Self-care is not selfish
Many of us are familiar with the adage “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. In simplest terms, this means that you cannot give to others (in time or effort) when you have not taken care of yourself first.
Especially true for women, many of us have been taught that we are the primary caregivers of society. With a long-held belief that all women should recognize the signs of exhaustion and pain in others and be ready to come to their aid at a moment’s notice, the idea of prioritizing our own needs over that of our family, for instance, is often seen as selfish. Since selfishness is not an admirable quality to have, the myth of ‘putting others first (and only)’ has been long perpetuated and the acts of burying our own desire for selfcare or running ourselves into the ground, are instead rewarded.
Thankfully, perhaps in part due to the pandemic, selfcare is starting a renaissance. Not only for women, but for society at large, we are broadening our definition of “health” and including concepts like “wellbeing”. This addition goes beyond our fundamental needs (like employment and housing) and acknowledges the emotional and spiritual realms as well. Now more than ever we are seeing the importance of work/life balance beyond the buzz words and since “stress” is an unavoidable, and some might argue necessary part of our lives, we are consciously (re)learning practices which help us establish (and maintain) that balance.
Though the idea of making healthier choices might seem a bit daunting, especially if you are not in the habit of “listening” to your body, the following might offer a useful place to start.
1. Start by asking yourself what activity you could enjoy. For me, I know I enjoy walking. It is low maintenance, gets me outside, and “grounds” me by allowing my mind to either completely wander or problem solve the thoughts in my head that need figuring.
2. Consider how much time you can commit to this activity and then schedule it. The key is not to get so overwhelmed by all the things you can do. Start small, pick one or two, see what resonates, and then repeat.
Here are some examples of what I do.
- If I have 5 minutes, I will listen to a guided meditation that focuses on my breathing. Because I know myself well enough to know I am easily distracted, 5 minutes is just enough time for me to take a mental break, reclaim my calm and feel focused for any tasks ahead. Plus, I often feel I “forget” to breathe so this helps me reconnect.
Another idea I have used is starting a “Gratitude Journal”. (I highly recommend the Dollar store if you want to buy a cheap and colourful journal although they have solid colours, too). Start by writing 3-4 bullet points of things (people, experiences, etc.) that make you feel thankful. It can be a word, sentence or paragraph. Try to write every day.
- If I have ten minutes, I think about food prep. Lately, as part of my goal to consume more vegetables and keep my immune system strong, I have started making batches of “green” ice cubes for my morning smoothies. Blitzing fresh kale, spinach and a bit of water until a vibrant green liquid is created, I freeze this liquid into ice cube trays and then combine it with chunks of fruit in small freezer bags. The next morning before I dash out the door (I love sleep), I blend it all together with a scoop of unflavoured protein powder and a touch more liquid (milk, water, juice) and I am good to go!
- If I have 30 minutes, as noted, I love to walk. I always have my running shoes (and a clean pair of socks) by the front door. After a long day, I lace up my shoes and beeline it for outside. You don’t have to go far, and you don’t have to go fast. Your body is moving, and your lungs are filling with air. That’s all that matters.
- If I have an hour, I might consider doing something for my body that has more impact. Like working out, dancing in my living room, or getting a massage. The best massages leave my body feeling “worked on” but lighter. Because I know my muscles are moving better, I feel energized, relaxed, and ready to take on the world. If that sounds appealing to you, I might just know a place…
Habits, whether helpful or hindering, take time to form as well as break. Learning to care about yourself is not decided in an instant. It is not a “go big or go home” kind of experience either. It is often making small, continuous changes. Go gently. Try to be consistent. You are worth the effort.