Looking out for Number One
The importance of self-care.
Posted Jun 14, 2017
There are very few things in life you can control, and for many people the focus is on those things they can’t control. Anxiety, depression, worry, and fear can result from looking “out there” and seeing everything that is happening where you have no control at all. One often overlooked area you can control is that of self-care.
Self-care is a touchy subject for some people, because of the concern that it can border on narcissism or an overly developed ego. The adage “looking out for numero uno” is often said in a negative sense meaning “only I matter and the heck with any concern for you.” But taking care of number one—i.e., you—and learning how to implement appropriate self-care is not only important; it’s necessary.
Mothers of all kinds, and working mothers in particular, are often told they are doing too much and if they don’t care for themselves, they won’t be healthy enough to care for others. You hear this said to people providing round-the-clock care for an aging parent, or a sick child or spouse. You might be told “you need to take care of yourself!” But how realistic is this when you’re working a long week, rushing to get home to take care of those who need you, and using your downtime for cleaning the house or doing grocery shopping? For many people, the idea of self-care is overwhelming—taking time for oneself, when there is little time for the necessities of life, seems a daunting task.
But the adage is true—the mind and the body can only take so much. Running on empty can wear you down in many ways, and often sleep and eating habits are poorer, tension gets higher and stress seems constant. Some people talk about adrenal fatigue, where the body just starts to give in because the system is overloaded and can’t take much more.
The answer isn’t to stop being a caregiver, nor is it to push yourself to the point where you are the one needing care because your body finally gives up and you collapse. The answer is to become aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it, and to make conscious choices throughout the day; to take control of your mind and your body and be present, instead of running in circles and jumping from one commitment to another.
If you are a giver and need to start taking more—in terms of taking care of yourself—consider these steps, which you can take without disrupting your entire life and schedule. The harder it is, the less willing you will be to do it, so think about some easier things you can do now to get yourself on the road to self-care.
- Learn to breathe. Many people have never learned the art of calm and centered breathing. When in tension and stress, your chest tightens and you take more rapid, worried breaths. Running from thing to thing distracts you from your breath. Make a decision, several times throughout the day, to simply stop what you are doing and become focused and centered on your breathing. Breathe in deeply through your nose, and then let it out slowly through your mouth. Imagine you are filling a colorful balloon in your stomach and focus on the breath coming in, and the breath going out. The mind can’t focus on two things at once, so turn your attention to your breath and it will give the rest of your mind a short mental break to just relax.
- Choose one nice thing each day you’d like to do for yourself in the midst of your schedule. Can you step outside and turn your face to the sunshine? Can you get lunch or coffee at a place you particularly love, and soak in the aura of the place and the smell of the food? Can you call a friend you enjoy talking to on your way to or from somewhere? Can you look at pictures of a trip you took or family members you enjoy? Can you book a lunch or visit with a dear friend you haven’t seen in a while? It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be deliberate. Pick something to do every day that is meaningful to you.
- Watch your self-talk. People who care for others and do much for others often beat themselves up, believing they just can never do enough. And many times the people you might be caring for might actually say you aren’t doing enough! Not everyone you serve will be grateful for your service. Be careful of how you turn your mind to what you need to do, what you haven’t accomplished, or how much more you should be doing. Your mind can beat and defeat you unless you become aware of what’s happening. Notice what you say to yourself and make a decision to turn that self-talk to self-care. Instead of “I never do enough,” try “I’m happy I can help out and I need to remember to care for myself, too.” Practice developing words that work for you and get good at using them when your mind starts to do you in.
- Schedule time for you. Busy people who do too much never have enough hours in the day. The calendar fills up and you still can’t get everything done. Change this dynamic by scheduling something each week that is “you time.” This can be 15 minutes or 5 hours, depending on what you can allocate to yourself. Put this on the calendar—in writing—and decide in advance what you’ll do with that time. Busy people are often stressed when they have nothing to do! Make a commitment to give time to yourself somehow, and refuse to fill it with requests from others.
- Remember, there is no end game. Life truly is a journey. You might find snippets of time where you get to the end of something, but there isn’t going to be a time where you finally sigh, and rest, and stay in stasis while you are still alive. Life will continue to throw you a curve ball, a problem to solve, an issue to resolve. The important thing is to learn that you aren’t a machine, and you can’t just churn and churn without burning out at some point. Find ways and places to take the break, enjoy the journey, sneak in a window of time, change your attitude, and be nice to yourself. And do it now.