Many of us spend a fair amount of time doing for others. If we are parents, we are regularly doing for our kids. We do for our spouses and partners, for our parents and family members. Also our neighbors, friends and work colleagues. When we do, it makes us feel good. We’re generally happy to do it, though sometimes, perhaps, we feel overwhelmed with the needs of others.
We give in small ways (making someone’s favorite meal for dinner), or in more time- consuming ways (taking our high school junior on college visits.) We order birthday cakes, plan family vacations, drive kids around, then teach them how to drive, listen to someone’s bad day at work/school and offer our thoughts.
Hopefully others do for us too. I bet they do!
Ultimately, though, we have to be responsible for our own self-care and making sure that we are keeping things in some kind of balance.
Part of self-care is being kind to ourselves. There are many ways we can do that. Taking time to exercise, meeting a friend for coffee, getting a massage or manicure, hitting some golf balls at the driving range, watching our current favorite show on Netflix, going to church or synagogue, reading the magazine that came in the mail today. All of these things help keep us in balance.
Recently I took up a new hobby. I started needlepointing. I generally don’t do things that are “artistic” so this is new for me. It’s very relaxing and keeps my hands busy and off my computer or phone. And the outcome is tangible, pretty and lasting. I have found it very invigorating to take up something new. And of course, this is entirely for me, even if I make needlepoints for others.
Part of self-care is about expanding ourselves into new areas and interests, and feeling good about it. It could be a knitting, cycling, learning to bake bread, traveling, joining a board of an organization we feel strongly about, joining a book or movie group, working on a politician’s campaign. The possibilities are endless and it helps keep things fresh. It feels productive and rewarding…..and it is for us (even if others benefit).
Can we be our best person for others if we don’t take care of ourselves? Think about being on an airplane. When the flight attendants talk about the safety procedures, they say, if there is a loss in cabin pressure, masks will drop down. Put yours on first and then help your child or others around you.
Why is that? Because you taking the few seconds to make sure you can breathe, will allow you to be in a place to help others.
So, if you are used to doing for others, and even feel guilty about doing for yourself……how do you get started? It can be helpful to slowly change a behavior, which in turn, can help change a thought. Sort of like “Thirty Days” to a new habit, that I wrote about previously. http://lynndentontherapy.com/thirty-days/ So, pick an activity you want to do, like yoga, or reading a book, and for the first week, do it 5 minutes a day. Record that in a journal or on your phone. And if you survive that, go to 10 minutes the second week. You’ll likely find that you don’t need to increase in such small increments…..you’ll soon see the value.
There’s another way to think about being kind to ourselves. Often we hold ourselves to very high standards. Not quite perfect, but certainly high achieving. The high achieving parent, partner, son, daughter, co-worker, friend, etc. Truly this can be exhausting. We hold ourselves to a standard that others might not require, or even notice for that matter.
Many people have a tendency to be their own toughest critic. We all have good days when we are feeling good about our accomplishments or a positive interaction. We also have days when we are down on ourselves for a misstep. Then our message to ourselves can be pretty rough.
How do we change that critical self-talk? One way to think about it……if a friend came to you with the same rotten day that you just had, or same disappointing experience, what would you say to them? That is what you should say to yourself. “I had a bad day, but bad days happen. Tomorrow is another day. We all make mistakes. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Likely no one noticed as much as I did. Don’t let this get out of balance. Don’t let one bad thing overpower all the other good things that happened.”
What about teaching your children to be compassionate and kind to themselves? By modeling our thought process, we can show our children how we cut ourselves some slack and that they can do the same thing. “I wasn’t so happy with how my presentation went today so I met my friend for coffee and that helped me feel better. I missed a deadline on something and I was feeling mad at myself, so I went for a run and now I feel better.”
Being kind to oneself should be a daily event. It doesn’t have to take much time. Mindfully savoring your first cup of coffee in the morning. Giving yourself a compliment for something you did. Taking a minute at bedtime to notice one thing you were grateful for that day. Or using your self-talk if something goes wrong to counter that critical voice.
I will not start posting pictures of my needlepoint on my website, I promise. But I will notice how pretty the colors are and how the picture is taking shape, and show it someone at home so they can ooh and ahh. Find your own version of needlepoint and enjoy.
And be careful how you are talking to yourself, because you are listening.