If we do not take care of ourselves, how can we take care of anything else?
If we do not take care of ourselves, who will?
I and many of the people I am close to admit to having fallen into the trap of: “I would love to take better care of myself but I’m too busy taking care of everyone else.” This is a recipe for burnout. Hans Selye helped frame the danger in this behavior with a phenomenon called the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). Essentially, our nervous systems can function in high arousal for a short period of time (the way nature intended), but inevitably there will be a crash when our bodies can no longer operate at warp speed, aka. we run out of GAS. This can initially manifest as physical and mental exhaustion, and over time as autoimmune disorders and stress related disease.
Even when it is possible to grasp the concept, it is more difficult to put into practice. Self-care doesn’t look the same for everyone and it doesn’t have to be yoga at dawn. It is about setting good boundaries, being honest with ourselves about what we can and cannot do effectively. In essence, saying yes to everything can leave us with nothing.
Today, self-care means something different to me than it did 10 years ago. My prescription for self-care is: do something every day to make life more manageable and more joyful. It is not just one more thing on the “to-do” list; it is something that I do for myself so that I can be more effective in other areas of my life. Self-care is not selfish, in fact, taking time for ourselves may be the best thing that we can do for others so that we can be fully present both at work and in our home lives.
Today, my self-care includes anything that nourishes my soul: hiking, meditating, dancing, playing with the dogs, and it looks different every day. While I used to feel guilty if I was not “being productive,” I now realize that those moments when I put the computer away and plug into something greater than myself, I come back refreshed and inspired. No one else has to understand, give me permission or approve of this time (although we may need to ask for cooperation from those it may affect); it is a boundary that we get to set and respect to the best of our ability. I call this self-care time, going to my “resilience gym.”
Practicing tools and skills that ground and soothe my nervous system when I am feeling good about life, helps me to access these skills when life gets challenging.
As a social entrepreneur, I yearn to help others and be of service by sharing wellness skills that contribute to emotional balance, however, I know that my work will not be healthier than I am and more importantly, I cannot share something that I do not have. For me, the struggle self-care imperative is real.