Do you find yourself feeling irritated with others but you don't express this? Are you frustrated because you are mostly responsible for getting things done at home or work? Are your relationships unbalanced where you're the "giver" while others are "takers?" Do you give because it makes you feel worthy? Do you say "yes" to others requests when you really want to say no? Do you take time to have fun and relax? Are you focusing on others needs so much so that you don't take care of your own health? Do you have trouble asking for help even when you're feeling overwhelmed? Do you expect others to know what you need even without telling them?
All of these are common themes that I see people struggling with on a daily basis (mostly women I must say). They are clear signs that self-care is lacking. I believe it's time to re-visit this vital topic.
When this goes on for a long period of time, which it usually does, sometimes since childhood, it leaves one feeling exhausted, burned out, angry, anxious, and possibly depressed. A chronic lack of self-care can lead to serious health and mental health concerns.
Society is designed to be stressful,
but our bodies aren't.
How did I learn that self-care is important?
I know from past experience that if I don't take good care of myself, I easily become tired, stressed, burned out, and unmotivated. I learned this after pushing myself far too hard for years during Graduate School. I was mainly focused on the work that needed to be done and there was little self-care during that time. Self-care is essential for all of us Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and Introverts. We need self-care more than anyone I know.
I have developed a pretty consistent self-care routine over the years. It looks like this: 8+ hours of sleep, Yoga or cardio 4-5 times a week, healthy eating, having something to look forward to each day, setting boundaries when needed, looking after my health mostly with a naturopathic doctor, yearly medical exams, bi-yearly dental appointments, accomplishing something productive every day, spending time with loved ones, finding balance by spending time alone (crucial for HSP/introverts), EFT/tapping, massage, Epsom salt baths, listening to my intuition and doing what feels right for me even if it doesn't make sense to others, travel, engaging in lifelong learning, limiting my time on social media, and avoiding negative input like the news.
I make self-care a priority every day. It has to be if I want to be in the business of supporting others. Most days I talk about self-care with clients who I see are putting their own needs on the back burner. I have the opportunity to share what I have learned on my own self-care journey.
I believe that the lack of self-care is one of the main reasons that many have been led into therapy. Usually, there have been warning signs over the years that someone is not doing well and eventually it becomes too challenging to cope. When self-care is overlooked, for whatever reason, it can leave anyone feeling depleted.
It seems for many that it can feel uncomfortable focusing on their own needs. It may feel like it's selfish or there's not enough time for that. It's often easier to focus on the needs of others and this becomes a full-time job. I am often surprised when I address the need for self-care and it's not carefully considered. Maybe it seems too simplistic or there could be an assumption that it won't make a difference.
Believe me when I say it's the first step in ones recovery. The lesson is: put your recovery first! I rarely see a person that is taking excellent care of themselves and they are still struggling.
There are many aspects of self-care. I would encourage you to start with physical self-care since it is the foundation of who you are and how you feel. Without good physical self-care, it's unlikely that you'll feel well mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
What is self-care?
It's any action that helps you avoid triggering health or emotional problems that are often set off by stress. Regular self-care benefits you by improving your mental and physical health through better self-esteem, less stress, and overall well-being. It provides a sense of balance in a very stimulating world.
What are other benefits of creating a self-care routine?
- brain function is improved because you feel calmer
- a calmer brain means higher productivity
- the body is allowed to rest and relax when cortisol decreases
- less cortisol results in fewer health problems
- you can explore hobbies and activities you might have neglected
- it replenishes your energy
- you function better in every area of your life
Self-care is lacking for most parents
Being a parent can be very demanding in trying to keep up with all the stresses of work and family life. Parents are often focused on the well-being of their children or spouse rather than their own needs. There are ways that parents can increase their own self-care too.
What does self-care look like?
Physical self-care - research shows that exercise can alleviate chronic depression. It can be spending time in nature, taking a walk to give yourself a quick mood boost, inhaling, diffusing or applying essential oils to your skin, stretching during the day, developing a regular sleep schedule. Sleeping less than 7 hours per night is linked to increased risk of poor mental health (APA, 2016). It's eating nutritious foods, drinking lots of water, exercising or moving to release endorphins that make you feel good.
Mental self-care - means taking care of your mind. You can do this by setting boundaries with others, recognizing your limits and saying "no" to stressful, unnecessary responsibilities, journalling, having thoughtful discussions, practicing reassuring self-talk, or playing brain games.
Emotional self care - means allowing yourself to feel your emotions without judging them. It means acknowledging them as running through your body but not as a permanent state of being. It could be doing things that make you laugh, spending time with loved ones, and allowing yourself to cry if you're feeling sad because this releases stress hormones. It also means taking a break from TV, social media and the internet to avoid negative information. It could be talking with others, being involved in your community, or learning something new.
Spiritual self-care - involves seeking a purpose and meaning in life. It could be practicing Yoga, EFT/tapping, or meditation. Some may do this by attending a church, prayer, expressing gratitude, or spending time in nature to connect with something bigger than themselves.
So you see there is a big buffet of choices for self-care. Just by adding 1-2 from each category can make a difference in your life. What area of self-care are you lacking in? What would be the first step you could take to strengthen this area? What difference would that make?
Self-care is a great way to prevent more serious physical and emotional problems. But when someone is experiencing depression, anxiety or other issues, it's vital to take time for self-care. It is the start of the recovery process and an essential part of treatment. Being honest about and willing to communicate your needs is a huge part of genuine self-care.
Discover if you need more self-care by taking this quiz - it's available in my free monthly Newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do that here
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Hi! I'm Beth Matthews. I'm a Registered Psychologist who is driven to helping people feel better about themselves. I help people who are struggling in their lives gain an awareness of how they can cope with anything that comes their way. With my easy-to-use strategies, you can feel better and be your best you!