By Betty Hughes, Ph.D., LMHC
Take care of yourself.
Taking care of yourself allows you to be the highest expression of yourself at any point in time. It is up to you to notice how you feel and to decide what needs to be done or at least what is possible to be done. It is very stressful to try to follow someone else’s plan for your life.
Taking care of yourself first allows you to meet your obligations in the most efficient and loving way.
Consider a metaphor, that of an airplane emergency. Safety instructions advise parents to put the oxygen mask on their own face before putting it on their children. To do otherwise would increase the risk for both parent and child. That is what self-care is all about, positioning yourself for maximum effectiveness both for you and for significant others.
You need to maintain yourself
Since you are the vehicle through which you live your life, it is important to have a maintenance plan. You maintain your automobile, don’t you?
The purpose of this article is to address the maintenance of you, the need to schedule time for repairs and rebalancing for all parts of you: body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
When I suggest that my clients do homework between sessions, many times their response is, “It’s really time-consuming.” They are right. It takes time and effort to become healthy and to stay healthy.
On the other hand, what is the price for not taking that time to take care of yourself? Most would agree that physical illness is even more time-consuming than the time spent for preventive self-care. The same holds true equally or even more so for good mental health.
So let’s start with the basics:
Do you sleep enough, exercise enough, eat the right foods, drink enough water? Do you take vacations? Do you have fun?
Do you spend time with friends and family, yet also manage to have some time alone? What about your mind: Do you seek to learn new things because it exercises your mind and refreshes the mindset? Do you deliberately think positive thoughts and/or repeat affirmations?
Do you spend time in nature to balance the time spent inside your house or office?
Do you have a life plan? It is not necessary that it be written, but it is important that you have some idea of the kind of future you want. Even if you just want inner peace or happiness, become aware of your ultimate goal and hold a vision of that in your mind. Allow it to evolve over time. A life plan gives a sense of direction and orderliness which helps to reduce the feeling of stress.
Consider another metaphor: When you are driving a car to a destination that you are unfamiliar with, you use a map, GPS, Google directions, etc. to get a plan for reaching that destination. Can you imagine driving a car without first having a destination? How much more important is your life!
But what if a person truly has little or no time for self-care?
For example, what if a single parent has to work a 40-hour week or more, plus regular parenting and household chores? This is one of the toughest challenges for self-care.
We need to do the basics or as many as we possibly can, but sometimes we cannot do the basics because of time constraints.
The remainder of this article will address some ways to take care of yourself when it seems impossible to do so.
When you really don’t have enough time:
Consider the following ideas; adapt them to fit your lifestyle:
Can you do some deep breathing while you are cooking or cleaning or answering e-mails? Deep breathing can both energize and relax you.
How do you use transition time? The time spent driving to and from work could be used in some way that is refreshing: Try listening to uplifting CD’s or practice repeating affirmations. When you are driving to work, you could imagine the day ahead as being productive and successful. When driving home from work, you could visualize putting into a container all negative components of the day.
When you arrive home, picture your house filled with love or light. Some people find it helpful to take a shower as soon as they arrive home, visualizing any remaining fatigue or negative thoughts being washed down the drain.
Do you watch television? Notice how some programs are more uplifting than others. Choose your television viewing time wisely. If a program makes you feel agitated or negative in any way, switch to another channel until you find one that feels more positive.
Can you change your outlook/mindset? Sometimes when you really don’t have enough time, you may find yourself falling into a feeling of powerlessness or hopelessness or even exhaustion or worse. Yet no one can afford to fall into negativity, especially when you really don’t have enough time. During those times, deliberately change your mindset by talking to yourself, using affirmations. You can write your own or you can do an internet search for affirmations that work for you. You may want to try the following affirmations:
“I love my life.”
“I choose to live consciously.”
“I can see peace instead of this” (A Course in Miracles).
“I love and approve of myself” (Louise Hay).
“This is temporary. I look forward to a future of positivity.”
“Today I am gentle with myself” (Louise Hay).
“I do not fix my problems. I fix my thinking. Then problems fix themselves” (Louise Hay).
Set Your Direction
Choosing to be proactive and positive can go a long way toward reducing stress. Learn to deliberately use your imagination to look ahead to where you want to go, and keep the pathway clear by thinking positive thoughts. Take care of yourself first.
A final metaphor:
Notice what happens when you are driving a car toward your chosen destination. The car seems to automatically go where you focus your eyes. If you take your eyes off the road ahead, even for a few seconds, the car tends to swerve in the direction of your focus rather than the direction of your chosen destination. Focus is equally important to your life. A clear and steady focus is the key: You taking care of yourself first so you can do what you need to do.
And remember this advice:
You are the vehicle through which your life is lived.
Keep it well maintained!