When you hear the term “self-care”, how do you feel about it? As women, we’re taught to be nurturing, giving, putting our family first. And that can make the concept of self-care a little confusing.
I laughed at a short clip on Instagram the other day. A woman was ranting at how she hated the advice of self-care, suggesting women should place their needs first. She asked her audience: When was the last time you didn’t stop everything for your child?
She went on to say that raising her kids was her most important role. She scoffed at the mere thought of telling anyone around her NO. How could anyone place her own need for a bubble bath and reading a book first?
Ever felt like that? That self-care is selfish behavior? And that a decent woman would never put her needs above her family’s?
When you board a flight, the airline gives you a safety message, telling you to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting those around you. If you’ve flown dozens – hundreds – of times, the message may get a little old. You’ve heard it A MILLION TIMES!
You might have ignored it. Rolled your eyes. Picked up the in-flight magazine and started reading. Still, it’s there. The flight attendant’s words sink in. There’s a reason for that.
It’s human nature to want to assist others before ourselves. As women, we’re especially prone to putting everyone else’s needs above our own. We’d do anything for our kids, spouse, parents, friends.
And only if we truly have time at the end of the day will we indulge in anything as frivolous as self-care.
Self-care has become synonymous with bubble baths, candles, soft music, and relishing in our own self-interests. Yes, that can be a part of self-care. But there’s more to it than that.
Head back into the airplane for a moment. Imagine for a moment, the plane suddenly tumbling downward several hundred feet. The oxygen masks pop out from the compartment above. Your child is sitting next to you. It only feels right that you would want to protect your child first. But if you choose that route, you may become disoriented, even black out. And then you’d both be in trouble.
Taking care of your own needs – self-care – and slipping your oxygen mask into place first assures you’ll be getting what you need to assist those around you. Including your child. Only after you’re safe and in the right mindset can you help those closest to you. It takes your strength to ensure the safety of those in your area.
Self-care is learning how to put your own oxygen mask on before you assist others.
It’s about caring for your own internal needs before you give all you have to those around you.
My body is hurting
We’ve grown up realizing that when something is wrong with our body, it’s in our best interest to make it better.
When you cut yourself, you clean it, apply anti-bacterial cream, and cover it with a bandage.
If you break a bone, you visit the doctor and follow their protocol.
We have a general understanding of what it takes to keep our bodies functioning.
Mindset’s a different story. When something happens that impacts our emotions, we cover it up. We expect ourselves to deal with it privately “when we have the time.”
Push it aside for too long, and it always materializes in different ways.
Emotional health is just as important as physical health. Maybe even more so. We’ve been learning a lot about that these past couple of years.
Emotional first-aid is equally as important as cleaning a cut or setting a broken bone. If allowed to fester, it roots its way in and makes you lash out in different ways. The more you cover it up, the more your emotional energy is depleted. And in doing so, you move full-head into burnout.
As you become completely overwhelmed, there’s less of you to be there for what you’ve deemed to be your top priority. You can’t be present for your kids, spouse, family, or friends when there isn’t enough of you to go around.
Become more present … with you
What leads to burnout is putting everyone and everything ahead of your own needs. And I know that situation well.
A number of years ago, I was building a business, had a daughter in middle school, sat on several committees, and was trying to maintain a relationship with my husband. I knew if I sat down without something in my hand, I’d fall asleep. So I stayed busy. I’d rise and work. Run through my emails while waiting in the pickup line at school. No matter where I was, I was busy.
But I wasn’t achieving my goals. I blamed myself – if only I could work harder and get more done. So I stayed up longer; got up earlier. It was a vicious cycle.
Until I signed up for a life balance retreat that gave me a hard look at my behavior.
It changed everything.
I slowed down.
We don’t have to fill every moment of our days to feel like we’re productive. We don’t have to jump at everyone else’s needs to prove we’re women (moms, spouses, friends, etc.)
Self-care is about mental health, and right now a lot of us need more of it.
This is about putting your own oxygen mask on first.
Here’s how I’m doing it:
- Saying YES to a workout routine. Schedule it. Head out to a park, or take a class. If you aren’t in the house, you won’t have to answer all those little questions that pop up when you’re there.
- Acknowledge your anxiety, grief, and stress. It won’t go away on its own. Seeking out help is a great place to start. So is acknowledging your feelings and giving yourself a chance to heal.
- Journal. Journal. Journal. There, I said it. It’s one of the most productive ways to dive deep into your feelings. Get up 15 minutes early if you have to, but make this a part of your days. There’s something comforting about being able to write down your most intimate feelings, knowing you’re the only one who will read them.
- Say NO to one thing this week. Turn down an invitation to a party you really don’t want to go to. Drop out of a group you no longer enjoy. This can help you be a better manager of your time, taking on only what makes you feel truly yourself.
- Buy a book and read. I have several lists of books to help you make a good selection. Don’t buy it on Kindle and open up your app on iPad. This makes it too easy to jump over to your email and check in. Create a spot in your home where you can enjoy the act of reading. Maybe it’ll even catch on with your family.
- Cook good food. I’m totally into food porn right now. I’m a plant-based food junkie over on Instagram. The feeds I watch regularly all make the most satisfying plant-based food. And it’s a great place to find a recipe or two to try yourself. Right now, it’s one of my favorite activities for myself. We’ve even migrated to doing this as a family. It’s a great way to destress, and hear about everyone’s days.