Do you find yourself taking care of your children, parents, friends and colleagues much more than you take care of yourself? In our busy lives we have many responsibilities and sometimes we forget that taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of others. There are many benefits of self-care and if you are concerned as to whether practicing self-care will take time away from your loved ones, research shows that when we make self-care a priority, we can then care for others better. You might probably know that the most important protocol in First Aid is to avoid putting yourself in danger in order to help others. Safety instructions on air and sea crafts also emphasise the importance of making sure that you are safe before helping others. So with this in mind, why do we keep pushing away our needs, knowing that lack of self-care can have a toll on our physical and mental health, and can also affect our relationships, our concentration and our outlook on life? If you are not feeling well, how can you keep going? As the saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty bottle.’
If you haven’t been in the habit of practicing self-care, you will first need to think about what you would do to take care of yourself better if you had more time or fewer responsibilities. What do you enjoy doing? Are you aware that you should be taking better care of your body? Would you benefit from taking care of your psychological well-being? Perhaps speaking to someone you trust about something that is bothering you or perhaps getting in touch with a good therapist. Are you longing for better sleep, a quiet day, or having time to enjoy a good book? These practices of self-care help us to restore the emotional, physical and mental resources that help keep our life running smoothly.
An important part of self-care is being aware of what depletes you of energy, knowing when you are feeling drained and being aware of what gives you energy and strength. This is subjective and can even vary during different periods in our life. Make a list of what (or who) drains your energy and try to find ways of reducing this tension. For example, if you feel that your work is contributing to your burnout, think of practices which you can do to cope better with the stressors of work. You might want to go in early to have some time to yourself before your colleagues arrive, or you might need to go for a walk during your break, or speak to your boss about different opportunities at your work place. What you do before or after work might also contribute to better well-being. Perhaps going for a fitness class, practice yoga or making time for a power nap can help ease the worries of the day.
It is very important to keep an eye on yourself and to know what your limits are. Try not to let stress, anxiety, guilt and other feelings take over your life because it might then be even more difficult to find some motivation to take care of yourself. If planning beforehand helps, make a timetable and find short slots in your day or week to do something you enjoy or something that you’ve been longing to take up. Keep in mind that having some ‘me’ time is a necessity and not a luxury. In your daily life, be mindful of what you’re eating, how you’re sleeping and who you’re spending time with, because small changes in our lifestyles may have a great impact on our lives.
– Claire is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.