I want to address the idea of making ourselves a priority once in a while. In this world where we all tend to stay busy from the time we wake up until the time we collapse exhausted into bed, it’s hard to make time for ourselves. This is particularly a challenge for many women because we’ve absorbed the cultural expectation that we should be caretakers for everyone in our lives, even at our own expense. And workplaces can drain everyone with expectations of routine overtime. After work, caring for the house (laundry, etc), and caring for our families, many women simply don’t have the time or energy to do something for themselves.
It is an old analogy but still quite true: just as when you fly, you should put your own oxygen mask on for yourself before trying to help others. When flying, you do this because if you pass out while trying to help a child put on the mask, then you both suffer. If you put your mask on first, ensuring you remain conscious, you can then be of more help to people around you. This is true in real life, as well. You can best take care of the things (for some people this might mean work or careers) and people you value the most highly by maintaining yourself first. An empty well cannot provide water and you cannot give if you have not make sure you have reserves available.
You might be a single parent with a young child and you’re thinking, “Easier said than done!” Or perhaps you are a caregiver for an elderly parent or an ill spouse. In these situations, the idea of finding space for yourself can seem laughable, and yet it’s all the more important. More is riding on your own well-being. So what can you do?
I don’t have perfect solutions but I have some suggestions. Perhaps my most important suggestion is to start small when self-care seems all but impossible. Maybe it’s sitting down for 5 minutes with a cup of tea and just being or just listening to the breeze rustle the leaves and the birds chirping. Maybe it’s only 2 minutes. But it’s a start. Don’t fall prey to “all-or-nothing” thinking. Something is definitely better than nothing in this case! Another trap to avoid is that of perfection. My fellow perfectionists are all-too familiar with this one. Making imperfect attempts at relaxation are better than no attempts. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances; now is the time. Notice how you feel before and after. If you rate your stress level, did it come down at all? Maybe it won’t be noticeable at first, but don’t give up! Those 2 minutes here and there add up. And you may find some activities help reduce your stress or lift your mood more than others.
Perhaps you can start a list of little things you can do for yourself and then, once you have a list, you can slowly go about collecting any items needed so you have a self-care kit ready when you need it. For example, a client in a highly stressful situation with people depending on her care needed this. So we brainstormed about what could go into her kit. Bubble bath, nail polish, a box of colored pencils and a coloring book for adults, a box of her favorite tea bags. Nothing was terribly expensive or involved, but they were things that could bring her peace and relief for a few minutes when she could make or find the time. For myself, I bookmark funny videos so when I need a laugh I can find some easily. (And barring that, looking at cat-cucumber videos never fails).
Another suggestion I have for you is to invest in yourself for one or two sessions with a therapist who can help you focus on some very useful techniques for reducing stress. I can equip you with some really powerful stress-busting techniques that you can do quickly and often and don’t cost a thing. And over several weeks, if you practice these techniques you can actually rewire your brain and nervous system to have a calmer baseline. The therapist you work with should be able to do this, as well. And beyond that, consider continuing to see that therapist. You deserve that hour once a week (or even once every-other week), a time when you leave your pressures and burdens outside the office door and you have the space to focus on yourself, guilt free. That one hour may sound like an impossibly large amount of time, but it can change the rest of the week for you and your family. And if cost is an issue, in larger communities it is usually possible to find some reduced-rate therapy. For instance, here in Kansas City, you can see a counseling intern at the counseling program I attended (MidAmerica Nazarene University, in Olathe, KS) for a rate much lower than private pay rates. The interns are heavily supervised and you can have the satisfaction of knowing you are helping therapists develop their skills. You both benefit from this arrangement.
If there’s no way I can convince you to give yourself the gift of therapy, or if your schedule absolutely will not accommodate it, then I’d like to recommend a book you can get as an e-book at Amazon for $6.99. By Ashley Davis Bush, it’s called Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity. This book contains many different ways you can incorporate moments of peace or stress relief into your days. Even if all you’ve got is the time you sit at a red light on your commute to or from work, that’s time enough to reduce your stress for at least a short while.
And, finally, this is a quality and quantity of life issue. Stress sickens and it kills. It can contribute to poor mental health. It ages you prematurely. Making time to take care of yourself, even if it seems like things too small to really matter, can improve both the quality of your life and the length of your life. Your self-care is every bit as important as other to-do items on your calendar, so give it a time on your schedule or set reminders on your phone and increase the likelihood you will make it happen.
If you would like help to create opportunities to reduce stress and care for yourself, please contact me at (816) 226-4678.