Self-care, the idea of taking out time in the day to attend to your own needs, gets a lot of traction in the general media and in the field of psychology. But, for many, self-care is deemed not important or, simply, a luxury they can't afford. Common refrains I hear a lot in my practice are, “I don’t have time” or “I need to take care of my family before I can worry about myself.”
Although well-intentioned, these refrains can be harmful. Self-care is not a luxury or only for people who have spare time on their hands. The practice of self-care is also not restricted to those who are in therapy. In actuality, all of us need to prioritize self-care to ensure that we do not suffer physically, emotionally, or mentally.
So many of us skimp on self-care because we believe that we simply do not have the time for self-care. Self-care does not mean a two hour trip to the spa every week (or month). Instead, according to a report from the World Health Organization, self-care is “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health [and] prevent and deal with illness.” Ignoring self-care can cause lasting physical and emotional problems.
It’s not simply about making your life better through self-care; it’s about avoiding negative outcomes. I have found in my practice that clients who ignore their body's natural sleep cues, never make the time for physical activity, or ignore their emotional needs get so used to living in that state that they forget how their body (and psyche) once felt better. If you aren’t taking care of your body emotionally and physically, then it is very easy to forget what it’s like not to feel over-stressed every, single day. Still, just because these emotions begin to feel normal doesn’t mean that they’re okay.
Moreover, you don’t have to wait until you are in crisis to start practicing self-care.
In fact, a self-care practice is one of the easiest ways to stave off physical, mental, or emotional problems. I certainly recommend self-care for many of my clients who come to me with all sorts of concerns, but people who practice it earlier can prevent lots of problems before they begin.
Many of us with family obligations think that we need to tend everyone else’s needs before ours. This is just not sustainable. If you neglect your needs, you will not be as effective at taking care of your loved ones. Your physical health may suffer. You may be too moody or tired to give your family the attention you'd like to give it. It’s hard to predict exactly how poor self-care will manifest itself, but, when neglected, it often will.
OK, so you need to practice self-care, but how do you do it?
Self-care is at its best when it is intentional. If you’re not doing something for the purpose of self-care, then it may not be as effective. For example, showering can be part of self-care. If you are doing it quickly and just to get clean, then it may not be providing as much benefit as it could. If, however, as you step into the shower, you think, “I’m going to take a few minutes to really feel how the warm water massages my back,” that can make the self-care more effective. Similarly, a few minutes checking Facebook while waiting in the school’s car pool pick-up line is unlikely to be effective self-care. But, putting your phone away and watching a bird enjoy the spring weather may be.
Be careful not to practice self-care only in one area (such as emotional health) while entirely neglecting another (say, physical health). Healthy diets and exercise are as important as de-stressing and spending time with those you love.
Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or 484-222-6436 to talk about more ways of making self-care a priority in your life and fitting it into busy days. I’m happy to provide a free 15 minute consultation.