For someone like me who was raised in the Midwest the concept of self-care was never part of my vernacular. To be honest, it initially sounded to me like a ‘new agey’ excuse for being lazy. A good Midwesterner you see is expected to work hard, give one hundred percent from sunrise to sundown, never brag, stay humble, put others first all the while remaining humble and kind in the process. Tall order? Maybe. The truth is these traits are not singular to the Midwest. Our culture tends to promote the idea that we must sacrifice any down time for the good of our jobs, bosses, kids, families and spouses. So what happens when we realize we are not superwoman or superman? Sadly, we have nothing left to give to ourselves or others and the proverbial well runs dry.
As a therapist for a number of years I have observed that most folks who seek out counseling for anxiety, depression, marital problems, insomnia, overeating, obesity, smoking or chronic illness just to name a few incorporate little to no self-care into their daily routines, and most deep down feel like self-care is selfish or just isn’t a priority. Or they can’t find the motivation in their already overbooked lives to incorporate one more thing to get done in the. I get it. The last thing most of us want to do it try to squeeze another activity into an already hectic schedule but here’s the thing: I’m here to tell you that not only is self-care NOT selfish, but it is an integral and non-negotiable requirement to obtaining emotional, physical, and spiritual health and can assist a person in reducing depression and anxiety, improving mood, promoting health relationships and an overall better attitude.
What is self-care? The Oxford dictionary defines self-care as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health, particularly during periods of stress. Self-care is any action or behavior done intentionally to improve wellbeing. Self-care can be as simple as taking a walk, journaling, joining a new group, learning a new skill, massage, decluttering your home, meditation, yoga, photography or reading just to name a few or as complex as learning how to set boundaries with a pushy neighbor or nosy mother-in-law.
Self-care behaviors can be categorized as physical, psychological, emotional, social, environmental, spiritual, and financial activities that promote wellness. Taking time out of our busy days, even if its 15 minutes (anyone can find 15 minutes) where we put our own needs first. Any small acts of self-care will pay dividends in the long run. Reading an inspirational book. Drinking a cup of tea before bed. Little things I’ve noticed make a big difference and all it requires is making an investment in wellbeing. For example, I am a proponent of Yoga for many reasons. It is the first self-care activity I suggest to clients who experience anxiety as it has been shown to be instrumental in reducing anxiety and panic symptoms, promotes mindfulness and deep breathing, and improvement in mood throughout the day. By the way….what is not self-care? Eating an entire quart of ice-cream in one sitting or impulsively buying a Louis Vuitton purse one can’t afford. That my friends is self-indulgence-not self-care!
Ready to start a self-care plan? My suggestion is to start small. Choose an activity that can easily be integrated around your current lifestyle. Be realistic, be creative, and have fun! Share your plan with a friend to promote accountability. Look at obstacles to making self-care happen as a challenge to overcome. Focus on what you ‘can’ or ‘could’ do rather than what you ‘can’t’. Buy a poster board and cut out magazine clippings to create a collage of self-care activities you would like to try. Visual reminders are powerful motivators. Self-care is important. It reduces burnout, increases effectiveness in all areas of our lives, improves relationships, promotes resilience, relaxation. Trying developing your own self care plan today!
If you are interested in learning more about self-care, there are links below with information related to various self-care activities and creating a self-care plan.
Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” - Eleanor Brownn