I remember the first time I heard the word ‘self-care’. I was 21 years old, suffering from a range of physical health problems and sitting in therapy for major depression. Daily life was really tough for me back then. (Yes, first world, middle-class, white girl tough. But tough nonetheless.)
I think the fact that I had never heard the word before might have been part of the reason I found myself in that situation.
When my psychologist said the word in passing, it sounded like a gong in my mind. Self-care!? What an interesting concept! It was so much more succinct than ‘looking after yourself’. It was also subtly deeper, more intuitive, less of a to-do list and more of a state of being.
Since then, I have been mulling this thing over in my mind and implementing various strategies by trial and error. It’s never a finished project. Much like the dishes or the laundry, no sooner have I filled my self-care tank this week than it is empty again the next. I am not always very good at it, I frequently still ignore my own needs for the sake of work or social obligation or because someone I love has asked me to do something. However I don’t ignore my needs like I did when I was 21, or 23, or 25. Each year I get a little better at practising self-care and my quality of life improves because of it. What’s more, the quality of the lives of those around me improves too.
Here’s the crucial thing so many of us (especially women) forget all too easily:
When we look after ourselves, we are better able to look after those around us. When we take care of our own needs first, we are more likely to be able to meet the needs of others. When we practise self-care, we are less likely to burn out.
It’s like they say in the plane safety demonstration: fit your own oxygen mask before you help those around you.
The more I consider this concept, the more I pay attention to the demanding and non-stop world around me and the more times I feel the beginnings (or the middle or the end!) of burn-out, the more convinced I am that this message of self-care promotion needs to be shared more, discussed more, accepted more.
So this September, I challenge you to take some time to consider your own needs and practise a little more self-care than usual. It’s good for you and for those around you. And once you start, it gets kind of addictive!
What will you do in the name of self-care this week?