It seems appropriate to put self care front and centre at the beginning of a bank holiday weekend.
Judging by the comments on social media, most people argue self-care should be a priority. I don’t see anyone say otherwise. Yet people still feel stressed, experience burnout, suffer depression and anxiety. Some struggle to concentrate and feel angry and exhausted. What’s going on? If self-care is the panacea, why is it so difficult to put it first?
I certainly haven’t got it cracked. It’s a work in progress and probably always will be, but it’s worth it. The important relationships in my life are better. The underlying feeling of being taken for granted and the associated resentment has dissipated, and the regular bouts of rage are history. But it’s not easy.
What’s changed? Perhaps the most important step has been to understand my role. I have been the person neglecting me. I might have felt I had no choice. I might have felt under intense pressure to work hard or take care of everyone, but there were different choices. Of course, there would have been consequences to those choices. Relationships and my career, for example, would have been different. But as soon as I really accepted, I was making a choice, alternatives became possible.
Real self care is about putting yourself first. That sounds selfish … and we all know it’s not okay to be selfish. Selfishness implies a total disregard for other people. It implies doing something at the cost of someone else. For example, someone has a deadline of 5pm and they need help to meet it. It’s 4pm now, there is about another two hours of work to do and they ask for your help. You help. The job is done in time and they’re finished at 5pm. That’s when you start on your work that was displaced, making you late. Is it selfish or self-care to say no? It depends, I hear you say. You’re probably right but my point is if something is not okay for you, it’s okay to say no. It’s not your job to make things okay for everyone else at a cost to yourself.
Self-care also gets confused with self-indulgence. Self-indulgence is the gratification of whims. It can be excessive and disproportionate and of course it can be wonderful in moderation. I absolutely love an indulgent session in a spa, having a massage, a manicure and a pedicure. I love ice cream. It’s my all-time favourite food. Sometimes all I want is to sit down and have a big bowl in front of a movie. Is a spa day or a big bowl of ice cream self-indulgent or self-care? It seems to me there is a continuum and where we sit on it is, perhaps, a good indicator of the value we place on self-care.
“I’m fine” is perhaps the biggest obstacle for me. I have some sort of inner narrative that tells me I can survive whatever comes my way. Looking at it one way, it suggests real resilience and the truth is I do generally cope without making much overt fuss. That is until I hit the buffers and explode or melt down. My blind determination to survive whatever comes my way, then proves to be incredibly destructive. Those close to me move away and I’m left feeling exhausted, unnoticed, resentful and alone. It’s not fulfilling or uplifting. For me, admitting I’m not okay is scary. It’s been a long process to find a way to say I’m not fine. Perhaps the biggest shift has been finding people I feel safe enough with to share the truth of my experience. It has given me space to, slowly but surely, prioritise my self-care.
Self-care is a way of being in day-to-day life whereby you understand and accept your physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual needs and act in a way that will get those needs met. I emphasise needs because that’s what it’s about – needs, not wants, wishes or desires. Prioritise it and self-care will boost your well-being, true resilience, the quality of your relationships and your physical and mental health. It’s no wonder we all advocate it so much.
If you want to focus on your self-care, here are a few steps you can take to get started.
Engage in self-compassion. You’re bound to get it wrong – you’re human afterall, so be gentle and kind to yourself.
Put a good night’s sleep at the top of your agenda. Begin by getting into a routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, with space in between for seven or eight hours.
Eat a balanced diet. I’m not talking about anything extreme, just one that includes fruit and veg. Remember the self-compassion!
Move more. We all know exercise is good for us, but if you’re anything like me an exercise class or going to the gym might not be the solution. Instead, walk a little further. Stand up and move around regularly.
Go outside. It can reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, and improve concentration, your energy and even your pain thresholds.
Say no. It’s not easy but saying no to others when you need to really matters.