Okay, you know the drill. We must take care of ourselves before we can care for others. Repeat after me: “We must take care of ourselves before we can care for others”. If you’re in a helping profession you’ve heard this a million times. If you’re not, I’m guessing you’ve heard it a few thousand times. It’s a simple enough concept. It’s pretty difficult to argue against, right? So why don’t we do it?
Well, there are some underlying reasons for our resistance to care for ourselves. We sometimes wonder if we “deserve” self-nurturing. Sometimes we’re told that it is selfish to take care of ourselves during a time when we could be taking care of others (or at least looking like we are). Other times we find that we get our needs for belonging and love met through self-sacrifice for others. All of these dynamics are well explored in a trusting counseling relationship. They are also too deeply personal and complex for me to even try to tackle in a blog post.
But sometimes the issue truly is logistic. “I don’t have money to go to the gym” or “I work 50 hours a week and then come home to kids who stay awake until I’m so tired I have to crash myself” or “I’m at home with my kids all day and all night and we can’t afford help” or “To further my career I need to be in school while working a 60 hour a week job” or “I own five businesses”. Life is busy. Finding time for you is hard. It is hard, but not impossible. It is hard, but doing so makes everything easier. It is hard, but it will make your relationships stronger. It is hard, but it makes you a better parent. It is hard, but it makes you a better employee. It is hard, but it makes you a better student. So, it is hard and it is worth it!
So, if you’re really ready to commit to self-care, here are a few suggestions to make it happen.
1. Make a Self-Care List: I like the idea of having this list close by. So make the list on your smartphone or put it in your wallet. You never know when an opportunity for self-care will arise so be prepared! This list should include things that cost money and those that don’t. It should include things that you can do with others and things you can do alone. Things that are outside and things that can be done inside. Things that take 5 minutes and things that take a day. The longer your list, the better.
2. Put It On Your Calendar: Schedule at least 30 minutes of self-care a day. If you’re response to that is “There is no way I can get 30 minutes a day to take care of myself” then you need to check yourself. None of us are THAT important that the world can’t move forward without us for 30 minutes. If the people in your life are truly that dependent on you, it’s time to have a talk with the people in your life. If you are a single parent and your kids won’t give you 30 minutes a day, you need to get them to go to bed and you need to stay up for 30 minutes. Please, you have 30 minutes—I promise.
3. No Excuses: If you have to schedule over self-care, you must move it on your calendar to another time that day. This is essential. Your schedule can be flexible, but this item doesn’t go away.
4. Ask Yourself “What feels most nourishing to me right now?”: Sometimes we avoid self-care because the thing we think we should do for self-care (go for a walk, go to the gym, meditate) doesn’t sound all that appealing in the moment. Self-care isn’t always about doing something “healthy”. Self-care can mean that you go get your favorite sweet coffee at the coffee shop and read trashy magazines. By asking yourself this question, you are giving yourself a luxurious gift every day. And, believe it or not, if you truly let yourself ask this question—and stick to doing it daily, it will be healthy for you more often than not.
5. Be Ready: When a magical hour opens up here and there, think about how you can care for yourself instead of thinking about what you can get done. As a counselor, I sometimes get last minute cancellations or missed appointments. When I do fill that with notes and errands etc. it is always because I believe doing so will free me up later for even MORE self-care.
6. Engage Your Partner/Friends/Family: If you have kids, it’s not quite as easy as it is without. That’s just the honest truth. Even if you work 80 hours a week as a non-parent, you still have an average of 4 hours a day that are not consumed by caretaking. When you have kids you may need help making this 30 minutes happen. So talk to these folks. Most partners will understand if you say “I need 30 minutes to shower without the kids barging in every day” or “I need to leave 30 minutes early to give myself time for a walk every day” or “I need you to manage bedtime every other night so I can sit on the deck with a glass of wine”. Just be sure to follow it up with “I think you need 30 minutes a day too—how can I help you get that?”
7. Multi-Task: Find little ways to do self-care while you are doing other things. For example, I always have my favorite coffee with me during sessions. I drink my coffee throughout the day and it feels very self-nurturing to have it always available. Or, I love to hike, so we invested in great backpacks for our kids to ride along with. When you’re doing homework, have your favorite music on and schedule “luxury breaks” where you take 10 minutes to sit in the sun or soak your feet in warm water or play a video game. Wear comfortable clothes so you feel spoiled while you run errands or answer emails from home.
Doing these things will increase your sense that there is space and time in the world for just you. This can be life changing. If you look at this list, plan to do it, hope to do it, think you will do it and then just don’t, please reach out to a skilled counselor. It is likely that there is more going on that causes your resistance to taking care of yourself than meets the eye.