Do you feel worn out? Overextended? Tired all the time? If so, you’re not alone. Balancing a busy personal and work life can feel virtually impossible. In my work — both on myself and with my clients — I quickly realized that we all need to learn to genuinely take care of ourselves first. Unfortunately, many people think it is selfish to put their own needs before someone else’s. Before someone who needs them and depends on them. Many of us were taught to give freely to others and take care of other people’s needs before our own. We see examples of this every day; every time a child is told to share their toys even as they are playing with them, when we are asked to consider the feelings of others without validating our own, when we are constantly asked to give a few dollars nearly every time we go out, even though we may be struggling to meet our own financial responsibilities. We do it because we don’t want to say no. We don’t want to look bad or look like we don’t care. So, we give of ourselves, sometimes more than we have to give. We think we are doing the right thing; the “good” thing. But we are not. It is not healthy to give so much of ourselves that it depletes our own mental, emotional, and physical reserves. As much as I still believe it is important to give to others, I no longer believe we should give to the detriment of our own well-being. We must prioritize our own needs and let go of the misconception that it is wrong to put ourselves first. In fact, I would suggest that we all need to start being a little more selfish, in a good way, because the fact is, you can’t save anyone else until you learn to save yourself. Putting your needs first, learning to listen to your body, and taking care of yourself on all levels — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — will benefit you in so many ways.
I learned the hard way that self-care is an absolute necessity. As a counsellor, I thought I knew all about “self-care,” but when I finally realized I was having a burnout, my initial response was to eat more spinach, do yoga, go to the gym more often, make an appointment for a massage, hair, nails, etc. My understanding of self-care was simply to take more time to pamper myself and do “healthy” things. It turned out these were just more things to do, more appointments, more obligations, and more reasons to feel bad about myself when, for example, I skipped a workout or made poor food choices. Don’t get me wrong… I do believe these methods of self-care can be helpful and that we should all take time to do nice things for ourselves – a bath, listening to music, finding a healthy distraction – these are all great strategies. However, it has been my personal and profession experience that these things alone are not going to uncover the reasons you’re overextending yourself in the first place or why you’re not asking for help when you need it, or why you’re beating yourself up, or why you’re feeling guilty, resentful, or hurt. We need to go deeper than the superficial self-care strategies that we’ve all heard.
True self-care means making sure your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs are being met. It’s about being responsible for taking care of yourself first and foremost. It’s making sure you’ve got your own oxygen mask on before trying to help someone else with theirs.
If you’re serious about self-care, start by getting a coach or counsellor who will teach you, challenge you, motivate you, and keep you focused on taking care of your own needs. If you can’t afford to pay someone, find a trusted friend that you can count on to keep you on track and accountable to your self-care goals, but make sure it’s someone who is completely outside of your situation – someone who is objective and can see things clearly.