Self-care is a topic that keeps coming up in my coaching sessions that I really wanted to take the time to address this in a range of blog posts. I find it’s a topic that often comes up with women in particular (although by no means exclusively), which isn’t a big surprise. I’ve noticed it in particular with people who work in “mission-driven” organisations like NGOs or wellness and healthcare professionals – where providing care is at the heart of their work. They are the “givers” of this world and much importance is placed on virtues like altruism and selflessness– a beautiful thing in and of itself, but it becomes tricky when we start giving out of obligation, when the giving comes from a place of “not enough” and when it comes at the expense of our own well-being.
Self-care is important for all of us, as it lies at the heart of everything we do. If we do not take care of our needs, physical, mental or spiritual, we will start to lose energy and slowly but surely deplete ourselves. We become ineffective, putting more and more effort into things with fewer results, and at great cost to ourselves.
But what is it that makes us give of ourselves too much?
Self-care at its essence is about the relationship we have with ourselves. How do we care for ourselves? How do we value ourselves? Our time? Our health? Our happiness?
If we somehow believe that our health and happiness are not as important as that of the person or the organization we are serving, we can end up in a vicious cycle where we keep ignoring our own needs for those of others and always put others before ourselves.
Self-care is really about self-worth. We can’t have one without the other. While we can pull up a list of self-care practices, we will not actually implement them if we don’t believe that we are worth this care.
Similarly, we are often driven to give of ourselves because of fear. The fear of not being or doing enough, the mind that keeps telling us that we should continually be productive and work hard to have success. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a mindset of hard work and perseverance in and of itself. But again, it becomes destructive when we feel we can’t allow ourselves the time to rest or take care of ourselves. We turn into hamsters perpetually stuck in the wheel, running because we’re afraid to stop and ignoring our need for self-care.
At its worst, this behaviour can result in burn-out, where we’ve literally burnt up all of our physical and emotional energy and have given till we literally can’t’ give any more at great cost to ourselves.
So how can we change the story around self-care to be more supportive of ourselves?
- Reframe self-care from selfish to preservation. For many of the “givers”, self-care feels selfish and indulgent. We feel we only deserve it if we have worked very hard or done something else to deserve a nice treat.
But we miss a couple of important points. Firstly, self-care is an essential part of living that we need for preservation. If we want to be the best we can be and do our best work, we need to be and feel emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually healthy. We make sure we plug our phone in every night. I’ve even seen people carrying extra batteries around for their phones – but taking care of your own health and wellbeing? No, that’s the last priority. We’re a little strange like that really. 😉
Self-care is not selfish. If we truly want to care for others, we must care for ourselves first. Because we can’t give what we don’t have. Moreover, if we keep on giving from a place of obligation, there’s a risk that we build up resentment. It’s not true giving anymore, it’s much more transactional. I give because deep down I expect something back and if I don’t get it, just watch the resentment build. The healthier and more fulfilled we ourselves are, the more and the more freely we can give.
Self-care is the most important investment you can make as you are your most important asset. You are the single most important instrument you have.
Self-care is not about treats and rewards. In fact, true self-care can mean making decisions that will benefit you in the longer term rather than in the short term. That bar of candy might feel like self-care to you in the short term (I get it, really!), but in the longer term, the added sugar might lead to more serious health problems.
- Learn to set boundaries and say no. Self-care is about taking responsibility for yourself. Don’t wait for others to take care of you – you are your own biggest asset and responsibility. Taking responsibility then also means that you need to speak up for your own needs, and focus on the things that are important to you.
This also means that we need to let others know what is and what is not acceptable or feasible for us and where our boundaries are. It requires us to take up our personal space, which requires courage. It is often easier to say no to ourselves than to others because we’re conflict-averse or want to please people. But it comes at the cost of doing things that are not on our priority list or that we simply don’t want to do. Our time and energy are limited, use it wisely and listen to yourself. What are the things that are most important to you? How am I doing and what do I really need right now?
And don’t forget, saying no can be done in a kind and respectful way. No can mean “no, this is not my priority”, but can also be “no, not now, but later”, or “no, but perhaps we can do it this way”.
- Be kind to yourself and see yourself as a friend. Observe yourself and see how you treat and speak to yourself. What many people notice is that they are in fact very harsh with themselves. Many of the things we say to ourselves, we would never say to anyone else. Just start observing how you speak to yourself could you be kinder? More compassionate?
Really, this is about shifting the mindset around self-care and recognising it for its importance. This isn’t about another add saying “you deserve it” but seeing self-care as an essential part of living, so we can lead our best life and have the greatest impact. Shifting our mindset is essential to actually implement the practice of self-care.
Stay tuned as I’ll be posting more information about how to assess your self-care and discuss some practices that you could try to implement and see how they work for you!
And that my love is all for today. I’d love to hear how you are doing with your self-care practice? What’s working for you? And perhaps what challenges do you come up against?
Leave a comment or send me a little note: firstname.lastname@example.org
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And oh so excited, and just a tad nervous, but will be launching the new website soon. It is a labour of love I tell you – and made all the more special because it’s done by my love B. Watch this space and I’ll be back soon. I’m planning on launching some new and free tools to take us into the new year and make use of this special time of year as well for some reflection!
With love as always,