Ten years ago I was a control freak perfectionist workaholic. I worked 16 hour days, every day, rarely slept more than 4 or 5 hours a night and survived (barely) on fast food. Then one day, I found myself sitting at my very nice desk – in my very nice corner office – crying.
I was doing a great job of being there for everyone else, had a successful career and regularly served my community through various boards and fundraisers, yet I felt like there were some pretty significant pieces of me missing, for one thing, I no longer had a sense of who “I” was and I was tired, so damn tired!
I knew I’d hit an important turning point and so right then and there, I made the decision that enough was enough – it was time to take back control of my life!
As empowering as this “AHA!” moment was, there was still the little matter of figuring out what that really meant. I needed to identify those missing pieces and come up with a vision for the life I wanted to create for myself. Since I had to start somewhere I decided to focus on the one thing forever residing at the bottom of my priority list – me. This started my journey to discover what it really means to care for one’s self.
You have a great body. It is an intricate piece of technology and a sophisticated supercomputer. It runs on peanuts and even regenerates itself. Your relationship with your body is one of the most important relationships you’ll ever have. And since repairs are expensive and spare parts are hard to come by, it pays to make that relationship good. ~Steve Goodier
Like most areas of self-help, there is no shortage of advice to be found online when it comes to self-care and a typical list of suggested activities looks something like this:
- Get a massage
- Take a nap
- Listen to music you enjoy
- Read an inspirational book
- Spend time in nature
These are all worthwhile activities however they represent a very narrow view of what self-care actually encompasses. To look at the bigger picture let’s consider The World Health Organization’s definition of self-care.
‘Self-Care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.) socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.’
To make the scope of this concept a little more manageable we can break it down into two specific areas.
- Practical Self-Care includes managing your time and energy, setting healthy personal boundaries, managing commitments, exercise, healthy eating, etc.
- Emotional Self-Care includes doing the inner work to focus on the things that matter most to you and nurture inner peace, understand your emotional triggers, clear mental clutter, and invest in quality “me” time, etc.
In addition, there’s short and long-term self-care. For example occasionally treating yourself to a massage or a trip to the beach is short-term self-care, while a daily exercise regime, following a healthy diet and setting healthy personal boundaries are all long-term self-care practices.
Why We Skip Self-Care
People who knew me – before and after – often ask how I created such a radical change in my life, but it never fails, no sooner than I mention making “self-care” a priority than the defenses go up and out come the excuses, especially about how it must be nice to have that kind of “me” time. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling the same way, then it’s worth taking an honest look at the most common excuses for not making self-care a priority.
I Don’t Have Time
Let’s be honest, time really isn’t the issue because we make time for the things that we consider priorities, but blaming the lack of time not only feels more socially acceptable, it’s easier to justify to ourselves.
Try this. The next time you’re about to say “I don’t have time” instead say “It’s not a priority” and see how it feels. Instead of saying “I don’t have time to exercise”, say “I’m not going to exercise (eat healthier, get a check-up, etc.) because my health isn’t a priority”, or instead of “I don’t have time to write” say “I’m not going to write because finishing my book (or fill in the relevant goal) is not a priority”.
Quite an eye-opener isn’t it? Mustering the courage to honestly admit to yourself what your priorities have been up to now also gives you a starting point to begin creating some meaningful change … if you want to.
It Feels Too Selfish
Guilt is a powerful emotion, especially for women who are typically the caregivers in a family, but men are certainly not immune to feeling responsibility overload.
Ask yourself these two questions.
- What would your family do if you died of a heart attack? Who would take care of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, soothing scraped knees and broken hearts? Of course, they would mourn and miss you because they love you and you were such a great person, but eventually, they would pick up their lives and move on.
- Have you been waiting for an engraved invitation from others to do the things that would make you feel better physically and emotionally because to take care of yourself would feel too selfish?
Here’s a news flash. Taking care of yourself is not selfish – it’s survival – and it’s up to YOU to choose to make self-care a regular part of your life. When we are filling our own emotional and physical reserves with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, and the world in general.
I Don’t Have the Support
Not long ago a friend brought up the “lack of support” excuse when she was explaining to me that she’d resigned herself to giving up her dream of going back to school to finish her degree because of her husband. This surprised me because I’d actually been friends with her husband first and it just didn’t sound like the guy I knew, so I asked her what he said when she talked to him about it. She said, “Oh, well I’ve never actually brought it up because I just know he wouldn’t go for it because of the time it would take away from him.” Uh huh, the old mind reader ploy!
If someone really cares about your well-being chances are good they’ll support anything that makes you happy and keeps you healthy and around a little longer. If you do experience push back in response to your efforts to take better care of yourself keep this in mind, we teach people how to treat us, so if you’ve allowed yourself to become a doormat then it’s time to learn how to set some healthy personal boundaries (practical self-care). In fact, one way to secure support would be to encourage your partner to join you by investing some time in their own self-care!
I Tried But Couldn’t Stick With It
For most people self-care is something you do in response to feeling tired or stressed rather than a necessary part of daily life. Getting a massage, taking a soothing bubble bath or going for a walk in nature are all worthwhile activities, but without consistency, the benefits are far from sustainable.
Try to think of it this way – eating one healthy meal a week, or exercising only when you feel like it, is not going to do much for your health. The same goes for self-care. To be really effective, self-care needs to be developed over time as you would any habit.
We tend to look for the quick fix in everything we do, but that’s not how self-care works. It’s a whole way of looking at life, a whole way of living and taking care of yourself. ~Babette Galang
Did you hear yourself in some of these excuses? Did they make you feel uncomfortable? Great! Now you have a starting point. Now you can make the decision to take back control and you can choose to create a sustainable habit of self-care.
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald
Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.
She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.
To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click “here“.