Many of us find it easier to take care of others. It may be that we are parents, or that we have to take care of our parents. Or maybe we take good care of a pet. But taking care of ourselves is usually not at the top of our to-do list.

How can we get better at taking care of ourselves? A simple shift in our perspective could make it easier to listen to our needs. Try to look at yourself in a similar way to how you look at other people that you love. Would you forget to feed your child? Would you let your best friend work long hours with no break? Would you expect your partner to just get the job done and have no feelings after a tough day at work? Probably you would do what it takes to take care of the people you love. 

What does taking care mean? It is all about listening to the particular need at the exact moment. If your child is crying because they feel sleepy, you would not just give them their favourite toy, you would help them fall asleep. If you are feeling exhausted, having some of your favourite foods might help, but going to bed or taking a break is what you really need. Giving to yourself or to others’ favourite things may help in some occasions or temporarily, but it does not always help you meet the current need. 

It seems like work-related self-care can be particularly difficult for some professions, where usually burnout rates tend to be high. Overworking takes a toll not only on each person individually, but also in the workforce, when the quality of services is important. Unfortunately, overworking is widely expected and frequently glorified in sectors such as social work, nursing, medicine or crisis intervention from paramedics or firefighters. That means that it is not only employers that put the pressure on, but it can also be the individuals themselves. 

So what should we do? In the Behavioural Observation Podcasts, Behaviour Analysts suggest to think about stress management as a running tap: stress is coming out of the tap, and when we have to deal with external stressors, we don’t have the option to control the rate through which the water is coming out of the tap, but we might be able to do something about how fast the sink empties. In other words, we may have life stressors as work issues, or as taking care of a child or of someone else in need, but we can always choose how to process that (Lancaster & Tarbox, 2019).

What will help you? Remember again, what is meaningful in your life? As the expert for your own self, try different things that can help you get through the day. Try to pause, stop and think, is whatever is consuming your time actually important to you? By doing this, it is easier to prioritise and find time for the things that matter to you.

If you’re struggling with self-care and wish to speak to a professional, book an appointment here.

Elena Marinopoulou is a Behaviour Analyst with the Willingness Team. She works with children and adults and has a strong interest in parent training, sleep and feeding issues emerging during childhood, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Reference:Lancaster K. & Tarbox J. (Hosts). (2019, June 6). Work / Life Balance (No. 86) [Audio podcast episode]. In The Behavioral Observations Podcast with Matt Cicoria. Matt Cicoria.