Whether as a parent, humanitarian, expatriate spouse, caregiver, teacher, child of elderly parents… many of us take care of others.
In taking care of others, we sometimes tend to forget ourselves and not take care of ourselves! Yet it’s essential, not only for ourselves, but for all those we help! By making sure we’re well, we give the best of ourselves!
In this article, I explain how taking care of ourselves is an act of generosity and give you some tips on how to put it into practice.
For a long time, I was one of those people who considered others to have a much higher priority than my own needs. My years working as a humanitarian in war-torn countries only reinforced this belief. I used to say to myself: “How can I consider taking care of myself, when everyone around me has needs so much more essential than my own?”.
The day I became the mother of a baby with health concerns (I reassure you; everything is fine today), I also completely lost sight of my needs. I couldn’t think for a second about taking care of myself, when my son needed me so much!
Today, I can say that I’ve come a long way! It took me a long time to realize that I was on the wrong track. The insights I gained from these two experiences, together with my training in positive psychology and coaching, enabled me to gradually understand the importance of taking care of myself so that I could, in fact, take much better care of others.
Putting our needs aside shouldn’t be systematic.
If, at times, certain emergency circumstances require us to put our own needs aside, this should never be systematic and at any cost. Today, I realize that my failure to take proper care of myself has made me less efficient and less available physically, intellectually, emotionally, and mentally. An argument I would have totally refuted at the time, but which seems so logical today!
Taking care of yourself is an act of generosity.
Taking care of ourselves is an act of generosity! It means offering the best of ourselves to those we help!
This is well illustrated by airplane safety instructions: in an emergency, you must first put the oxygen mask on your face, and only then help your child or neighbor. By doing the opposite, you run the risk not only of becoming useless, but also of increasing the number of victims to be rescued. But if you take care of yourself first, you become a real asset in this situation!
Taking care of yourself: easier said than done.
I agree that taking care of yourself is easier said than done. There are all kinds of good excuses for not doing it, such as lack of time and not seeing yourself as the priority of the moment! Then there’s often a healthy dose of guilt; fear of judgment or misunderstanding from others; not being able to say “no”; difficulty in setting priorities or making conscious choices; and sometimes a lack of motivation or willingness to look after yourself.
It must be said, too, that your brain doesn’t make things easy for you. It only lives in the present! It needs feedback and immediate results. It doesn’t see the benefits of prevention rather than cure!
If I take the example of a headache that prevents you from working even though you don’t have the medicine with you, what are you going to do? Undoubtedly, to regain your efficiency, you’ll take the time to go out and buy some medicine at the pharmacy. If, on the other hand, you realize that you forgot to take your vitamins at breakfast, what are you going to do? I’ll tell you: you won’t bother going to the pharmacy. It’s hard to get into action when it comes to prevention rather than cure!
And yet, taking care of ourselves also allows us to take care of our health: preventing exhaustion, physical accidents, maintaining a functional immune system and being much more efficient throughout our days and interactions with others.
Activating kindness towards yourself
The first step to effective self-care is to get to know ourselves better.
Knowing clearly what our needs, values, desires, and limits are; how our emotions, mind and body work; understanding what boosts and drains our energy; what resources us and what stresses us.
This understanding of ourselves will push us towards greater compassion towards ourselves. And that’s what often triggers us to take better care of ourselves!
It’s also about giving ourselves permission to take our own needs into account, not only to increase our quality of life, but also to increase our ability to be there for those who matter to us.
For example, since I was a teenager, I’ve suffered from lower back pain. For a long time, I considered the days when I blocked my back as inevitable. On those days, as you can imagine, I was not mobile, in a bad mood and very inefficient at taking care of others, both at home and at work. A few years ago, I discovered that yoga could help prevent my back problems. I began to pay more attention to what my body was telling me; to better understand what I needed; to do exercises as soon as I felt it was weakening; and finally decided to fully integrate a minimum of 10 minutes of yoga every morning into my daily routine. Today, my back hardly ever plays tricks on me anymore! I know its limitations, I know the solutions… and above all, I take the time to apply them!
How can I really take care of myself?
The good news is that taking care of yourself doesn’t require huge changes. It’s about learning to value the little things that make all the difference to our well-being. It’s up to you to find your own!
Getting enough sleep? Eat a healthier diet? Move around a bit more? Take breaks to stretch? Listen to relaxing music? Meditate regularly? Drawing? Take a lunch break outside instead of eating in front of the computer? Spend more time with friends? Take Sundays off to do nothing at all? What do you need to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health?
For my part, whether I like it or not, the amount of sleep I get plays an essential role in my efficiency, creativity, and emotional management. I need to sleep around 8 hours every night, and although I’d like to stay up until midnight, I’ve made a firm resolution to go to bed earlier as often as possible.
I also know that if I take the time for a daily 30-minute walk outside, I’m mentally refreshed for my children and more focused at work. I’ve built one outing a day into my routine, usually when I leave work to pick up my children from school. During this walk, I don’t make phone calls or check emails. I walk, I look around me, I enjoy a ray of sunshine, I smile at a passer-by, I listen to the birdsongs… I’m in the present, savoring the moment!
When my emotions are running wild, writing helps me to calm down and clarify my situation. When I feel anger rising, I breathe deeply at least three times to give myself some space and better choose my reaction. I like to connect with others and it’s important for me to have these privileged moments; but I also know that regularly I need to isolate myself and dare to decline an outing with friends!
And what about you? Do you know what you need? Do you give these activities a place in your daily life?
Find out what you need to take good care of yourself!
Here are three ideas for exercises to help you get to know yourself better. Start by observing yourself and taking note!
- Over several days, note what drains and what boosts your energy. Then organize your days to minimize what drains your energy and maximize what boosts it.
- Make a list of the activities making you feel good, the ones that make your heart sing, that give you a boost and make you want to jump out of bed in the morning. Then make sure you regularly incorporate these activities into your daily routine.
- Identify the basic needs you absolutely must meet: sleep, hydration, food, physical activity, personal fulfillment, socialization or introversion. Then organize yourself as best you can to meet them.
Let’s face it, people who take good care of themselves are generally more pleasant, better company, in a better mood, more efficient and healthier! There are many benefits to taking care of yourself, both for yourself and for others! So, no excuses, because NOT taking care of yourself is almost an act of selfishness!
I welcome your feedback. Tell me your tips and tricks for taking care of yourself.