- Our bodies tell us when something is wrong, or we are not meeting our needs.
- Women are especially prone to self-betrayal because society often conditions us to prioritize the needs of others over self-care.
- Honor your needs by paying attention to your body, responding to it with care, and setting intentions and boundaries.
I recently got back into yoga and was testing out a new class when I left 36 minutes in—out of breath, anxious, and on the verge of tears. From the get-go, the yoga instructor instructed us not to take a break or stop and, if we did feel inclined to stop or rest, just to push through.
She said, “If you feel like you have to stop, check in with the narrative in your head and tell yourself, ‘I am strong.’” The instructor barked at us throughout the class and called us out when someone stopped to rest or “cheat” a pose.
I’m all about getting outside of our comfort zones and appreciating the encouragement and accountability that group fitness classes offer—but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced in a class. I was angry because I got back into yoga for the mindfulness practice and to care for my body.
In yoga, we are typically reminded to listen to our bodies and rest when needed. While yoga encourages us to challenge ourselves and work through discomfort, we are also encouraged to be gentle and intentional with our bodies and movement—it is our practice.
As a trauma therapist, I talk a lot about how trauma manifests in our bodies and the importance of listening to them and responding compassionately. Whether it’s tension in the shoulders, a headache, or an increased heart rate—it’s important to be mindful of what is going on so that we can respond accordingly and take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, most of us tend to ignore these signs and push through. We don’t want to “give up” or appear “weak.”
We, as women, are especially prone to these acts of self-betrayal because we have been socially conditioned to prioritize our responsibilities and the needs of others over our own well-being. Because it has become a virtue to be selfless, we often endure things that we don’t necessarily want to endure and ignore that gut feeling or little voice in our head that tells us, “Hey, something isn’t right.”
Whether it’s eating through lunch rather than fueling our bodies, staying in a negative relationship or friendship, or saying “yes” to a favor when we really don’t have the emotional or physical capacity—we tend to overextend ourselves and ignore our own needs. And when we betray ourselves and ignore our needs, we unintentionally reinforce the belief “my needs don’t matter,” which can be detrimental to our mental health.
So, how can we bet better about honoring ourselves and tending to our needs? Here are three things for you to try:
1. Pay close attention to your body and mind and respond with care.
Seems simple enough, right? Unfortunately, many of us struggle with tending to our bodies (for the above reasons). We are constantly moving, working, and doing—focused on productivity and getting things done. But it is extremely important to pause and slow down. When we give ourselves time to pause, we can assess how we are actually doing and whether or not our needs are being met.
- Start With Your Body. Ask yourself, “How is my health?” and do a system check. Maybe you are getting sick more often or always have a cold. Maybe you are constantly feeling fatigued. Maybe you are noticing more tension in your shoulders or have regular headaches. If you notice your physical health is suffering, determine what you must do to care for your body. Do you need more sleep? Do you need to eat? Do you need water? Do you need to take a day to rest and recuperate? Really consider your needs and what you can do to prioritize your physical health—and then make a plan.
- Check-in With Your Mind. Ask yourself, “How am I doing?” “How is my mental health?” Are you noticing more irritability, tearfulness, or low mood? Maybe you feel less excited about things that typically bring you joy or do not feel connected to your loved ones. You know yourself more than anyone. What are some of the signs that your mental health is being compromised? And if your mental health needs tending to, consider some actionable steps you can take to nurture your mind. Do you need to carve out time for engaging in a hobby you enjoy or spending time with friends? Do you need to reach out to your therapist? Do you need to reconnect with your spirituality?
2. Setting Intentions That Honor Your Needs
Consider your daily life and identify aspects that are a source of regular stress. Think about and assess your different life domains (i.e., work, family, spirituality, health and wellness, and social) and how each of these domains is impacting you.
- Too much responsibility at work or feeling like you don’t have enough support.
- Making plans with friends without having much time for yourself.
- Doing favors for a family member out of guilt.
- Not expressing your true feelings or thoughts to a loved one.
After identifying the stressor, think about possible solutions and intentions you can make to reduce the stress and honor your needs. For example, you might decide to delegate some of your work to a coworker or not check your email after business hours. Another example could be choosing to block off two evenings a week dedicated to your self-care. Try and be proactive and consider what you need moving forward to take care of yourself and meet your own needs
3. Setting Boundaries and Saying “No” More
Honoring your needs includes recognizing your limits and saying “no” when necessary. However, it can be difficult for many to say “no” and assert a boundary, especially regarding our loved ones or people we care about. But just because we “can” doesn’t mean we “have to” or “should.” We are allowed to say “no” to a favor that is asked of us, an invitation or advice. Even if the other person has good intentions, we can always say “no” if it means honoring our needs.
Remember, you can say “no” in a kind and respectful way. If someone reacts or pushes back, that indicates that a boundary probably needs to be put in place. And while you may (and probably will) experience some short-term discomfort, setting a boundary will provide long-term gains for you and your mental health.
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.