Self Care is not Selfish

As the holiday continues in full swing, its so easy to get involved in doing for others (shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, baking, etc.) It is very easy to forget to take care of one's self. 

When you travel on an airplane, you hear the following message (or something very much like it): "should we experience a drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the compartments overhead. Put your mask on before assisting those with whom you are travelling."

When flying, of course, if you were to put your mask on your child first, you might not be conscious to then put your own mask on. This message, though, is the same for each of us, especially during the holidays.

Many of us were taught that taking care of ourselves by saying "no" or just bowing out of events in order to rest or read, meditate or take a hot bath is "selfish". We should be doing for others and if we can make someone else happy, that should come before our own wellbeing. Especially as parents, this message is so clear. I recently ran across this image.


First of all, I was annoyed by the overly sexist message directed at women. Second, I wanted to scream: Why is anyone filling anyone else's plate? If the children are little, obviously you fill their plate but if they're above about three, they can fill it themselves! And don't get me started on filling the husband's plate--unless he's physically unable to do so for himself. This image speaks to my point. As a society, it is expected that we, especially women, take care of everyone else before we attend to our own needs. Its not right and, in my opinion, it causes all kinds of problems.

The majority of the clients that I see are women. The majority of those clients are depressed and/or anxious. Why? For a multitude of reasons, obviously, but when I suggest self-care (do some mindfulness, take a hot bath, read a book, take a yoga class, go get your nails done if that's your thing) I invariably get "I don't have time for that" because they're too busy working, taking care of children, cleaning the house, driving kids around, helping with homework, and going to bed at 2am to get up at 6am the next morning to do it all again. 

This is not okay. I'm not talking to just the women out there, either. EVERYONE needs time to take care of themselves (and your daily shower does not "count" unless its taking you an entire hour to shower--which I don't recommend because we're in a drought!) I even struggle to get some people to spend 15 minutes once during the day to eat a relaxing meal! Why? Again because of a number of factors but for many people it boils down to "I'm being selfish if I do these things."

I'm giving you permission and encouraging you to do something for yourself. Don't buy yourself a present -- do something nice for yourself. Take that yoga class. Read that book. Tell your family that you're "off duty" at 7pm except for emergencies. Take that long, luxurious bubble bath. Go to bed early. Indulge in self-care because the result is not "selfishness" but a bunch of positives.

By respecting your need to take care of yourself, you're giving a powerful message to your children and partner that you are worthwhile. You are valuable. You have needs and those are sometimes going to get taken care of first--its only fair, right? So you're teaching them that parents aren't put on the planet to be at the beck and call of their children. You're helping them to develop some independence (which is a REALLY good thing to teach your kids!) Taking care of yourself shows that you are worthy of respect just like everyone else. Just like the airplane message, if you don't stop and take care of yourself, you won't be present to take care of others. You may not die or pass out like you might on an airplane (although if it continues, you are damaging your health) but you won't be able to enjoy time with others. You won't have energy to do all the things you want to do. You may even devalue yourself to the place that you think you don't deserve the good things you provide to others--which may spiral into feelings of sadness. You may find yourself becoming anxious because the bar you set for others is so high you have to struggle to reach it, or you fail to do so and feel all the guilt that comes along with that. 

I'm not advocating ignoring everyone this holiday season (or throughout the coming year) and putting your needs before everyone else all the time, but allow yourself to take care of yourself. Every day, do something that is just for you. Do it with intention. It will help you to be a better provider for those you love. Give yourself the gift of self care this holiday season and reap the benefits of improved mental health as a result.