Self-care is the act of identifying your needs, wants and desires, and taking steps to fulfil them. Acts of self-care may be as simple as booking an afternoon off when you need some ‘me’ time, or having a long soak in the bath after a stressful day. Self-care is an investment in your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. But, too often, that investment is seen as too high a price to pay.
For some people – men and women – the needs of others are frequently prioritised over the needs of self. A recent survey, for example, revealed that women are more likely to put the health of their kids, partners, parents – and even their pets –before their own wellbeing. For men, there is pressure to be strong and not show weakness, and this can manifest in not taking care of themselves and their health.
In our work as therapists, we often see people coming into our practice who are stressed, overwhelmed, and with their emotions bursting at the seams. They are so busy looking after others – staying late at the office to complete a piece of work because a junior colleague is going out, looking after the neighbours’ children at short notice, offering a listening ear but not getting one in return –that they become frazzled and forget they have needs of their own.
Mention self-care and they will say that’s impossible because putting themselves first would make them selfish. The idea of being ‘selfish’ may have been planted from a very young age, when being ‘good’ and ‘helpful ‘were qualities prized by early caregivers. Suddenly, to put themselves first would mean changing deep-held beliefs, conditioning and behaviours.
If this sounds like you – and if you are regularly putting yourself bottom of your own to-do list – then here are some tips to help you prioritise self-care:
Think of self-care as your oxygen mask
When you catch a flight and they take you through safety procedures, they always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first, in the event of an emergency. Without oxygen you can’t help others. Without self-care you’re no use to others either.
Tolerate feelings of guilt
Any change you make that puts your needs first might trigger some resistance or some difficult feelings. After a lifetime of caring for the needs of others, you might feel guilty about prioritising yourself for once. Guilt is part of the process of changing. Learn to tolerate those feelings.
Pause before saying yes or no
Too often you may automatically agree to the request someone is making of you. You’ve been in the habit of going along with what other people want. Whether it’s a boss, a colleague, a friend, partner or family member asking something of you, don’t be pressured to respond that very moment. Say you’ll come back to them. Take some time to work out whether you want to do it or not. Then give them your answer. Hold your breath. Hold your nerve. Stick to your guns.
Ask for specific help
This can be incredibly difficult if you’re the one used to doing all the caretaking. Asking for help can feel like weakness – an admission that you’re not perfect. Part of self-care, however, is not to take on more responsibility than necessary. Take care of your part. Hand over the rest. But be specific about the task or activity you would like support with. And be gracious when you receive the help you need.
Take some time out for fun
Oh yes. Fun. An essential part of any self-care package. What you define as fun depends on your interest, hobbies and passion. How to prioritise fun? Book it in your diary the same way you would a chore or a meeting. Ring fence some time for you. Then you’ll have much more emotional capacity for yourself and others.
If you need some support carving out some ‘me-time’, and if you see therapy as part of your self-care system, then call our reception team on 020 8673 4545 to book an appointment with one of our therapists. You can also email us on firstname.lastname@example.org