the daily life changes. The person that we used to talk to about our day is no longer there. All the responsibilities that they handled, we’re now trying to do.

So before we were trying to do it all with their help. Now we’re really trying to do it all. And so as a widow, already believing that self-care is selfish and already having very full plates and to-do lists before we became a widow. Then as a widow it’s next level, burden, next level, mental drama. Oh, and then also when we actually pause and take care of ourselves, sometimes our brain jumps up and tells us that we’re not grieving right. How dare we focus on ourselves during this awful time. It’s a no win situation.

So from that perspective, doesn’t it make sense that taking care of yourself feels terrible? You were essentially taught that doing it makes you selfish and greedy and that is probably the worst insult most women feel they can hear. You’re already trying to prove your worth and your value by doing all the things and putting yourself last and taking care of everyone else first. And then life throws at you the loss of your person, partner, spouse. And now you’re trying to do even more.

And oh, by the way, you’re trying to take care of your kids. And I don’t care if they’re grown, they’re still your kids, you’re still trying to take care of them. Then self-care kind of becomes this or can become a should. Remember we talked about a should free year and how should thoughts feel like you know what? But this is why it feels so terrible.

Oh, and I also want to remind us all, that sometimes if self-care looks like setting a boundary with someone, if you’re used to telling someone in your life, yes, yes, yes when you don’t really want to do that anymore. Then it’s so natural and normal to be uncomfortable with telling them no, because the no means they might reject you. And to that primitive part of our brain that associates rejection with death, their no is really scary.

And so of course, changing that relationship, even when we know it’s not working for us anymore, even when we know we want it to be different, we know it would be healthier if it were. It still can feel so terrible to a part of us to actually make the change, to actually say no, to actually show up honestly and authentically. And I don’t know about you, but one thing I can tell you that losing Hugo did for me is, it made me wake up to the realization that life is super short. Kind of knew that before but this was like, whoa, okay, it can all be taken away.

It can all be taken away, which then is the perfect opportunity for us to reassess, for us to take stock, how am I living my life? Do I like the choices I’m making? Do I like how I spend my days? Do I like who I spend my time with? Is this how I want it to be? Am I being true to myself? Am I living the life that I want for myself? Now, of course, that doesn’t even have anything to do with wishing your person would come back. That’s just like saying, “Okay, check in with yourself, sister.”

So you might be feeling the pull to be even more honest, to be even more authentic, to make even more changes than you were before, because of what you’ve been through. And guess what that means? That means more people can reject you. That means more people can disapprove of the choices that you make and how much time you spend with them or don’t.

And if those things are all self-care and those things are all unfamiliar (a) because you’re a woman and that’s what you were taught, (b) because you’ve been living that way forever, (c) because now your person isn’t here anymore and (d) because you have that primitive part of your brain that associates rejection with death. Doesn’t it make sense that self-care would feel terrible? Yes it does.

So the reason I say this is not because I want to depress you or give you something else to worry about. It’s because I want to normalize that when you take care of yourself, if it’s not something you’ve been practicing for a long time, it probably will feel terrible. And that doesn’t mean you should stop. That means you should go. That is not a red light. That is a green light. Let it feel uncomfortable because it makes sense why it does. Let it feel terrible and figure out how to do it anyway. Are you with me?

I want to normalize this. If your brain jumps up and says, “Ooh, you’re being selfish”, when you go to take care of yourself. Good sign. That’s a good sign if this is unfamiliar for you, that’s okay. Let your brain say that. Notice that your brain says that. You can note that that thought showed up. You can note the social conditioning opinion that just appeared in your brain and say, “No, thank you. No, thank you.” This is self-care and I’m figuring it out.

This is self-care, it’s okay if it feels terrible because at some point, once you’ve allowed it to feel terrible and you’ve done it anyway, you will get better at it. You will feel more comfortable with it. It will not feel so awful anymore as often. It will get easier because you will have practiced it but in the beginning it feels terrible. So I want to leave you with three things, three little strategies that you can do to help yourself improve your own sense of self-care, your own self-care practice.

