It’s Friday night and you’re just getting home after a long week at work. You got home late because your coworker asked for your help with something “real quick” as you were preparing to leave that took an hour.
On the ride home, you got a call from a friend who was upset and wanted to vent so they spent your whole ride home (the time you wanted to be quiet and destress) presenting problems to you and asking you what they ought to do.
As soon as you walk in the door your partner/child/family member/neighbor/random person walking by asks you to help them with blah, blah, blah….
And dinner isn’t prepared..
It's two hours later and you’re still in your work clothes. You haven’t even sat down and your back and feet are screaming. You are utterly and completely drained and have nothing left to give.
Then you hear the cellphone ring………
Does any of this sound familiar?
While it is so easy to blame everyone else for your exhaustion, most of it could be resolved with a simple thing that everyone is talking about all the time these days.
What is that miraculous and simple solution?
Self-care. And that first word says it all. Self. That means it's something YOU do.
What Is Self-Care Anyway?
Self-care is anything you do to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
It’s what you do to promote your health and well-being.
It can be simple or it can be grand and as long as you feel an upward swing in your energy and/or more calm and peaceful you should feel the benefits of good self-care. We all know that going to the hair/nail salon doesn’t always produce those feelings. Don’t get me wrong, they can, but not always.
Why Do I Struggle To Take Care Of Myself?
Even though you know somewhere inside that you are running on fumes, you don’t always just stop. Or more accurately, you don’t ask yourself what to change so you can feel better.
You have probably even advised some of the folks who reach out to you to take better care of themselves. Some of you may talk about the benefits of self-care all the time.
But doing it for yourself is a nonstarter.
It’s even worse knowing that you’re hurting yourself and that you need to do something, but you continue to set your own needs aside. And you have absolutely no idea why you do that. Let me help you with some possible reasons that you always seem to fail with your self-care:
You’ve been taught to believe that what makes you a good person is putting others first
I think they must put this one on replay in the bassinets of baby girls in the hospital as some type of brainwashing tool so females leave the hospital already knowing what they’re supposed to do. Or the indoctrination may start when as a toddler you’re forced to share your toys with various children who invade your space. The adults admonish you for not sharing with little Johnny or Jane who is never going to return the toy. And you get patted on the head and told you’re a good girl when you comply.
The self-sacrificing can start early.
Your value and feelings of self-worth come from others or sources outside of yourself
Kids can go through a stage of life where they want to be seen by adults, so they try hard to get their attention. We see them working to entertain us and we laugh, and clap, and praise them. And then they keep going, and going, and going. Eventually they turn into surly teenagers though, so it doesn’t last too long or forever.
Some of you, however, never stop needing that. Your worth is tied completely to your ability to respond to someone who needs help. Or rather, your worth is tied to you feeling needed by the people you help. You sacrifice time, energy, money, health, etc., to be thought of as the person that is always ready to step in.
By the way, were you ever thanked for the extra time you spent helping that coworker last Friday?
The things you think of as self-care take a lot of time and money and you don’t have either
You see a yoga class that you’ve been checking out is being offered at a discounted price. You really want to go and you feel a little flutter in your stomach at the prospect that you might be able to actually take the class this time.
It’s two minutes later and the flutter becomes a punch as you remember that you promised to help person XYZ with their ABC. It doesn’t matter who it was or what you were helping them with, bottom line, you weren’t taking that class you really wanted to take.
So what do you tell yourself to try to feel better? Time is fleeting and money is tight. Neither of these things are insurmountable but this gives you just enough space to tune into how noble a person you are for making this huge sacrifice.
But there is still a part of you that recognizes the lie.
You’ve been feeling this way for so long, you don’t even know you need self-care
You wouldn’t know how to describe how you feel if the word tired had not been invented.
You can’t even recall a time that you felt any other way so there's no problem to solve. Yes, you’re a little cranky, you’re finding it hard to focus, and you almost cussed out your boss last week but that’s normal, right?
You’ve blown past all the signals your body has given you about its need for rest and now you’re just raw nerves. That is how you usually feel so nothing to see here.
But what if it could be different?
What if you really could feel good, or even happy?
What if your life didn’t feel like an endless round of obligations?
10 Things To Put In Your Self-Care ToolBox
Let me remind you of something I said at the outset. The word SELF is the only way you start feeling better. It’s YOUR job to take care of you and do things that breathe life into you. Only you can pull out all of the cords plugged into you. And only you can put in those baby locks that keep people from being able to plug back in.
It won’t be easy to change this lifelong pattern of cape wearing. You will struggle mightily to put it back on. But try this technique that I teach my clients to calm the stress they may be experiencing when they want to make a big change.
Relax your tongue on the floor of your mouth, close your eyes, and breathe.
It will feel strange at first but just relax your tongue on the floor of your mouth while you think about the anxiety and stress, you’re feeling about not saving the day. You don’t have to do it for long. I usually ask my clients to do it for three minutes. You will find that after you’re done, you won’t be as wound up as you were when you started. Come on, give it a try!
You can use this any time you feel yourself getting stressed out by your strong desire to step in and help someone who should be able to help themself.
Now let’s put some things in the toolbox. I like toolboxes because they help you put everything in one place, and you don’t have to remember what to do. All you must remember is to get your self-care toolbox and pick something.
Here are 10 starter ideas for your Self-Care Toolbox:
How to Feel Good About Abandoning Everyone
Look, it won’t be easy to suddenly shift how you’ve lived most of your life. It’s going to feel downright uncomfortable at first. But once you get past the hump, tune into yourself and see how you feel. Not just mentally, and emotionally, but physically as well.
Do you feel lighter, not so heavy, not so worn down?
Are you finding that the day goes by faster? Not in a bad way where you feel like you couldn’t keep up though. It goes by fast because you are awake and checked in.
How about your closest relationships? Are you learning more about the people that you love? Are you finding that most of them are pretty awesome?
Do you feel the joy that’s finally been set free?
Now look at the people who were so heavily dependent on you before. Have their lives fallen apart? Did they figure out how to solve problems without you? Do they seem to be in just a little more control of themselves? I’ll bet some of them have and you know what? You did that too.
So, now that you are feeling the love and joy that had been feeling so far away; now that you feel like your life has real meaning and you’re connected to the dreams and desires you have for it; now that you’ve discovered you, do you feel good?
I’m willing to bet you do.
Melissa Watson-Clark has been practicing as a psychotherapist since 2010. Working primarily with clients suffering with anxiety and depression she focuses on the power of nature to bring healing and restoration to her clients.