If you have flown on any airline, you will have heard the flight attendants say “Place your oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.” Have you ever really thought about what that means and why every single airline delivers this message? It’s a breath-takingly simple concept. If you don’t ensure you can breathe, you may not be able to help someone else before you find yourself in real trouble. I mean, seriously. If you are unconscious how will you put on someone else’s mask?
We understand this concept on a logical level. Why, then, is it so hard to apply the concept of self-care to our own lives without guilt? This topic is so important to me that it warranted the second chapter of my book project as well as Workshop 2 in my Empowered You class series.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Yes, I know I just dated myself. For those of you with scrunched eyebrows trying to do some math, that places me squarely in my 40’s. Our mothers were the first generation of women who had choices beyond being a teacher, nurse or secretary. Our mothers were the first generation of women who, depending on your perspective, either had it all or had to do it all. I’m generalizing, of course. Not all women in the Baby Boomers worked. Not all women prior to that were only teachers, nurses or secretaries, of course. But as far as society taught, that was “normal”.
What does this mean as far as self care? Many of us who are currently working in or out of the home are plagued with guilt about self-care. If you are in your 40’s or older, self care wasn’t something many of us witnessed our parents doing because they were the first generation trying to balance two income homes or surviving rising inflation on one income.
So, since many of us were without a role model, we are charged with figuring out self care for ourselves. I know this is an area where men and women both struggle. I hear women say to each other (and have said this myself) when speaking about self care things like “I really wish I could make that work for me” or “I just don’t have time to do that with my family right now”. I’ve been someone who has said those things.
When I became a single mom of a 5 year old in 2007, I quickly learned (the hard way!) that self-care is not an option. If I didn’t take care of myself, no one would be around to take care of my daughter. I reserved self-care for the two weekends a month she was with her dad. It wasn’t a great system, but it worked… Until my daughter’s dad moved out of state.
At that point, I became a full time single mom with no breaks. No respite. Literally no time for self-care… Unless I made time. Before I learned how to do that I had to learn the hard way how important it is. Once, my daughter and I both ended up extremely sick after I became a full time single mom with no breaks. We were so sick we had to move into my parents for a few days because I couldn’t take care of her and couldn’t take care of myself. I am beyond grateful for their help! But I resolved I wouldn’t let it get that far again.
So I decided I had to learn to practice high quality self care. And that’s what I did. Let me tell you how you can do this, too.
Now wait just a minute. I know someone out there is already coming up with a list of reasons this won’t work or can’t work. Before you finish that list, let me say this:
If you don’t take care of yourself, no one will be around to take care of you or your loved ones. Male or female, self care really isn’t an option. That said, I recognize there are some challenges.
Here are some ideas that have worked for me.
- Set an appointment for yourself every single day to do something that takes care of you. For me, it’s exercise. It’s non-negotiable and unbreakable. I either walk/hike, go to yoga or go to the gym in my neighborhood at least 6 days a week. Maybe you like to read, or take baths, or cook a nice meal, or….? Pick something that takes care of your physical body, your mental and emotional well-being or your spiritual growth. Is time management an issue? It used to be for me until I begin to practice the principals I teach in Empowered You and Chart Your Own Course.
- Think you can’t get out of the house because of your family? My daughter was 8 when I took up yoga. She was too little to leave alone and I didn’t have anyone around to help. So…I hired a babysitter to come over once a week on Saturdays so I could go to yoga class until she was 13. It more than doubled the cost of my classes and was worth every penny. Can’t afford it? I say you can’t afford NOT to afford it. We got rid of Cable TV, limited eating out and made it work. As she’s gotten older, I’ve been able to add two more classes to each week. If I go longer than about 5 days between classes, my daughter asks me to go to yoga. I am a better parent when I’m taking care of myself. And you will be, too. I promise the time you spend on yourself will actually make you more present with your family. Be creative. Maybe swap childcare with a friend or neighbor. Set up a neighborhood coop where one parent takes the kids for a while when the other parents take a break – then take turns.
- Change the way you think about taking care of yourself. Self-care is as essential to your well-being as eating and sleeping. Would you let someone talk you out of eating? I hope not! If you’ve been letting someone talk you out of self-care, I would lovingly say that may be something a licensed therapist or social worker can help you with.
- Many times, we are our biggest blocks. Our families and loved ones WANT us to take care of ourselves. Yet we use them as excuses not to take care of ourselves. That’s not good for any of us. It leads to our resenting the people we love most. Our children will model what we show them. If we become a martyr and work ourselves to exhaustion, then yell at our families… you not only have sacrificed your own self, but you are causing harm to the ones you love. This may sting a little bit if you have been being the martyr. Don’t beat yourself up. As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” Instead of feeling badly about being the martyr, spend that energy making a list of ways you can begin to take are of yourself.
- Set up a family meeting to discuss this with your loved ones. It might take a little while for everyone to get on board if you’ve gone a long time without taking care of yourself. It won’t take long before everyone will in support of you taking better care of yourself. You will be more present when you are with your family because you won’t be as depleted. You’ll have more patience. You’ll be happier. You’ll be more content and more productive. Even at work, they will notice the difference in your demeanor and productivity.
I leave you with this. When is the last time you did something just for yourself? ….If you have to stop to think even for a moment, it’s been too long. Go schedule a massage. Book a reiki session. Get yourself to yoga or whatever exercise class brings you joy. Take yourself out for coffee. Read a book. Flip through a magazine. Make yourself a delicious and healthy meal. Call a good friend. Find something that brings you joy or nurtures your body and go do it! You’ll thank yourself for it later.
My goal is to spread love and light all over and to be of service to others. If this added value to your day, please consider sharing it or pressing “like”.
Lots of love this week. And take good care of yourself! Until next Monday….