Practicing self-love, self-care and self-compassion
As adults, some of us fall into the bad habit of always putting others first and showing ourselves love usually comes last. Our intentions are good. Crying babies and clamoring children need to be prioritized. Work projects and deadlines need attention, too. Perhaps we care for a family member, have responsibilities in our religious community and other volunteer commitments, are coaching little league or chauffeuring kids around. While enriching, you may find that your life has turned into an unending, energy-draining “To Do” list instead of filling your cup emotionally and spiritually. If this goes on too long, you may have trouble caring for your loved ones much less yourself.
The challenge is this: a lot of what you do is non-negotiable. We do so much because we love so much. So, how do you get your joy and energy back? The answer will be different for every person, but the tools below can help you find the right balance for you.
First, stop beating yourself up.
Have you been hard on yourself for not being able to “do it all”, whatever your “all” is? Or maybe your internal voices have been abusing you for not doing it perfect, better or as good as someone else in your circle or in the media.
Stop Right Now.
There’s no such thing as perfect.
Often striving for perfection is a mask for fear. What are you afraid of? It could be rejection, losing your job, worrying that your kid won’t have friends or get into college, etc. If you tend towards perfectionism, uncovering your fears can help you address them straight on. Now, learn to embrace the “good enough”. Most things in our lives only have to be good enough.
What would you say to a friend?
Next time you say something abusive to yourself (for example: “I’m so stupid”), think about what you would say to a friend if the same thing happened. Would I call my friend stupid if she broke a plate or if he took a wrong turn and arrived late? Of course not! I’d probably say something like, “No problem. It happens. No big deal.”
Challenge self-criticism. Tell yourself, “I’m not stupid. Sometimes accidents just happen. It’s no problem. No big deal.”
Comparison is the death of joy.
While some comparison may be motivating, often comparing ourselves, our bodies, jobs, vacations, social media stream, etc. adds stress and creates negative self image. Instead, think about what you do have. Make a mental note or better yet, write it down. Next, write what you appreciate about what you have. “I have a great smile. My house is close to the kids’ school. Our neighbors watch out for each other. The tree in our front yard is gorgeous when it blooms in the spring.”
Re-evaluate your to-do list.
Too much of a good thing is oftentimes a bad thing. Maybe there is actually too much on your plate. You wouldn’t let your child get involved in too many extracurriculars at one time, because you know they can’t do it all without something (or everything) suffering. So why would we expect it of ourselves?
Ask for help.
Instead of doing it all, try asking for help or share a few responsibilities. Seeking assistance can make you feel vulnerable, but it also holds many gifts. Allowing others to help is actually a strength. Along the way you may learn you’re not alone and that helping each other builds relationships and self worth.
Take a sabbatical.
Think about taking a month, season or year off from a specific activity or leadership position. Instead of feeling guilty for taking time away, reframe it as allowing other people to develop their gifts. Stepping away from long-term, intensive commitments can help us remember what we loved about it in the beginning, or it can help us realize that we’d rather be doing something else. It’s OK to grow and change.
Check your motivation.
Are you doing particular activities because you want to or because others make you feel guilty? Have you taken on a role because you feel it needs it to be done to your exact specifications? Do you enjoy playing the martyr? Are you doing too much for your kids because you’re afraid they’ll fail?
The answers might be hard to face. However, if you let go of some of the guilt, control, or fear you may find that things turn out different, not bad. Your kids might fail, but they learn from their experience. Saying “no” respectfully wasn’t a deal breaker, but opened the door to other possibilities.
You might not always have the freedom to say no, but understanding when you do have that power can help you better prioritize your activities.
Love yourself by taking better care of yourself.
Sometimes we believe we can just “power through” these rough patches. However, research has shown that an ongoing maintenance plan of self-care is what makes people resilient, protecting them from stress and improving overall physical and mental health.
Love = Covering your basics.
You know that self-care advice we hear over and over again but have trouble employing. Get ready, because here it comes again. Eat healthy food. Stay hydrated. Exercise regularly. Get seven to eight hours sleep a night. If you’re doing some of these things, please give yourself a pat on the back. If you feel like you need a lot or a little improvement in these areas, take small steps to improve a little at a time. Remember you don’t have to do it perfect, just aim to make progress.
Love = Treating yourself for at least 10-20 minutes a day.
Sorry, I’m not endorsing a doughnut a day. Instead indulge in the luxury of doing something you enjoy or absolutely nothing. Listen to a favorite playlist. Call a friend who makes you laugh. Take a walk outdoors or a bubble bath. Read a chapter of a book. Play fetch with your dog. Schedule it on your calendar if you must. Don’t bring a date or try to multi-task. Remember, this time is just for you.
Love = Going outdoors and observing your surroundings.
Spending time outdoors has so many health benefits. For even more, take some time…a minute, five minutes, or a whole 30-minute walk… to notice how it feels, looks, smells and sounds. Is the sun warming your face? Does it smell like fallen leaves, fresh mown grass, lily of the valley? Strive to hear the sound of birds or traffic in the distance? Scan the sky to find shapes in the clouds? There are no wrong answers here.
Find your __________________.
The truth about balance is that every day will call for a different blend of work, play, family, basics, etc. The key is to know yourself and stay in tune with what you need. Have a busy week ahead, perhaps you need to prepare Sunday by fixing meals ahead that you can pack for lunch or reheat for dinner. Know you’re going to put in some long hours on a project, schedule in one or more 10-20 minute re-energizing breaks.
Much research has been done on gratitude that shows it positively affects our physical, mental and emotional health – from reducing negative emotions such as frustration, envy, regret and resentment to enhancing relationships, sleep, empathy, self-esteem and mental strength.
If you’re an adult and you’re reading this, then it’s pretty fair to say that you’ve lived through something hard before, and probably more than once. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we have endured hard things…death, loss, moving, rejection, betrayal, disappointment, etc. Sometimes the hard thing was years ago; sometimes it was yesterday. Remember that you did get through it. Remember what helped you get through it…God and your faith, family, friends, wanting to be there for your kids, asking for help, getting help when you didn’t ask, a friendly smile at the grocery store, your kid making you a picture for the refrigerator, etc. Remember that the hard time passed. This too shall pass.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, says the proverb. Rather than a guilty pleasure, play brings joy, stimulates creativity and relationships, and helps us be better problem solvers. According to Scott G. Eberle, PhD., editor of the American Journal of Play, “We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up.” Not sure what would be fun anymore? Start by making a list of things you enjoyed in the past, as a child or an adult, then go back and highlight those that still sound fun. Drawing a blank? Try googling “fun ideas for adults” or “play ideas for adults.”
By Kris Brown, staff writer. Reviewed by Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW.