“You are no good to others if you do not take care of yourself” - I was told this repeatedly for years before I finally understood what it meant.
I am a child of the 80’s and grew up with less intrusive technology and in a neighborhood with kids who always played outside. I was one of the kids whose parents would say “come in when the streetlights come on”. Life was full and rich but not overwhelming and fast paced like it is today. We did not have constant demands from our phones, social media or email. We knew when contacting someone we would have to wait for them to be available to respond. Today with technological advances, life moves much faster, causes us to compare our lives against one another, and expects, almost demands immediate results and responses. So how do you protect your physical and emotional health? By implementing self-care.
Self-care was a hard concept for me to understand, let alone accept and apply to my life. I thought it sounded selfish and you are weak if you need it. But that is just not true. As a result of the changes that have taken place over the last few decades in how we live life and conduct work, self-care is essential to balance and maintain physical and mental health. Self-care is about setting boundaries for yourself, knowing your limits, knowing what brings you peace and joy, and establishing balance so you can be the best version of yourself.
Recently, I was forced to confront these very ideas. I was taking on classes, starting a business, working full time, participating in a cohort, teaching group fitness and fostering dogs. Those were just my commitments/obligations. I justified it; “well this cohort adds to this business” or “this is my fun job and I enjoy this.” Then one day I just froze in my living room and I didn’t know what to do next. At that moment I realized everything I thought I could juggle was too much. I thought back to an idea I heard about prioritizing: “pick three things”. I spent the next week praying and deciding what my three things would be and then stepping back from the others. I had to wrestle with the concerns of letting go, missing something that felt important, losing something I enjoyed doing or comparing myself to someone who appeared “to be doing it all” in order to choose my health. I knew if I didn’t make the choice, my body would. Once I made the choice then I had to get comfortable with a new normal, having available time. This available time allowed me to get a regular night’s sleep and sleep through the night without stressing over lists and to-dos. It allowed me to visit with friends and family, to take care of my house, stop for my deep breaths, and eat healthier meals. I quickly began to notice I was more present with the three things I chose. I noticed how I relaxed at work, I wasn’t as distracted in my conversations, my jaw was not carrying as much tension, and I felt more joy and peace. Sure, I miss the things I gave up and hope to return to them one day but choosing to take care of myself was important at this time.
There are still moments that things begin to feel overwhelming with just the three because let’s be honest, we can’t control timing in life. In those moments I remind myself that stopping to take three breaths literally takes 1-2 minutes, or I might take a break to run an errand or walk the block or put on music that is calming to help me center and focus. I am still learning how to balance and identifying what is too much, but I am not where I used to be and for that I am thankful!
Today, as you read this, I want to encourage you if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed that you do have choices. There are certain requirements you will have to fulfill but you are in control of your body and your life. Remember, not everything is urgent or requires an immediate response. Each person carries their own unique value of what’s important, so make sure you give yourself credit for your strengths and abilities. Love yourself for who you are and don’t hate who you are not. Self-care is not uniform, it is unique for each person. Enjoy your life today and always!
Lindsay McDonnell, MSW