“In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask toward you….If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own mask first, and then assist the other person.” ~a portion of Airlines Preflight Instructions
If you pay attention, you can learn life lessons almost anywhere you go. You might come across a sign on the road that tells you where to turn, and I might think about how that applies to turns in my life. Being on an airplane is no different. Emergency instructions should catch our attention. Our first reaction in an emergency is almost always going to be to help the person with us. What if you decided to take the instructions from the flight attendant into your daily life? How would your life be different if you were to take care of yourself first?
Self-care is a difficult topic for lots of us because it puts the focus back on us and that can feel uncomfortable. Self-sacrifice might seem to be what others expect, but it doesn’t need to be and can be deadly. Self-care might sound like pampering, but it isn’t because it puts us in a better frame of mind to care for others.
Some of us excel at taking care of others, and our communities, churches, schools, and jobs provide ample opportunity to build our giving muscles. Let’s face it, it feels good to know we are able to help someone else. If you are also supporting a family, you might feel that you need to work longer to produce more, leaving little time to take care of your own well-being or your relationships. Who is taking care of you, though, if you are too busy taking care of everyone else?
Many organizations, corporations, and even countries recognize the value of self-care and are trying to help people find a balance. In some countries, self-care is encouraged through mandatory paid vacation (Sweden mandates 41 paid days off: 25 paid vacation days and 16 paid holidays), if you are fortunate enough to work at the right type of job. The country in which I live does not have any mandatory paid vacation, and the result, in my opinion, is workers who don’t know how to take time off for fear of 1) the work not getting completed or 2) being viewed as not working hard enough, which could cost them their job. Oddly, our assumption that more hours worked will result in greater productivity is unfounded. Working more efficiently while there seems to make the difference.
Knowing that working longer isn’t necessary, knowing that taking of ourselves is important, why is it so hard to take better care of ourselves? Often, we just don’t see the value. How will the work get done if I’m not there to do it? Who could take care of the customers better than I can? Many times we think self-care sounds extravagant. How can I justify doing nice things for myself? The bigger question might be Who will take care of the customers, the family, the organization at all if you are too sick to take care of them? An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
Self-care begins with saying no to others’ requests when we need to, and it continues with saying yes to ourselves. We matter, our health matters, being well for the people we care about matters. Caring for ourselves doesn’t mean being self-centered, it means having a better life.
“You’ve convinced me that self-care is important, but how do I really put it into action?”
Great, you’re ready to avoid volunteer, employee, spousal, parental, or life burnout! It’s easy to get started. I always ask you to consider trying changes for the next week because I believe that after a week the value will become obvious, and you’ll want to keep doing positive things to help yourself be a better version of you.
Start with the basics:
- Drink more water than any other beverage.
- Eat more whole foods than you do things from packages.
- Sleep as close to 8 hours as you can at one time. (Not always easy if you have kids, I know.)
- Walk in the sunshine for 15 minutes during the day, barefoot is better.
- Brush (and floss) your teeth.
- Keep your body clean. ( If you are homeless or without facilities, there are shelters that offer showers and hygiene kits so you can stay clean.)
- Connect with friends regularly. (Human connection really is important, even for the biggest loners among us.)
- Instead of an hour of news that you normally watch, choose to watch something that makes you laugh.
- Stay away from negative, toxic things and people.
- Take care of your bills, assignments, correspondence. Procrastinating will add to your stress.
- Read a book. (the library has so many free reads, so you can’t use the price of books as an excuse.
- Join a yoga (or exercise) class. Find a community center in your town and you’ll find affordable classes.
- Check around for a massage therapist, reflexologist, acupuncturist–all of whom have services that can benefit you physically and psychologically and many of whom charge on a sliding scale.
- Research to see what type of health practices might benefit you the best. See the doctor when needed, care for yourself always.
Heading into the week, ask yourself “What am I happy to do for other people?” Whatever it is, choose to do those things for yourself, too. If we are going to be better versions of ourselves, we need to begin by taking better care of us.
“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” ~Edward Stanley