So, number one, define it accurately, redefine it for yourself. If you’ve been thinking about it like I used to think about it, that it was pampering, that it was luxury, that it was indulgent, redefine it. Get real clear that taking care of our physical needs, our emotional needs, our mental health is not luxury. It’s not indulgent. It’s self-care, it’s a necessity. Our quality of life depends on it and we are worth it even more so when we have gone through a significant loss. Even more so do we deserve more care and more love and more gentleness.

Please see self-care as something that is a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness, something that is a worthwhile expenditure of your time. It’s an investment that is valuable and that you are worth. So the first thing I want you to hear is redefine it, get real clear on it.

Number two, just let it be uncomfortable as you start small. It doesn’t have to be big, but even when it’s small, it will still probably feel uncomfortable. If you have decided that it is really important to you, this is what I see in my coaching program sometimes. We’re so used to carving out time for our own wellness that the mere idea, it’s hard to stand. So I will see women in coaching calls who really have to, with kids who are old enough, some people have little kids and they need to be available to them because they’re little kids literally could get into things and hurt themselves and they want to be available to them.

But for those that have older kids, even grown ones, to turn off their phone, to not pay attention to the notifications, to not be at their beck and call because they always have been, can be uncomfortable. We could potentially start small. This is what I want you to consider doing, start small. Are you at the gym? Have you made time to work out, and you go to the gym? This is what I used to do, but you can’t separate yourself from your phone, you literally can’t mentally check out because heaven forbid your child might need you even though you know they’re fine.

Could you practice for 15 minutes, silencing your notifications and let it just be uncomfortable as you do that? Could you put a sign on your office door that says ‘do not interrupt unless there’s blood involved’ for 15 minutes and let that be uncomfortable? And listen, if this sounds basic to you, awesome. What is the next small step that does make you feel uncomfortable that would lead to better self-care? It’s a spectrum. It’s not independent actions. It’s different for everyone. So find where you are on that spectrum, but let it be uncomfortable and it doesn’t have to be big, it can be simple.

Number three, seek support. And support can come from a variety of places. Support can come from friends. Support can come from a support group. It can come from professional or licensed help or therapy. It can come from coaching obviously. But seek support and remind yourself that the mere act of reaching out for support is an act of self-care. This is not the time to tell yourself that going it alone makes you somehow stronger or that asking for support makes you somehow weaker. That’s not going to help you, that’s not self-care.

But also, if you’ve never reached out before for help or you’ve never allowed people to help you, it makes sense that it would feel terrible, or at least uncomfortable when you do. Again, let it feel terrible. Let it feel uncomfortable because you’re probably doing it right if it does. That’s what I want you to hear, alright, define it accurately. Redefine it if you need to. Let yourself be uncomfortable. Start small and number three, seek support. Find the support.

We have to be our own advocates and find the right support for us. Some of you are going to love therapy. Some of you are going to love grief groups. Some of you are going to love grief share. Some of you are going to hate all of those things. It’s not about a particular thing. Coaching, some of you are obsessed with coaching. You’re my clients, you’re my people. Some of you aren’t, that’s okay, it doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that we find what works for us, and we keep advocating for ourselves until we find it.

We keep experimenting and trying new things until we find what feels good and useful to us. That is self-care. And sometimes that requires quite a bit of trial and error and testing and experimenting. And that’s okay because you’re worth it. You’re worth it.

Alright, I will leave you with this. If self-care feels terrible, it’s probably a sign you’re doing it right. Self-care is not a luxury, it is not indulgent, it is not about spas and pampering, although by all means do all the pampering if you want. It is not a should. It’s not something you’re supposed to do or have to do. It is physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, emotional wellbeing and you’re worth that.

Of course, if it feels good to you, come on into Mom Goes On. That’s kind of what we’re all about, figuring out how to help you love life again. And self-care with practice, even though it feels terrible now, it will feel easier as you do it. So don’t quit, keep going until you actually believe you’re really good at it and it doesn’t feel so awkward to you anymore. Okay, that’s what I have for you this week. I love you. You’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week. Bye bye.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence. Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click Work With Me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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