My friend was worn out. Frazzled and exhausted, carrying a schedule that was humanly impossible and feeling the weight of too much responsibility for one set of shoulders, struggling with anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain and burn-out. After listening to the list of things that were plaguing this beleaguered soul, I asked a question: “What are the things that you do to care for yourself?”
“Sometimes I give myself a reward after I’ve worked really hard. That motivates me to get more done.”
I asked another way: “What is it that do you do to fuel yourself for your work?”
“Well, I try to eat healthy.”
Sigh. My friend is not alone. This attitude is all too common.
Can we talk about self-care? Because it is essential for a balanced, emotionally healthy life.
Why do so many of us think of it as selfish?
When traveling with a child on a plane experiencing an emergency, is it selfish for a parent to use the oxygen mask first before administering to the child?
Why is that?
Because the well-being of the child depends upon the well-being of the parent, right?
In a very similar way, YOU have the responsibility to make sure YOU are operating at optimum levels. If you don’t, your family, your employer, your workmates, your friends – and YOU – all suffer from the deficit created in you and eventually by you. An uncared for YOU is a lesser YOU. And the world needs more YOU – not less. This is so much more than rewarding yourself with an occasional luxury or treat, although in a broader sense, those things might be valid components of a good self-care routine.
Let’s think about your phone. What happens to your phone when you have a heavy usage day? Imagine multiple phone calls, lots of text and e-mail, using your GPS, searching the web, etc. This is going on all day, and let’s say you forgot your charger and now it’s 8:00pm. What’s up with your phone?
Your battery is dying, right? Stay with me.
Now say you forget to plug in overnight. You pick up the phone in the morning and it’s still got a bit of a charge, but it’s asking you to switch to battery saver mode – which slows things down, limits usage, dims the screen.
And suppose you say “no” to battery saver and keep using it as usual, promising a quick charge only after you make your next very important video chat. What happens then?
I mean, eventually, it dies, right?
Most of us like to start with a full battery, plugging in overnight so that we are fueled for the day and then plugging in when we can throughout the day so that our phones run at optimum speed and strength.
How about a car? Do you drive your car on empty and only reward it with gas if it performs well on its empty tank? Let’s say the dash lights are warning you of a problem. Do you ignore them or pay attention? What happens if you ignore them?
What about your bank account? What happens if you keep spending but don’t deposit? You end up in over-draft, that’s what!
I could go on…
What if your life had a battery or a gas tank or an account balance? How would you manage your resources? Would you run yourself down to nothing before pausing to fuel? Because that’s what many of us do. And then we wonder why we are so very, very tired, why we can’t focus, why we are plagued by anxiety, why we feel drained ALL. THE. TIME.
My friend was spending, spending, spending, but rarely depositing and she was solidly in the red. My friend was driving miles and miles on fumes and ignoring the indicators urging her to “check engine.” Her battery had been so low for so long that her whole life was becoming dim and sluggish.
And she wondered what was wrong.
Self-care is more than an occasional reward for a job well done. Self-care is about fueling yourself appropriately for the life you want to live. Self-care is about seeing our time and energy as a finite resource that can and does get used up if we don’t replenish.
Self-care is not about refilling only when we are empty, but proactively doing the things that keep us filled. Self-care is not a reward, but a necessity; not for someday when you get the time, but vital every day.
Tacking self-care on in your “spare time” or as a “reward” gets it backward. When you prioritize a good night’s sleep, you are fueling yourself for the coming day. When you pause in the morning to stretch or pray or journal or meditate, you are fueling yourself. When you eat healthily, exercise, read a good book (for the fun of it), hike a favorite trail or spend time with a loved one, you are plugging into the sources that bring you more energy so that you can live a life that’s not slowed down or dimmed by exhaustion and overscheduling, but bright and purposeful, joyful and abundant. Self-care must come first, not last.
Because self-care is not a luxury or a reward for a job well done.
Self-care is a necessity.