And what we can do about it.
Self-care is generally accepted as a healthy part of life. However, implementing self-care into the day to day can feel almost impossible at times. It can very easily not make the cut when there are so many competing needs between work, kids, family obligations, healthcare needs, etc.
Let's clarify what self-care really is. It's not being selfish. It's not about pampering yourself (although this can be a way people choose to enact self-care). It's about participating in activities that nourish and energize us physically and emotionally, elevating our mood and decreasing our stress.
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS THAT MAKE SELF-CARE HARD.
Below are some of the most common reasons we forgo self-care activities. Perhaps they'll sounds familiar.
Catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. This can make almost anything more urgent than it is, and much more urgent than the need to care for ourselves.
Undervaluing the power of modeling. We often run ourselves ragged trying to make sure the people in our lives are healthy and happy, and we often aren't very happy or healthy in the process. You're kids and the people that look up to you learn mostly from what they see you doing, and very little from what you're saying. They need to see that you're finite, that you value yourself and that you take steps to care for yourself.
- Not viewing self-care as an investment. It's very easy to see self-care activities as taking time away from what really needs to be done. We need to start viewing self-care as an investment in ourselves, so we've got the energy our responsibilities require.
- Structural constraints. Zoom out on your life and try to see your family as a whole system that work's together. Each person's actions impact others in the family and cause them to make adjustments accordingly. Are there some structural constraints regarding the distribution of responsibilities that are impacting everyone's capacity to integrate self-care? Does it seem like everyone has a license to request time to do what will energize them? If not, start brainstorming with your family about how to get everyone's needs met.
- Public Policies. I've yet to meet a parent or caregiver that wouldn't have benefited tremendously from increased support from public policies that impact families. The results are in, and the U.S. is amazingly far behind on systemically supporting families from a policy perspective. Families are strained and the stress isn't good for the physical or psychological health of the adults or children. Regardless of what side of the aisle you fall, we can agree there is significant room for improvement.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DON'T PRACTICE SELF-CARE
When we don't implement self-care with any regularity, it wears down our capacity to connect with others and the overall quality of our lives and relationships. Our "gas tank" of emotional and physical energy begins to empty and bitterness and resentment can easily become all you're running on. You're no longer able to offer the patience, empathy, and kindness that relationships require, and you're emotional, relationship and physical health will deteriorate.
MAKING SELF-CARE A REGULAR PART OF LIFE.
When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant will tell you "If the oxygen masks come down, put yours on first before putting it on your child". Since having a child, one part of my brain thinks this is absurd. How the hell would I ever be calm enough in a moment of mid-air turbulence to do this? But the more logical part of my brain realizes that my child will need me to be available and responsive to them, especially in times of turmoil.
We need to buy in, or at least experiment with, self-care until you're sold. Buying into self-care is essentially agreeing to work smarter, not harder. Cutting out even small amounts of time for yourself needs to be seen as an investment rather than something that takes away from the rest of your obligations.
One question I often ask folks is "If you really believed the well-being of your family, child, business, marriage, etc depended on you making space for yourself and implementing self-care, what would you do?" Because it actually does. Healthy people make for healthy relationships, and healthy relationships are the context where healthy kids develop into healthy adults.
If making time for self-care feels like an impossible task, recruit others to problem solve about how this can become an even slightly bigger part of your life. If it feels like a foreign concept, try experimenting with one self-care activity this week, and just see how you feel.
Commons self-care activities can include but are not limited to:
- going for a walk
- getting out in nature
- reading for fun
- getting together with friends
- watching TV shows you enjoy
- pampering yourself
- creative hobbies