You’ve been up since 6 a.m., made breakfast, packed lunches, chauffeured kids to daycare and school, put in a full day’s work at a demanding job (with too little resources and too many expectations), did the end of day pick-up, stopped by the grocery store, made dinner, played with the kids, washed dishes, put on a load of laundry, helped with homework, read bedtime stories, and checked work email for a couple hours. It’s 11 p.m. You’re exhausted. You kick back for an hour of TV to wind down and now it’s midnight. You finally turn in, only to awaken six hours later to do the whole thing over again.
Whether your life is exactly like this or some other chaotic, hectic, busy, full, and overwhelming scenario — we all have our own version of demanding lives.
We overuse the word “busy” as a badge of honour. And we likely wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if it all just stopped.
Self-care is the first to go
As one of the busiest times of the year rolls around and the demands on your time ramp up, self-care is one of the first things to go. I hear these stories time and time again from the women I work with. You find your needs at the bottom of the “to-do”list, if it makes it there at all.
A couple key questions I ask are, “What will happen to your health and wellness if you continue like this for another three, six, 12 months? How much longer can you keep up this pace?”
And then reality sets in. If you don’t take care of yourself sooner or later you won’t be much good to yourself or anyone else! Similar to the oxygen on an airplane analogy, if you don’t fill up your well first, you will run dry and won’t have anything left to give those who need and rely on you.
For many women, and some men too, you feel like putting yourself first is too selfish and feel guilty spending time on yourself. You often compromise your commitments to yourself before you would ever let someone else down. But why are you less important than everyone else? Why do they deserve sleep, relaxation, social time and fun and you don’t?
Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Human beings must meet their basic needs before they can move on to higher level goals. You know intellectually you need to take care of yourself, but you just can’t figure out how to do it. Just like eating healthy food. You know what you should eat, but doing it is the hard part.
Selfish versus self-full
The first step toward more self-care is a mindset shift. Instead of thinking of putting yourself first as selfish, what if you thought about it as self-FULL? Not full of yourself in a egotistical sense but rather filling yourself up first. Giving yourself the oxygen mask first so you have the reserves, the energy, to care for and serve those around you.
You may be denying yourself these basic needs or not giving yourself permission. The roots for this behaviour can run deep and extend back to your self-esteem, values, the way you were raised, cultural norms, family history and maybe some myths, irrational thinking and beliefs.
Are you worth it?
Self-worth and self-esteem go to the question, “Am I worth it?” You likely have a constant tape of thoughts running through your head around self care that goes something like, “Am I worth the time? Shouldn’t I be doing something for someone else instead (a someone who you clearly deem to be more important and worthy than you are), I have so much work to do, I can’t afford to do nothing (how can you afford not to?)
In today’s society many of us subscribe to the “all work and no play” philosophy. And therefore self-care may feel like a foreign concept. I invite you to start slowly. Identify the things you love to do. What would a perfect day look like? Instead of focussing on the limitations and restrictions, focus on what is possible? And with this this new mindset shift toward self-full versus selfish, you’ll be able to begin identifying your willingness to take better care of yourself and to give yourself permission to put yourself first.
* This post was originally published in the Herald Community on December 2, 2014