Ever notice when you’re flying that the flight attendant tells you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you attempt to help others with theirs? There’s a reason. You’re no good to anyone else unless you take care of yourself. And hey, it’s a good idea to be good to yourself. Just because.
But self-care entails more than just a single act. It involves choosing behaviors that keep you mentally and physically fit. That means getting exercise that is right for your body. It means eating a healthy diet. Getting enough sleep. Reducing physical and emotional stress. Learning how to soothe yourself. Forgive yourself. Find compassion for yourself. And avoiding poisonous substances, from cigarettes to toxic people.
Unfortunately, good self-care isn’t that easy. It involves taking a hard look at yourself to determine where you might improve. You need to decide what healthy lifestyle changes you need to make, and the changes you want to make—two different things. You have to want to make changes to your behavior enough to follow-through and persevere.
So no, self-care isn’t self-indulgence. It doesn’t mean pedicures or fancy chocolates or an afternoon with a six-pack of beer in front of the TV. And while there may be nothing wrong with any of those things, it’s not what self-care is about. Yet it’s often a good idea to pamper yourself. When you pamper yourself, say, with a facial, it may also relax you and be good for your skin. So there can be a fine line. You decide.
Putting yourself first is not easy. If you’ve been raised to think of others before yourself, it will be hard to break that habit. If you’re a parent, you have a long list of things to do and your children will be at the top. If you’re on that list at all, you’re probably at the end. If you work, your boss or your boss’ boss or your clients come before you do. And on and on. But the fact is, you need to learn to take care of yourself first—before you’ve done your chores, before you’ve taken care of others, before you’re done your work for the day. You need your oxygen first. And you have to make yourself your first priority.
Know thyself. And love thyself, too. Many of us are more thoughtful, more forgiving, more loving toward others than we are to ourselves. But you know yourself better than anyone—you know your soft spots, your heart, and how you need to heal. You can learn to be attuned to yourself and your needs. You can learn to stop judging yourself and start being compassionate. To love yourself as you are.
Next week I’ll talk more about self-care and give you some tips for being good to yourself.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: Click here.