“You have to take care of yourself.” You’ve heard it a thousand times, right? Health websites, lifestyle blogs, and TV ads. They all say if you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of others.
You’ve probably wanted to scream “How? I never have a minute for myself!!” I’ve certainly felt that way.
Women are wired to take care of others. As much as we’d like a relaxing bubble bath, it goes against our nature to take one until the children are settled into bed. We feel guilty if we take a walk before the children’s homework is done. There are a hundred scenarios where we put someone else’s needs before our own.
Yes, someone has to do all those things.
Here’s the problem. We eventually build up frustration and the stress becomes too much to deal with.
We lose our tempers We are so stressed that we forget important things. We feel less and less able to cope.
I am 64 now and coping with hot flashes. My mother is 85 and lives alone. She is healthy but can’t do everything she once did. We macular degeneration in one eye, she doesn’t drive far so I drive her to appointments and try to get her out of the house as often as possible.
My husband and I raise our 4-year-old grandson, Bentley. He has ADHD, a speech disorder, and some delay in fine motor skills. I take him to pre-K and pick him up. He has speech therapy and occupational therapy appointments. It is often difficult to deal with because of behavioral and anger issues. He is being evaluated for this, too.
Until recently, we were also trying to help our son, who is an addict. I won’t go into much detail about thaqt. It’s enough to say that, like many parents, we spent a lot of money, time, and energy trying to help him. After more than 10 years, he seemed to want to change. In the past two months, we ramped up the support. An event last week made it clear it’s not working. That was painful. Over the last couple of days, though, I realized that my stress level has lessened. Of course, there is grief, but the stress is not overwhelming.
At that point, I did some serious reflection. I promised myself to try just 2 things. I started drinking 8 – 10 glasses of water every day. I also started walking around the block. I want to do it once a day, but some days still don’t manage that. Sometimes Bentley rides his bicycle beside me and sometimes I walk while he is in school and just think.
These are not huge changes, but they have already made a little difference.
Please understand that I am not complaining about my situation or asking for sympathy. I am extremely blessed that I am able to take care of Bentley and help my mom. Each of them enrich my life so much. There are people out there who do all this and work full-time!! My hat is off to them!!!
This is all just to say that it took me so long to get to the point that I realized I need to practice self-care.
I’m in no position to preach self-care. For years I read the advice about taking care of myself and thought those people just didn’t understand. Maybe they did. Maybe they “got it” sooner, or maybe it took many years, like it did for me.
If a slow learner like me could be allowed to give advice, it would be this: Make just one small change. Give it some time. Then honestly assess the effect. If you feel even slightly less stressed, make another change. It’s as simple as that. The hard part is keeping it going. When it becomes a habit, add one other small change.
Exercising takes time, which we often don’t feel that we have. Drinking more water, though, doesn’t take more time. You only have to remember to do it. If that is a problem, make a note wherever you will see it. That may be on your planning calendar, a note on the refrigerator, or whatever you will be sure to see each day.
Self-care has to be learned. It doesn’t have to be selfish. It helps us deal with the demands of little ones who don’t understand.
The rewards can’t be measured easily. You may one day notice you are not so stressed. You may realize you have more patience with that little one. Maybe you will catch yourself singing when you haven’t done so for a long time. These may be considered little rewards by some, but I think they are BIG. They make the effort worth it.
So, yes, I will say it too. Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of others.