Life is all a bit strange right now and while it’s difficult to think of anything past Covid-19, it’s also important to allow ourselves to think of other things right now. This doesn’t take anything away from dealing with what is a very real threat right now, if you’d like further support with this, please do get in touch. You can read my previous blog which might be some help here.
The self-care talk has become somewhat of a cliché, bloggers are talking about it, social media influencers, coaches, but what exactly is self care and why is it such an integral part of your wellbeing and relationships?
The cliché is that it is all about treating yo’self, chocolates, bubble baths, that sort of thing, which is still absolutely a good thing, who would want to say no to scented candles and chocolates? These are all lovely ways to spend more time focusing on treating yourself with love and care.
In a way that unfairly can seem somewhat superficial, self care has unintentionally been diluted into focusing more on what we can give to ourselves externally.
While doing some of these things are good for your well-being and can help you to feel good in the short term, self-care is also about the practice of taking care of yourself and recognising what you need internally and long term. It’s an on-going practice to facilitate your emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and relational wellbeing.
Sounds pretty intense, huh? It really doesn’t have to be, taking care of yourself should always be a top priority, no matter what else you have going on in life. Sometimes that means just sticking with the bubble baths or eating your favourite food as that might be all that you can manage, and that is okay.
It’s not about having the perfect self care routine, not feeling good enough or even comparing how you self care to others. Its a process of showing yourself kindness, care and compassion. This includes the busy mums, the budding entrepreneur, or just everyday regular folks just trying to get through this thing called life.
Thinking about, addressing and taking care of what you need creates a healthy balance between a helping role and being able to give to freely give to others, without putting your own wellbeing or mental health at risk.
The real meaning behind self-care is more complex than what you can give to yourself externally, often some of the work means addressing the things that prevent us from identifying or focusing on what we need.
Part of the work with self care means addressing and identifying your internal needs and what drives you to being so readily available to give to others, yet reluctant to spend the same amount of kindness and compassion towards yourself.
When you are constantly ignoring your needs there are some long term health implications, which is why self care is so important to your mental health and physical wellbeing.
High levels of stress can cause issues with blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, anxiety and depression so spending some time focusing on you isn’t about being indulgent or self absorbed, but is really very necessary.
Feeling permanently exhausted, tired and worn out can start to have an impact on your daily life and your relationships.
Here are some reasons why you might find identifying what your self-care needs are and actively putting them into practice difficult, and most importantly, what you can start to do about it.
Five reasons why you’re not into self-care
1. You think looking after yourself is indulgent or selfish
Spending time on your own wellbeing can be particularly challenging if have a caring role or you have other people who dependend on you. It might be your responsibility to care for an elderly or sick relative, your role as a parent, or you might be that go-to person that other people rely on during times of need.
As a person who identifies as a giver it can feel as though your own needs do not even compare, or you feel that it’s your job to be the caretaker and to make sure that everybody else is okay.
You might even hold the belief that there are other people who are coping with more hardship and difficulty than you, therefore you have no valid reason or right to complain.
This sense of guilt can really prevent you from looking at yourself with compassion and without judgement and the reality that you deserve self-care just as much as anybody else.
Taking care of your own needs doesn’t take anything away from anybody else’s experience, but taking care of your own wellbeing gives you the endurance and resilience to be able to do what matters to you, which might be being of service to others.
2. Guilt and the inability to say no
You might be one of those people who is seen as reliable and dependable. You’re are always ready and willing to help out, making sacrifices and going the extra mile to help out a friend or relative in need. Being a helper may even feel like a part of your DNA.
This isn’t because you have extra time on your hands, or because you don’t have much going on in your own life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You are busy, pretty much all of the time, because your sense of guilt and feeling responsible for others makes it near impossible to say no.
There will be times where you are tired, emotionally exhausted while you continue to have many other factors to deal with – but for you, saying no to somebody in need feels like the worst possible insult.
It’s important to you to help out and make everybody happy, even when sometimes that comes at your own expense.
Over time, what this can do is lead to feeling unseen, unheard, undervalued and under-appreciated, particularly if there is always an expectation that you will never be the person to say ‘no’.
Eventually this feeling may develop into frustration, resentment, and eventually anger. Of course as making other people happy can be your natural response, this lack of fulfilment in your relationships can go unspoken and unresolved.
3. You make other people your first priority
As a person who takes on the role of the helper, you find it your natural instinct to offer to help others, no matter what else is going on in your life.
You have a real empathy for other people and want to make life easier for those around you, even when it might come at a cost to your wellbeing.
Although it’s a wonderful quality to be thoughtful, caring and compassionate about others, it becomes really unhelpful if this is at your own expense.
To have a healthy balance of give and take, it’s important to recognise what your limitations are, and to use some of that caring and compassion for yourself too.
Thinking more about you is not about being selfish, but it’s recognising that you too have your own needs, and as much as you might want to, you can’t do everything. If this feels uncomfortable for you, some people find it helpful to think of “me too” instead of “me first”.
4. You don’t recognise you need help until it’s too late
When you are in the mindset of putting other people’s needs before your own, it can make it difficult to self reflect and recognise when you are approaching burn out.
You may not even notice anything is wrong until you are physically unable to do any more, which is your body’s way of trying to tell you to slow down.
Stress has a funny way of making us stop and pause when we might not have the cognitive awareness to do this for ourselves.
Being aware of some of the signs, such as irritability, anger, feeling hopeless, overwhelmed or sleep disruption can all be indicators that something isn’t quite right.
It can feel really isolating when you feel as though you are always there to help others, but when the time comes that you are in need of help, there is no acknowledgement or awareness that you are even struggling. There is the assumption that you will be fine, you’ll keep ticking along as you always do.
We all want to feel valued and as though our experiences mean something. This is where talking things through with a therapist can really help.
5. You don’t ask for help
You may have an underlying belief that it’s not acceptable for you to ask for help.
Firstly, you might feel as though you are a burden and wouldn’t want anybody else to spend time being concerned or worried about you. It may feel like maybe you are exaggerating or being over dramatic and you want to avoid any fuss.
Secondly, you may have asked for help before and felt disappointed that you didn’t get the type of help or support that you would have liked. Particularly when you are so good at being that person in your relationships, sometimes your expectations of others can mean that you hope to receive the same amount of thought and care.
This has made you become self-reliant and self-sufficient, as you have always had to manage your difficulties on your own.
Self-care is allowing yourself time and space to work out what it is that you want, and what you need to do in order to feel like you a living a happier, balanced, and more fulfilled life.
Therapy can be a useful tool to assist you in working through some of these areas by helping you to recognise your own needs, become more assertive, and find your own voice.
Thanks for reading, I’m Lizandra a therapist based in St Albans and online that helps people to improve all aspects of relationships. Do you struggle with your own self care and want some support in identifying what you need and how you can begin to ask for it? Get in touch to book a free consultation and lets see if we’re a good fit.
Please Note: All sessions will take place online during the COVID-19 outbreak.