Self-Care: an Antidote to Stress

Woman in bathtub“Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

Do you find yourself doing things for others, with little or no time for yourself? Do you walk around feeling stressed out and irritable? Is there little room for joy, gratitude, and peace in your life?

If you feel like an electrical outlet on its way to burnout, it’s time to look at how and where you’re spending your energy.

Signs that you are in need of self-care:

  • You go to bed exhausted and wake up exhausted.
  • You have a hard time focusing and completing tasks due to low energy.
  • Most of the time you walk around feeling like four of the seven dwarves—Sleepy, Dopey, Grumpy, and Sneezy.
  • The closest thing you have to a workout is brushing your teeth in the morning or walking to the car.
  • You can’t take time out of your busy schedule to eat lunch, yet you find yourself getting 20 cups of coffee during the work day just to keep going.
  • As a result of all that coffee, you have enough anxiety running through your body to light up the city power grid.

Can you relate to the above list? All joking aside, if you’re walking around feeling exhausted or low in energy, it’s a sign that your life is out of balance. Additionally, feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and stressed will affect your health, mood, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Let’s face it: If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? Neglecting yourself to meet others’ needs can negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, not getting enough rest or a good night’s sleep can result in feelings of exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety, and irritability. Over time, the stress might settle in your shoulders, neck, and back, creating physical pain like backaches or headaches. Your appetite could be affected, leading you to eat too much—seeking to tame anxiety by eating more—or too little—under stress, the brain releases a lot more acid, which can lead to feelings of nausea or heartburn. Living with a high level of stress could lead to high blood pressure or other heart conditions. The reality is that your body is like a car: if you don’t take good care of it, it will break down!

Emotional stress is often linked to stressful thoughts. This combination can have a detrimental effect on your level of energy, mental clarity, and emotions. Years ago, a family relative was stressed and overwhelmed by the things that were happening in her life. Her mother was ill and in need of personal care. She was also going through a divorce, on an emotional rollercoaster, and walked around with a constant headache. As a result of these factors, she was overwhelmed and her ability to focus and perform at work was seriously affected. Pressure was mounting, and something was bound to happen.

One morning, she was driving. She was so overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts that she didn’t notice a red light and ended up getting into an accident. Thankfully, she wasn’t seriously injured. Emotionally, however, it was a wake-up call for her to shift perspective and identify ways to create balance in her life by attending to her needs.

Lack of self-care can lead to anger and resentment. Putting your needs last on the list creates feelings of resentment and anger and can hurt close relationships. You may feel as if others are taking advantage of you or taking you for granted. You may be angry with yourself for not setting boundaries and being assertive. Mentally berating yourself or others doesn’t help. What helps is learning how to value yourself just as much as you value others. This can be a challenging task!

There are many reasons you may have a hard time practicing self-care:

  • Having to take care of a sick family member or child
  • A belief that focusing on self-care is selfish
  • Repeating behaviors or patterns learned from childhood in which neglecting your needs was a way to gain attention, approval, and love

Some of you will relate to the above reasons or have reasons of your own. While it may take time to change a pattern or find support to help care for a sick family member, it is important to take a break and tend to yourself. In reality, attending to your needs helps you renew and replenish your energy so that you are able to help others.

Reflect on ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine by reviewing the following list:

  • Start the day by taking time to meditate. Notice what you feel in your body, tune in to your breathing, and acknowledge thoughts without hooking into any particular thought or story.
  • Make a list of the things that make you come alive. Choose one and do it!
  • Tap into your creativity by scheduling a play date for yourself. It could be going to a museum, enrolling in a painting class, or expressing yourself through journal writing.
  • Take a gentle yoga class and learn to relax your mind and flow with movement. Breathe as you relax your body through gentle stretching.
  • Go for a slow walk in a park and focus on your surroundings. Connect with the natural beauty that surrounds you. Notice the following: Is it a sunny day? What are the colors around you? Are there birds singing?
  • Instead of rushing through a shower, take a long, hot bath. Add essential oils, candles, and soft music. Allow the heat to penetrate and soothe tired muscles and calm the mind.
  • Practice assertiveness by saying “yes” when you can and and “no” when you can’t. Start with the small stuff.
  • Let go of having to do it all yourself. Ask for support. Allow others to help you and themselves.
  • Make time to connect with your intimate partner. Go on a date and make it a point to focus on what you enjoy about each other. Talk about your wishes, hopes, and dreams.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed or sad, call a friend and ask for support. If you just need someone to listen, ask for that.
  • Seek professional help from a therapist if you are stuck with feelings of depression or anxiety. Sometimes, sharing your feelings and thoughts in a nonjudgmental and compassionate setting can help you make positive changes in your life.

Take time to shift from getting things done and feeling exhausted to creating a balanced life. Choose one or several activities from this list and put it at the top of your to-do list, or create your own list. The important thing is that you make time to take care of yourself.

When you become still enough to connect with what is going on in your body, mind, and heart, you take the first step toward self-care. It is in that moment, when you identify needs and make time to nurture yourself, that you open the door to balance and life.

