Some of us spend ourselves on others. We forget about our own needs and lose ourselves in the needs of those around us. We forget to take a break and never ask for what we need. There are many reasons we might do this. We might believe that this is our role; that others expect this of us; that if we don’t, no one else will. We might believe that we are irreplaceable, and that no one will love us if we don’t take care of everyone and everything else. We recoil at the idea of being a burden to anyone else, convinced that they will reject us. Maybe, sometimes secretly, we know how bitter we are about having to care for others, and we don’t want anyone else to feel that way towards us.
Some of us are perfectionists, always worried about doing the right thing and getting it right. We work day and night to reach our own impossible standards. We want others to notice, not because we care so much about attention, but because we want others to confirm to us that we’re doing it right. We need this because we sometimes secretly fear that we can’t trust our own judgment. We sometimes know, and then forget, that our standards are actually impossible but we hold ourselves to them, wear ourselves out, and judge others by them, all the while wearing a smile and hiding our exhaustion.
Others of us, feel overwhelmed by life. We lose sleep worrying and work hard to avoid anything that causes further discomfort. We shop, gamble, or drink. If we can afford it (and sometimes when we can’t), we takes weekends away. We go to the salon, the spa, or to the strip bar. We go to distract ourselves, to forget our worries and our nagging fears that we are not okay. We avoid anyone who appears to need too much because we have so little to give. Our friends might see us as fun, or sweet. We might be the good listener, but fear to let anyone else know that we are not at all, okay.
We need to take care of ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I am inundated on a daily basis with advertising that advocates self-care. Much of the self care advertising I see, promotes the idea that we are all noble, selfless martyrs who deserve a distraction; particularly a distraction, in the form of an activity, service, or product, that the company doing the advertising just happens to be selling.
Distractions are great in several specific situations:
When the essentials have been taken care of and you are now needing a break.
When you have no control over the thing(s) causing you the most stress and need to be distracted from it/them.
When you are waiting on more resources, to follow through on something that needs to be done. For example: more social
support, more information, or practical help. If you lack energy to do what is needed to be done, be sure that your self-care addresses this (i.e. if you are exhausted, going to bed earlier instead going for a pub crawling night out).
In situations other than those mentioned above, distraction can compound the problem causing even more stress, exhaustion, or anxiety, by delaying what needs to be addressed and/or by adding to an issue (for example, alcohol to avoid sadness will compound sadness, or shopping to avoid conflict, might add to financial stress).
I like the concept of self-care, I promote it regularly and have been, of late, trying to practice what I preach (see My Shitty Body and @itsnotjustyou.ca Instagram account for evidence of this). However, I feel that self-care needs to be more than just an excuse to shop or distract. Self-care needs to be an act of caring for the self. Of addressing one’s own needs. This may, or may not be a bubble bath with candles, depending on what’s going on for you at this time.
When you feel the need to withdraw – when you feel pain, restlessness, irritation, sadness, or discomfort, consider what it is that you actually need to care for.
Here is a 6 step guide to a complete assessment of your self and your self’s needs:
1. PHYSICAL NEEDS
- How have I been caring for my body lately? What is missing? Have I had enough sleep? When did I last eat? Have I been outside lately? How long have I been sitting today?
Your self-care might be going to bed early or going for a walk around your block. It might be making a salad for supper, instead of Skip the Dishes, or, it might be ordering Skip the Dishes instead of making supper.
- Ask yourself, have I breathed deeply today? If not, do it now.
- Have I noticed every area of my body and how it is feeling, today?
- Is there a routine check up or test that I need to have done that I’ve been avoiding for fear that I will find out something scary about my health? I might need to call to book the appointment now, or make a note to do that first thing tomorrow.
- Am I using alcohol or other substances to address physical issues such as pain, difficulty sleeping, etc.? How might those needs be addressed in other ways?
Self-care might actually be taking a bubble bath. There’s no wrong way to care for yourself if you are actually addressing the needs of your self.
2. MENTAL NEEDS
- What has been taking up space in my brain lately? Have I paid attention to what is on my mind or have I been distracted all day with errands, work, social media, Netflix, etc?
- Has my mind been taken over by worries? If so, is there something I can do to address those worries?
This might be writing down a ‘to-do’ list, getting more information, or seeking support from others.
- Am I stuck on a negative thought or thoughts? Can I challenge those thoughts? (See Cognitive Distortions).
