Are you a nurturing type who puts everyone else’s needs before yours?
Do you feel guilty for taking care of (or time for) yourself?
Do you think being a good parent/partner/employee/sibling/friend is all about sacrifice?
I’m going to show you why nurturing your own body, mind and soul is actually completely un-selfish, and how it’s not only better for you, but better for your loved ones, too.
A lot of people feel a lot of guilt around taking care of themselves. They were brought up to sacrifice, to put themselves second, to take care of their family first. This sounds ok on the surface, because, of course, you want the best for them, so you should put them first, right? Well, it’s not always that straightforward. Obviously there are times and circumstances that taking care of others exclusively is what is necessary. However, something to consider is that when you do not take care of yourself, the people that you’re caring for might be missing something really important that only you can give them: the best YOU!
If you always have a mentality of sacrifice, you’ll be either left feeling deprived, feeling guilty for doing something good for yourself, or even worse when you’re not receiving the care you need, you might even become resentful of those you have to care for. Whereas if you’re taking good care of yourself, you’ll be more receptive, motivated and ready to help others.
What is self-care?
Self-care includes taking care of your basic needs including your emotional needs. It nurtures your inner child to keep your inner light shining.
Self-care can be many things, and it depends on your current situation and feelings, and it not only includes taking care of your physical body, but of your mental and emotional state. It is obvious (to most) that taking care of yourself means eating, sleeping and exercising, but hard-working people are more likely to neglect the less-tangible aspects of self-care such as pursuing a long-term goal or having a creative outlet. Something as simple as going for a walk or taking a relaxing bath might go a long way toward improving your well-being, but self-care might also mean something more complex, like choosing a career path that you find fulfilling.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good reference to make sure you’re taking care of your physical and emotional needs to become your best self. Have a look at the pyramid and do a quick check-in with yourself on each of the levels. Are you eating well? Do you interact with close friends regularly? Do you have a creative outlet?
Taking good care of yourself means that you will be better able to deal with whatever life throws at you. Just like how if you take good care of your body, your immune system will be stronger and more readily adaptable to outside forces, your constitution will be stronger and more adaptable to stress if you are taking care of your emotional needs as they arise. You will be able to reflect and respond, as opposed to reacting, which can make a bad situation worse.
That one reason why it’s so important for you, but why is it also good for others?
Why Self-Care is Selfless
It Increases Your Capacity to Take Care of Others
If you aren’t good at loving yourself, you will have a difficult time loving anyone, since you’ll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren’t even giving to yourself. – Barbara De Angelis
You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you are coming from a mindset of sacrifice, you will soon feel drained, or even worse, resentful. If you are taking great care of yourself, you will have an abundance of energy to share for the longterm.
Patience, willpower and discipline—necessary to care for others—are indeed renewable resources, but that’s exactly the point: they need to be renewed. Taking the time to explore ways to do this will increase your ability to extend yourself outwards. As an example, Gretchen and Elizabeth discuss in their podcast, Happier, that giving yourself “treats,” (a treat could be watching a TV show, or taking time to snuggle your cat) increases your ability to be disciplined and stick to good habits.
Leader burnout is a common syndrome in non-profits and other organizations where people are really motivated to further a cause. People often work seemingly endless hours to tackle the world’s problems through the work of their organization. Although their dedication is admirable, this can often be detrimental to their cause. Often, they will take everything on themselves, and the organization becomes overly dependent upon them. I would like to propose that in this situation, delegation is a form of self-care. One dedicated leader doing a bit less, can actually strengthen an organization by spreading out skills and knowledge and decreasing dependence on one person.
It is not selfish to take care of your physical, mental and emotional needs. You may think you’re making a great sacrifice by putting others’ needs first all the time, but you’ll be no help to anyone if you’re burnt out.
It Sets a Good Example
I feel like I could include this quote in every post and page I ever write about living your values, and we would all still benefit from reading it one more time, so here it is again:
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson
Do you really want to teach your children to sacrifice to the point of exhaustion? Or do you want to teach them to shine?
Here’s Shonda Rhimes, a prime-time-conquering television writer, making this point on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.
Shonda emphasizes the importance of accepting that something will be lacking. She knows she can’t do everything, and that she’ll set a better example overall if she’s happy and fulfilled, pursuing a career she loves.
What you really want to bring to your daughters, to your family, is a happy life. You want to present to them as a woman who is in control of herself, who knows how to make decisions for herself. This is what I think all mothers really want. And ultimately that’s why staying in a bad marriage, or being burdened by a relationship that isn’t really working and you’re doing it for the children doesn’t work for the children because what the children really want is a happy mother. –Oprah
You’ll Be A Better You
Taking care of yourself does not make you self-absorbed or narcissistic. It can make you happier and more relaxed, which means that others will have more pleasant interactions with you. Instead of dealing with burnt-out, stressed-out you, they’ll get to interact with well-rested, cheerful you.
In other words, taking care of yourself will let you become your refreshed, ready self. This self is not resentful, tired and impatient, but is relaxed, healthy and fulfilled. Your best self not only relates to others in a more meaningful, mutually beneficial way, but also sets a shining example of being happy, satisfied, and a good caretaker.
This is win-win, because what goes around, comes around, and if you’re able to deal with issues in a calm and thoughtful way, you are more likely to evoke a thoughtful, rather than reactive, response from others. It’s like your emotional availability and presence are an anchor helping others to be present.
As we learn better self-care, we become better people in general. When we are in touch with our own feelings, we can then reach out more effectively to others and show love and empathy to them also. —Karyl McBride
Self-Care Quick Fixes & Long-Term Solutions (Infographic)
Sometimes you’re just not ok and need something. Where should you start?
I’ve organized some self-care ideas into Maslow’s pyramid. Click the image to open the pdf.
On the left are some quick pick-me-ups to cover your basics, and on the right are some more big-picture suggestions for living a life that embraces regular self-care.
The infographic is packed with ideas, but I’d like to point out a few that stand out for me.
Listen to your intuition.
This is a big one because listening to your intuition will help you know what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
It’s ok to say no. Obviously it’s not always possible to say no, such as at work, but often we could say no, but we commit to activities through a false sense of social obligation. If you’re not enthusiastic about something, there is probably a better person for the job out there. If you’re not really feeling like going to that dinner party, it’s ok to not go.
Make time for a creative outlet.
In her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the importance of creating even if you’re not sharing it with anyone. Sometimes you just need to get it out. Maybe you need to write a story or paint a painting, or maybe just doodle, but it doesn’t matter if your creation is “good” by any measure – it’s good for you just by the creation of it.
This is important. Having a strong community of neighbours and friends can help you a lot in the times when you’re the most overworked. Nurturing community relationships can be enjoyable in itself, because it might involve having a pleasant chat over tea with a neighbour, but do this regularly and you’ll be surprised at all the help available when you need it.
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Now that you have all kinds of ideas, I hope you’re motivated to do something nice for yourself today. Share in the comments what treat you’re inspired to give yourself, or what changes you might make in your life with your well-being in mind.