May you have moments of peace.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cindy Ricardo, LMHC, CIRT, therapist in Coral Springs, Florida

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • georgina

    October 8th, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    I have learned that it is a lot more important to take time out of every busy day to take care of myself a little bit. It doesn’t have to be much, even a ten minute little breather can get you up and moving again. however it is critical that you find a way to take care of yourself, because then that makes the times when you do have to spend taking care of others just a little bit easier, and you will be in a much better frame of mind to do those things that have to be done every day.

  • meeghan

    October 8th, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    Just taking that first step to care for yourself can make such a huge difference in your life.

    You will be amazed at how much better you feel; more energy, less stress, more attention and focus on the important things. All of this is what you will experience if you are just to take the time ts stop and think about your own needs for a moment.

    It may make you feel selfish at first but once you get through that first or second time, you will be so glad that you took that time for yourself.

  • Rachel

    October 8th, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    Its surprising how easily we gradually move into this whirlpool of just going about our daily lives like machines and forgetting to even stop and think of ourselves.This is especially true for couples in young families as they are out to achieve something.I think in the hustle and bustle of reaching that goal that dream we stop paying attention to our own needs.

    That certainly is not healthy and we need to reassess our engagements and priorities.Not only will things be more seamless then but we will get a chance to actually get a taste of life and stop living like machines.

  • JANE

    October 9th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    I never feel like I have the time to take care of ME!!
    I try to schedule it, try to make it a priority but somehow I always fall to the bottom of my own list :(

  • Betsy

    October 9th, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    My family has finally learned that I need that me time so they can actually live with being around me! lol. If I miss that little window of time for myself each day then I am a force to be reckoned with, and not necessarily in a great way! Why shouldn’t I amke that time for me? The erst of the family does, so I have to remember that I am important enough to deserve that too. And better yet they have to remember that I desrve that time. I am not talking hours on end, sometimes a little bit of time alone to breathe is enough for me.

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 10th, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Thanks Georgina…yes! even a ten minute breath break is an act of self care and also it helps you to come into the moment instead of doing, thinking,multitasking, etc.:-)

  • Cindy Ricardo

    Cindy Ricardo

    October 10th, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    Thanks to all of you for sharing your experiences! Meeghan, Rachel and Betsy and Jane…it’s great that each of you see and make it a point to include yourself in your daily routine. Jane, I get how difficult it is to be able to do this consistently. Sometimes we can get so consumed and overwhelming in trying to meet the needs of others that we forget about ourselves. Even just having that moment of awareness is an act of self care and gives us the opportunity to stop doing and just connect with our needs.

  • selene

    October 10th, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    I like to curl up with a nice good book just for me every now and then. That’s what makes me feel de-stressed.

  • Cindy ricardo

    Cindy ricardo

    October 10th, 2012 at 9:58 PM

    Hi Selene..this is a great way to de-stress and a great mini retreat and one of my favorites:-)

  • melinda reeves

    October 10th, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    As a stay at home mom I am the model of the mom who doesn’t take care of herself. I often feel like so much of my day is dedicated to taking care of others that I completely lose sight and focus of what my own needs are. I spend so much of that time doing errands and schoolwork and homework and housework that I feel like I would make tons of over time if I worked in the outside of the home work force! Clearly I am not compenstaed for all my efforts, but that’s okay because I feel strongly that I am making a far bigger impact being a stay at homer and being there for my husband and kids than I ever could working outside of the home full time. Sure there is some trade off but it is all worth it.

  • Cindy ricardo

    Cindy ricardo

    October 10th, 2012 at 10:10 PM

    Thanks for your comment Melinda. .it’s great that you are so dedicated and committed to your family. yes, there are trade offs…this is life, sometimes we are busier than others. At the same time it’s also important to pause and take a few minutes throughout the day just to focus on letting go of doing , breathe, stretch or just go for a walk. This helps to replenish energy and clear the mind.

  • Doe

    July 5th, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    I’m a survivor of childhood abuse. I used to be a people pleaser, a zombie. When my parents both nearly died from heart problems back in 2013, I had a nervous breakdown and was finally forced to change, to seek help. One of my neighbours happens to be a faith based counselor who specializes in helping trauma victims. He put me through a course of treatment at no charge.

    I learned to do not only self care, but also self maintenance. I pay attention to my body, my sleep schedule, my diet. I have to”be selfish”and concerned more about my health and happiness than other people’s. I know that the only way to keep from regressing to being in victim mentality is to be my own best friend and to call on my friends and family to help me when I am struggling.

    Sometimes it gets challenging to keep my strict monitoring up. I’m a single mother, I work more than one job, I’m a caregiver and I’m in the sandwich generation: taking care of my son and my parents simultaneously. And other folks who’ve been in traumatic situations are attracted to me. They want my help and my advice based on my own experiences.

    That’s all fine, as long as I don’t neglect myself enough to get triggers like anemia flare ups, migraines, insomnia, and mood swings.

    I have PTSD. There are good days, great days, bad days, and horrible days. But at least I’m not stagnant.

    I have learned the difference between justified anger and in transference. I have embraced my faith. I prioritize my life. And I’m happy more than I’m sad. I’m no longer a victim, but a survivor. And self care is a pivotal point for me.

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