If I’ve done these things, and the thoughts keep returning, it might be time to distract myself from them.
- Have I read a book made out of paper, lately? A novel, a book of poems or one that tells me things unrelated to my current area of expertise?
- Have I spent time in nature lately?
- Have I talked to someone who has different interests than me and asked them about their interests? Have I challenged myself to learn something new, lately?
3. SOUL NEEDS
- Have I become constipated/bored/indifferent by only taking in information, entertainment, or products?
- Where have I seen beauty today? What has inspired me? What am I grateful for? If someone else is responsible for any of these things, have I let them know? Have I expressed thankfulness to anyone today?
- Have I looked into another person’s eyes and listened closely to them today, without planning my own response while they’re talking?
- Have I looked out a window or down a street to see what is happening in the world, to see the sky far away from myself, to be here and now?
4. RELATIONAL NEEDS
- When did I last connect with my close friends? When have I last felt loved by a friend? When have I last shown or expressed love to a friend?
- Consider who is in my life right now. What is the balance between giving and receiving in my current relationships? Do I have people who contribute
inspiration, great ideas, and information? Do I contribute those things to anyone? Do I have people who will listen, give me a hug, tell me the truth about myself? Do I let them? Do I do that for anyone else? Do I have anyone who can help me out in a pinch, give me a ride, watch the kids, bring a meal when I’ve had surgery? Do I do that for anyone?
- Am I having a conflict with someone which is not yet resolved, or which I’ve avoided?
- Are there people in my life whom I’ve been consistently angry or disappointed with due to my expectations of them? Do I need to re-evaluate my expectations of them based on our history and my knowledge of their ability to meet those expectations? Do I need to re-negotiate the role they play in my life that is based on this assessment and not their title (for example a parent who is unable to help out financially, or a sister who shows no interest in your children).
- Are there people that I could be closer to, to help balance the give and take in my life? Who are they? What can I do today to reach out?
- Am I feeling disconnected? Have I looked into my partner’s eyes lately, or watched my children when they are engrossed in something.
- Have I talked to someone today, about my thoughts, my ideas, my worries, or my feelings? Have I asked someone about theirs?
Consider calling or, better yet, writing a good old fashioned letter to a loved one… Then you can take a walk to the mailbox when you’re done and address some physical needs at the same time!
5. EMOTIONAL NEEDS
- Do I have unresolved issues related to my own history or a recent major event? Do I need to talk to someone about these?
- Have I been filling my time to avoid facing a recent, or long past loss that needs to be grieved?
- Am I constantly irritated because I have not been addressing my own needs?
If so, you’re in the right place. Go through steps 1-7 to address these needs).
- Do I have people in my life that support me emotionally? Do I support anyone else emotionally?
If not, figure out what is missing: Are you longing for an intimate partner or just a good friend to talk to? People to do fun things with or somewhere to exchange ideas? See What do Adults do for fun for ideas on developing connections.
6. SPIRITUAL NEEDS
- Do I know what’s important to me?
If not, see What’s worth Digging for?
- Is something unbalanced in the way I’ve been spending my time? Is all my time going to the urgent, unimportant things and none towards the important, non-urgent things (See What’s worth digging for). Have I been giving all my energy to things I’m ambivalent about, things I’ve been told that mature, successful people do, but feeling empty and wasted on it?
- Who is with me on this? Do I need others to move forward in my life’s goals, vision, etc. (See # 4. Relational Needs)
- Who is impacted by these decisions? Do I need to talk to them about it? (See We’re Talking Big Changes).
- Do these dreams, visions, and goals include contributing to something larger than myself and my own family?
Consider society, environment, religion, science, art, etc.
“Dedication (donate, give all) your life to something larger than yourself and pleasure —-to the largest thing you can: to God, to relieving suffering, to contributing to knowledge, to adding to literature, or something else. Happiness lies this way and it beats pleasure hollow.”
Take care of yourself. Find out what you need. This is important. Everyone is responsible for their own self-care. Unless you are very young, no one else will do it for you. Self-care takes courage. It takes paying attention to all parts of yourself and addressing your needs. If you know what you need to do and get stuck and can’t seem to do it, then reach out and talk to someone. Don’t wait until your needs take over and get in the way of your life and your relationships.
You can do it. Trust me. We’re all in this together.
For more self-care ideas see How to Make a First Aid Kit for Your Emotions – Part I
You might also read When YOU are the Volcano – 7 Ways to Care for Yourself