Taking care of myself, or as us therapists like to call it, Self-Care, can seem selfish to many, but is it really? Sometimes people will say, “I just need a break from life” or “I’ve had a really hard day” to excuse negative behavior like a spending spree, eating junk food, or treating loved ones poorly. This is not self-care. This is self-sabotage. It may feel good in the moment, but in the long run, it is hurtful to you and those around you. Self-care is what is good for you in the moment, as well as good for you in the long run. In your mind, picture a young child. A child cannot provide for their own needs, thus an adult needs to step in and care for those needs (food, clothes, learning, peace, etc.). Once that child grows into an adult, they can’t expect others to care for their needs anymore, which is a tough transition for a lot of folks. “If my whole life thus far has taught me to rely on others for my needs, why can’t my family or friends do that now?” This is when resentment often comes into the picture. So how do I take care of myself and how can I know the difference between positive and negative self-care?
When stress increases, so does self care
Many times it seems like there is just no time to get everything done, let alone stop to take care of myself. Think about it this way: when your car runs low on gas, do you make time to fill it up? If you don’t have time to fill up your vehicle, then what? It runs out of gas and you are forced to stop anyway, and typically it takes much longer to recover from that situation than if you would have filed it up earlier. This is exactly how our bodies function. When we are running around in our hectic lives, we need to stop every once in a while to fill ourselves back up. In the world of psychology we have a thing called “somatic symptoms”. This means that our bodies can bare the scars of what our minds and emotions are doing. For example, if we are under constant stress, we can get physically sick which forces us to slow down and work on our self-care. This is why on going self-care is so important. Get in the habit of it and you may just find that you are less tired and get sick less often!
How do you know what self-care is? Learn yourself. What do you like to do? What activity makes you feel energized and/or relaxed when you are finished? Know what emotion you are feeling. If you are sad, there are self-care activities that would work great (lunch with friends, time with your pet, warm bath with lavender, etc.), but if you are stressed, you might have to switch it up (working in the yard, running, reading, etc.). Playing with puppies or babies has actually been proven to lower depression and stress. Doodling has been proven to help people with anxiety and depression! Look into Zentangles for how to start doing this! Make a list of things you know you like to do so when you are just too busy to think, you can refer back to the list and choose an activity.
Getting out of responsibilities is not an acceptable way of utilizing self-care. Again, this would be self-sabotage! “I don’t want to work because it’s stressful” is not a good reason to call in sick unless your “car” is already on empty. Positive self-care would be going into work anyway and setting internal and external boundaries to protect yourself from that stress (2 min. meditation breaks, not talking with “that person” because they are constantly negative, etc.). Taking care of yourself when you get home from a stressful day of work by taking a bath can be excellent self-care. You must learn yourself and know what will help you in that specific moment.
Don’t make excuses
Many of us tend to downplay the need for self-care. We make the excuses, “I’m just too busy,” or “I will be better off finishing all my work instead of taking a break and finishing later” or, “Self-care doesn’t work for me.” Trust me, I’ve heard them all, and all of them don’t help you. If you find the right activity for the right mood, you will start seeing the benefits very quickly. You are a precious person, and if you don’t take care of yourself, who will?
When you are assessing your needs, look at these 7 areas of your life:
- Physical: This would include eating right, exercising, sleeping, and clothes.
- Psychological: Day trips, reading for enjoyment, self-reflection, taking time away from internet, phones, T.V., etc.
- Emotional: Spending time with others, allowing time to cry, affirming yourself, and finding things that make you laugh, etc.
- Relationships: scheduling regular activities with family, taking the time to see friends, allowing others to do things for you, etc.
- Professional: taking a break throughout the workday, making quiet time to complete tasks, chatting with positive coworkers, negotiating for needs (salary, benefits), Etc.
- Spiritual: Spend time in nature, make time for self-reflection, meditate or pray, have experiences of awe (sunsets, the ocean, thunder storms, etc.)
- Overall Balance: Strive for balance with your work, family, relationships and rest.
You have to fill yourself up first, and then you give to others. You cannot give to others what you do not already have.
What do you do to lower stress in your life? What are some things you like to do to take care of yourself? I would love to hear from you!