“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, Mindfulness Based Approaches/Contemplative Approaches Topic Expert Contributor
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