“As much as Americans are portrayed as an overindulgent society, the truth is that when we decide to care for ourselves in a more attentive, proactive and soul-nourishing way, we’re forced to confront a cultural view that selfish is a dirty word” – Cheryl Richardson
Self-care is essentially an inside job. Dr. Kathleen Hall, founder, The Stress Institute in Atlanta, Ga., discovered this while living a high-powered Wall Street life. After experiencing a severe panic attack, she recognized that something in her life was drastically out of balance, and the only person who could restore equilibrium was herself. She left her job, and spent the next 20 years dedicating her life to understanding stress, while teaching others the art of self-care.
Dr. Hall describes stress as the epidemic of the 21st century. Today, many people describe their lives as “overbooked, overworked and overwhelmed.” It has become more important than ever before to learn tools for self-care. In fact, by understanding and taking care of your own needs, you can more effectively balance and enjoy the challenges placed upon you by your work, your family and the world around you.
Let’s explore the many facets of self-care and perhaps, from this day forward, you will dedicate some time and attention to the one who counts on you the most, you!
Is self-care selfish?
The word selfish is often taken out of context. It simply means “to be concerned chiefly with one’s own interest” or “living one’s life for one’s sake rather than living primarily for the sake of others.” Paying attention to your own goals and desires is actually a good thing, as long as by doing so you’re not intentionally hurting someone else.
Research has shown that being self-focused is not only good for you, but also for the next generation. Parenthood provides a good illustration of this. When parents consistently make their children’s needs more of a priority than their own, they may inadvertently create entitled adults who expect a great deal from others. Conversely, they may also create children who put themselves last on the list. The happiest, most well adjusted adults report that, while growing up, their parents had a great passion for life and took time to pursue their own dreams. When you take care of yourself, you raise more confident and independent children.
8 steps toward greater self-care
1. Self-care is about having a vision for your life that connects you to your true self: your body, mind and spirit. When you take the time to understand your own needs, you make taking care of yourself a necessary priority. Consider making a list of the things you feel deprived of whether it’s sleep, companionship or excitement, and set goals for how you will bring more of this into your life.
2. Surround yourself with people who are only interested in two-way relationships. If you have friends who are taking advantage of your kindness, consider moving on from these relationships or limiting your contact with them.
3. Ask for help before you are at the end of your rope instead of expecting others to anticipate your needs. Being clear about what you want and need gives those that love you a chance to provide it. Simply complaining that no one is there for you can lead to a life of martyrdom.
4. Turn off the “autopilot.” Practice living in the moment in order to stay connected to yourself. When your daily schedule is a whirlwind of activity and racing thoughts, you disconnect from life. Shifting your mind to the present moment enhances your ability to access your deeper wisdom. Take a few deep breaths when your mind is whirling and bring yourself back to the present moment.
5. Choose work that provides an opportunity to express your greatest gifts and talents. If you are in a job that makes you feel empty and exhausted, it’s time to enlist the help and support of others to make a career change.
6. When you begin to speak up for yourself and set limits with those who are too demanding, expect conflict. This conflict is a necessary part of changing unhealthy relationships. Sticking to your guns means letting people know what works and what doesn’t work for you.
7. When someone asks you for help, make a choice from a place of honesty and love rather than guilt and obligation. If you are bending over backwards just to please someone else, you will wind up resentful and exhausted. This is how relationships fall apart.
8. Recognize that self-care requires patience, practice and commitment. You may experience some guilt and even criticism from others. And when you’re overwhelmed, you may even throw self-care out the window. Ironically, this is when you need it the most! Simply do your best to keep self-care on your mind – you can always come back to it again.
The path to self-care entails taking one step at a time. Consider this first step: schedule time doing something for yourself every single day for the next month. It doesn’t have to be a great deal of time, 15 minutes will do. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, sipping a cup of tea and taking some deep meditative breaths will do.
The goal is simply practicing the art of self-care everyday. By doing this, you will experience the magic called life.
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. Synergy is a unique counseling practice providing compassionate, solution-oriented treatment for adults, children, adolescents and families. She can be reached at 466.3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org