Take Care of Yourself
Like it or not, we are unable to care for others when we, ourselves, are not whole.
That’s the simple truth. We cannot assist our family and friends with their needs while our own remain unmet. Remember, the flight attendants always say, “In case of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks above your seat will deploy. Please place the mask first and then assist your child or other passengers.” We need the purified air to act as a life force to energize us so that we may then begin to dive in and help those around us. But, we don’t live in planes, and we do not have oxygen masks, ready to drop down and resuscitate us when our environment becomes unstable. No, wemust be the ones to recognize when we’re in need and then provide the necessary self-nourishment. But how can we become whole so that we are emotionally equipped to offer assistance to those around us?
Meeting our own needssounds selfish, doesn’t it, perhaps even narcissistic? But is it really?
An easy example to illustrate this point is to consider how you feel when you have a splitting headache. It’s debilitating, right? And, when you’re in that state, the last thing that you can truly do is offer yourself to another. No, your main focus is to eliminate the throbbing pain in order to feel normal. If you have a child that needs your care, you’ll muscle through it, but it won’t be your best effort, will it? Not until you solve your issuecan you offer her the love and attention she requires.
The same holds true for us as emotional beings. When we are off, when we are stressed, when we feel overwhelmed, or when we suffer from fear or anxiety, we are incapable of tending to others in the way that we would like. Sure, we get it done, we show up for work, we run the errands, we put the meal on the table, and we change the laundry. But, are we present? Are our interactions with those we love done with open hearts filled with compassion?
I can only speak from my personal experience, but the answer would be a resounding “No.” When I am feeling “less than,” I cannot provide for others in a fashion that I’m proud of, in a way that I want. Instead, I do the minimal, sometimes with attitude or resentment because I am lacking myself. At times I behave in an almost robotic fashion, completing the task without any piece of me in it, emotionless, disengaged.
Then how do we fixourselves so that we can be of service to others? What must we do in order to be the person we know we can be… compassionate, kind, and available?
The answer is certainly not to bubble wrap ourselves, separate our beings from life’s stressors so that we remain “safe” and “unaffected,” avoiding all aspects of life that cause discomfort. This type of behavior is unhealthy, certainly not what I’m suggesting. However, there are options we can employ to assist us in becoming whole when we feel fractured. Not only will these ideas allow us to help those around us, but also they will benefit our own well-being and preservation. This is not about dodging and ducking the tricky elements of our world. Rather, it is facing our challenges full on and then providing a solace of sorts to mend our withered souls.
Here is where self-love becomes important. Life can be difficult, and its effects can wreak havoc. But, sometimes, all we need is a nudge, a simple reminder to give ourselvesa bit of care and attention after a hard morning, day, week or perhaps month! Nurturing our own bodies and souls should not be ignored. Sure, there are a hundred excuses why we can’t take care of ourselves… not enough time… too tired… other obligations… not enough resources… or perhaps even the attitude of “will it even make a difference?”
However, I firmly believe that if we cannot advocate for our own needs, then who will? While it may require precious resources, it is time well spent! Please know that I’m not suggesting that you book a spa day, spend a weekend away in the mountains, or indulge yourself with expensive treats. No, what I am recommending does not cost money. What it does require, however, is time. And, while we may argue that other tasks must take priority, if we truly take a step back, should they really?
Below are some practices I find critical for me to remain balanced, habits to remember when I start to lose my stability, when I feel the oxygen evaporating from the room. I know that these suggestions sound somewhat trite, and they certainly aren’t novel or earth shattering, but I believe that they are essential to remaining grounded, being our best. Life pulls at us, at varying degrees, sometimes almost mercilessly. Maybe it appears as if there is no freedom in our schedule, that everything that can go wrong is, and that no one has our back. But that’s exactly when it’s critical for usto care for ourselves. How? Here’s my list….
1. Sleep, and if you can’t sleep, lie down and rest.We all become obsessed about not getting ample shuteye. Sure, I often wake up in the middle of the night. It used to bother me because I thought I should be sleeping, not staring at the ceiling. So I would lie there, berating myself for not being able to fall asleep. I’d try all of the tricks, you know, like the breathing exercises, but none of them would work. But then I realized that just resting helped me regroup and prepared me for the next day. Of course I feel better after a night of uninterrupted sleep. But, sometimes a restful night is all that I truly require.
2. Eat well.This means different things to different people, as we all have unique preferences, specific tolerances, and individualized chemistries, making “an appropriate diet” an unreality. But, here are some thoughts to consider. Are you balancing “comfort food” with “nutritional food”? What’s your sugar intake? While I’m a big fan of coffee and wine, moderation is the key. Some people can eat almost anything with no adverse affects while others have highly sensitive systems. So pay attention to your body and figure out what works best for you.
3. Meditate, or if that isn’t your thing, take a few moments for yourself(with no cell phone, tv, or laptop). I admit, I still struggle with meditation. It’s consistently one of the things that I strive to do but never quite “get.” I just shared with a friend, who happens to be a meditation teacher, that I think that running is my meditative time. It’s when I solve my problems, let thoughts come and go, when I can just be. While this is somewhat unconventional in the meditation world, it’s what seems to do the trick for me. Journaling is another option to meditation. Having a few quiet moments to put thoughts on paper can be mood altering.
4. Be in nature.I believe that when we are not whole, a simple walk in a park can do wonders. Sometimes, due to weather, location, or the time of day, this is impossible. If so, maybe find an iconic representation of nature and spend some time focusing on that.
5. Connect with another.This is something that many of us lack but deeply crave. When a problem weighs heavily and a solution seems unimaginable, consider sharing your burden with a loved one or a friend, a person who you can trust and be your vulnerable self around. Sometime just the act of saying aloud what is troubling us gets us half way to the answer.
6. Exercise. For me, this is probably the biggest one! Whether your preference is running, going to the gym, walking the dog, or attending a yoga class, I find that stretching my muscles and getting my blood pumping does wonders for my psyche. You don’t have to run a marathon… a short walk can do the trick. And, if you are outside in nature while you do your movement, then you get two for the price of one!
7. Do something that makes you happy. Write, sing, color, cook… whatever it is that allows your creative juices to flow! I love to cook… not make dinner… that is a totally different animal. Cookingis when you have the time and the luxury to prepare a meal, when you are able to chop the garlic instead of reaching for the garlic powder, when there’s time to consider the color, texture, and individual tastes of each element of the meal. You know what I’m talking about…
No doubt you’ve used other habits that help you dismiss your funk, assist you in returning to your normal self when you feel like the world’s left you five steps behind. Whatever works for you, do it! And, while you’re at it, remember to jot it down for the next time that you’re feeling less than, depleted, unable to give of yourself to others. It’s critical for all of us to take a step back and ask ourselves, “What do I need?” The answer will most likely be the ticket to restore your soul. Only then can you truly be of service to others.