Self-Care A-Z: Mind Your Q’s—Better Questions Are Keys to Better Self-Care


by Erlene Grise-Owens, EdD, LCSW, MSW, MRE, lead co-editor of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals 

     What’s your guiding self-care question?

     Typically, we assume answers are the most important aspect of life. But, I assert that questions matter more. Mind your P’s…and Q’s! Previously, I offered important Self-Care P’s. Here, I encourage minding our Q’s. That is, we must ask better self-care Questions.

Living the Questions

     I’ve been pondering the need to ask better self-care questions for years. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m inspired by Krista Tippett’s On Being—Living the Questions. Like Tippett, I encountered Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry in my college years, and its impact reverberates. Rilke’s advice to “live the questions” is ever more resonant and relevant. 

     Questions are the keys that unlock what we enter; where we go toward; and, thus, our discoveries, attention, and priorities. In every arena of personal and professional lives, the questions we ask determine the answers we find. Questions limit our parameters, frame our focus, and, significantly shape our decisions and actions. Questions guide which paths we take. 

     This attention to asking key questions is certainly applicable to self-care. As with most things, we tend to move quickly to definitive answers in relation to self-care. And, in doing so, we’re often unaware of the questions we’re asking and are pursuing wrong, unhelpful, limiting questions. Let’s ask better self-care questions and live into them.

Discerning YOUR Self-Care Question(s)

     Pause and ponder your question, taking into account your circumstances, preferences, and goals related to your self-care.

     Definitively, your guiding question needs to be personalized. However, examples may spark ideas for you. I asked some folks in my self-care circles about their key, guiding self-care questions for this year. Here’s a sampling.

  • (Q1): How can I notice sooner when I’m needing better self-care? Noticing, in and of itself, is an intervention. This question gets at a basic, often neglected aspect of self-care—simply and powerfully paying attention to oneself!
  • (Q2): What steps/strategies can I establish to protect myself from losing sight of self-care, especially when life gets more stressful and busy? This proactive and solution-focused format recognizes that self-care is an ongoing struggle, and, thus, requires planning, investment, and vigilance.
  • (Q3): What elements of self-care can I incorporate into my daily life? This question encapsulates another important aspect of self-care—integration into one’s lifestyle. Instead of adding more stress, or being seen as an emergency response, integration melds self-care into daily routine.
  • (Q4): Is this really that important? Living this question will prompt regularly asking whether decisions, activities, and so forth are congruent with priorities and values. Also, it will help with maintaining perspective, thus, offsetting self-care barriers such as urgency and overwhelm.
  • (Q5): How can I have a less cluttered life? “Cluttered” captures a struggle with prioritizing self-care. Living this question will help refine an understanding of what “cluttered” means (e.g., how it presents in daily life) and how to reduce clutter.
  • (Q6): What are my outside interests? This question is an entry point for pursuing life balance. Living this question allows for beginning with a basic question, which can uncover ways to improve self-care.
  • (Q7): Does this bring more play into my life? This format cleverly puts a Self-Care Word of the Year as a question. The guiding question becomes: Does this generate more joy, harmony, balance…[Insert YOUR word of the year].
  • (Q8): What brings me clarity? Akin to Q7, this question focuses on a particular aspect to accentuate—i.e., a foundation needed for your self-care to flourish.
  • (Q9): What’s my body telling me I need for nurture and balance in my self-care? This specific and accessible question acknowledges body-mind-spirit connection. Listening to the body is attention and intervention.
  • (Q10): What do I need and want today? Similarly, this basic, significant question involves checking in with yourself and compassionately acknowledging your humanness.
  • (Q11): Sis…is this your bag to carry or someone else’s? This question gets real! It’s a particular, personalized way of establishing boundaries.

Criteria and Caveats for Better Questions

     The examples above are critical, curious, constructive, and compassionate. Consider these criteria when constructing your questions.

     Important caveats: In terms of self-care, be cautious about Why questions and externalized questions. Here are examples: “Why don’t others care about my self-care?” [externalized others being organizations, family, and so on] or, “Why can’t I get it together and take better care?” Why questions can quickly move into problem-saturated (vs. solution-focused), blaming, and/or shaming mode.  Likewise, externalized questions can be disempowering, because they focus on aspects more outside our influence in relation to self-care.

     Use your question as a guide over a period of time. Ponder it; play with it. Explore it more critically, curiously, constructively, and compassionately. Instead of coming to a definitive conclusion, open yourself to better, more useful, and—yes—more loving questions.

     Self-care is a lifestyle. Mind your Q’s. Live the questions.

Peace, Love, and Self-Care, Erlene

Erlene Grise-Owens, EdD, LCSW, MSW, MRE, is a Partner in The Wellness Group, ETC.  This LLC provides evaluation, training, and consultation for organizational wellness and practitioner well-being. Dr. Grise-Owens is lead editor of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals.  As a former faculty member and graduate program director, she and a small (but mighty!) group of colleagues implemented an initiative to promote self-care as part of the social work education curriculum. Previously, she served in clinical and administrative roles. She has experience with navigating toxicity and dysfunction, up-close and personal! Likewise, as an educator, she saw students enter the field and quickly burn out. As a dedicated social worker, she believes the well-being of practitioners is a matter of social justice and human rights. Thus, she is on a mission to promote self-care and wellness!

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