November 16, 2017

Misconception: Self-Care Is Not Selfish

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” -Audrey Lorde

Self-care is a set of behaviors and habits that an individual engages in to promote their overall well-being. Self-care includes physical, emotional/psychological, relational, professional/workplace, and spiritual components. Self-care means taking responsibility for the whole person in order to better carry out the various tasks and responsibilities in your life.

Before coming up with a plan for self-care, let’s first understand why self-care is so important. Self-care emphasizes the whole self for the long-term. In the short-term, it’s easy to neglect self-care and dismiss its value. However, there are many negative effects of neglecting self-care on mental and physical health. These negative effects include but are not limited to chronic stress, health issues, burn-out, relationship issues, and poor work performance. Self-care is also important because it recharges us and makes us better able to pour out and care for others over longer periods of time. After all, how can you pour out if you’re always running on empty?

There are many reasons why people do not engage in regular self-care. One of the most common barriers is the belief that self-care is selfish. This belief can be rooted in unspoken family rules as well as explicit modeling of constantly giving to others without limits. The trouble with this belief is that neglecting our own needs eventually leaves us feeling empty and too worn out to help others as we’d like.

A related barrier is a common boundary issue in which an individual is unable to say no to others. People who struggle with saying no were often made to feel guilty for expressing their own needs or trying to set limits. As a result, they say yes to everything and often feel overwhelmed, drained, or resentful towards those who ask. If you cannot say no to others, you are unable to say yes to yourself and your own needs.

Another barrier to self-care is one we can all relate to: busy schedules. Most people would agree that self-care would be beneficial but struggle to figure out how to fit it in with all the other pressing demands of life. Self-care does not happen on its own however, and each person must take responsibility for making it a priority. Can you identify other barriers to making self-care a priority in your life?

In order to start making self-care a priority, it’s necessary to come up with a plan. I recommend sitting down with a journal or notebook and listing the following categories: physical, emotional/psychological, professional/workplace, relational, and spiritual. Balance is a really important aspect of self-care, and it’s important to make sure to address all areas when developing a self-care plan. Spend some time brainstorming and start filling in each category with 2-3 activities you want to try in order to address that area of your well-being. I’ve included some ideas below to help get you started.

Physical:  jog, walk, hike, eat healthy, get enough sleep, bike

Emotional/Psychological: write in a journal, cry, laugh, read, write

Professional/Workplace: take a break, balance your workload, negotiate for your needs

Relational: spend time with positive people, find a mentor, keep in touch with friends

Spiritual: take time to reflect, find spiritual community, meditate, pray

After you’ve listed a few activities in each category, take time to identify and list barriers to implementing this plan in your life. Do you struggle with saying no to others? Do you feel bad about taking time to care for yourself? Do you have small kids at home? Once you have identified these barriers, brainstorm some ways you can minimize those barriers so you can take some steps toward better self-care. Finally, share your self-care plan with a trusted friend or partner. Ask them to help you stick with this plan, whether that’s by joining you in one of the activities or helping address the barriers. Take time every few months to revisit your self-care plan to figure out what’s working or add new activities. Maintaining self-care is a lifelong process that may need to be modified as you enter new seasons of life.

If you have any questions, want help creating & implementing a self-care plan, or if you’d like to talk with someone about resolving the barriers you’ve identified, we’d love to help. It’s never too late to start making self-care a priority.

Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt


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