Jennifer Louden wrote The Woman's Comfort Book because she says she didn't know what people meant when they said "Take care of yourself." She couldn't find a book about it, so set out to discover for herself what comfort and self-nurturing are, and how we can bring them into our daily lives. Find out what she discovered here.
by Jennifer Louden

Comfort and nourishment
It has been six years since I wrote The Woman's Comfort Book. Since then, I've talked about women's self-care to thousands of women, in keynotes and all-day workshops. And I've kept refining my idea of what self-care is. I've discovered that there is an essential difference between comfort and self-nurturing. Comfort is what you give yourself when you need to close down, go within, lick your wounds, take care of the young and vulnerable parts of yourself. You comfort yourself when you are stressed, depressed, hurt, disappointed, shamed, exhausted.

Comfort is very, very important, but if we only comfort ourselves, we risk becoming stuck. We also need to nurture ourselves. Nurturing ourselves helps us to be fully alive. It means feeling all of our feelings, including the ugly ones like self-loathing, jealousy, anger and also the good ones, like bliss, connection to the Divine, and authentic love. Which means that when we nurture ourselves, we may experience some discomfort at first, but we always end up feeling better. Better might mean lighter, calmer, more energetic, more at peace, healthier, or even blissful.

Shadow comfort
We also need to remember that not much comforting or self-nurturing can take place if we aren't regularly meeting our daily needs. If we are sick or feel like road kill most of the time, then we won't feel like doing anything, let alone nourishing ourselves in a variety of nifty ways. So we have to remember to eat our veggies, drink our water, go to the dentist and midwife/gyno and tend to our basic needs.

Another thought about comfort. I write in the book a little bit about shadow comfort. Shadow comfort might be things like eating too much chocolate, watching hours of mindless TV, or shopping for things we don't need and can't afford. Our culture encourages this kind of comfort. Buy a new outfit, color your hair, smoke a cigarette, these are offered as examples of being good to yourself. Sometimes they are (well, maybe not the cigarette) but more often they aren't. If we don't know how to slow down and ask ourselves what we do need, or we don't believe we deserve to be good for ourselves, we may think shadow comfort is all that is available to us. We may keep offering our bodies and souls a shadow of what they need, and wonder why we then feel cheated, disconnected, sad, and sick.

We all indulge in shadow comfort. The problem arises when that is all we do or what we do most of the time. Instead, we need to ask ourselves, "What do I really want? What do I really need?" and "Does this leave me feeling better?" a method I call Check-in and write about in The Woman's Retreat Book. Some additional characteristics of healthy self-care are:

1) It doesn't have to cost anything. My favorite comfort activities are visiting the library and walking in my neighborhood. Both are free. 

2) It doesn't have to take much time. We all need an hour a day to ourselves, a day a week, two weeks a year, to retreat, reflect, study our dreams, feed our spiritual life. But many, many days, weeks, months and years this doesn't happen. So what can you do? Make time for ten minutes in the morning before anyone gets up. Take a half-hour right after work or right after the kids go to sleep, before you engage in cleaning or work from the office. Make your commutes comforting: listen to lovely music, inspirational tapes or books on tape and ritually leave the day behind by declaring, "I have done everything I could. My work is finished. I now choose to bring myself fully to my family and relaxation time." 

3) It touches all parts of you: body, mind and spirit. We can get stuck in familiar patterns of self-nurturing and by doing so neglect to care for our whole selves. If you always exercise, make time to read something challenging or to attend a church you've never ventured into or if you always meditate and write in your journal, go to a yoga class or a talk on politics in your community. Touch on all parts of you, not every day, but every week or month. Vary what you do to embrace all of you. 

4) It changes as you change. What comforts you at 20 will not comfort you at 80. What nurtures you today might not nurture you next month. You change every day. From time to time, assess what you do to comfort and nurture yourself.

All that really matters is that you believe you are worth self-care and that you find the activities, the things, the places, the people, that help you to be your best. You do deserve it. You are worth it. You can start right now. What are you waiting for? If not now, when?

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