In a nutshell, self-care is about remembering to take care of yourself. In an endlessly busy world with many things to get done, self-care can seem like a low priority. “I’m too stressed with (x, y, z) to take a break—maybe I’ll get a chance when that project is done.” Except the projects go on and on, and many of our daily tasks just pile up. So how can you cope?
I’ll start with giving you a snapshot from my life. I work in social work, helping college students learn independent living skills. There is a never-ending list of things that I could do to improve—things to do for my clients, things to help my coworkers, larger policy discussions, and professional development for myself. I feel like I don’t have enough time to get everything done—and that’s only the work side of things. (What is this “dating” you speak of, and what do you mean that it’s a huge time investment?)
My current process has developed out of a series of failed coping strategies. When I was in college, I procrastinated on my papers and then, in order to get the papers done, I would skip all of my fun/relaxing activities. This process had a dual purpose: skipping fun stuff gave me more time to work on the papers, and it was a way to punish myself for procrastinating. (Maybe I would learn to not procrastinate!) I’d end up miserable and lonely, struggling with the papers even when I managed to turn them in. The strategy worked just enough that I clung to it. (And, after all, I thought I deserved to be punished because I procrastinated so much.)
Since that strategy didn’t work out so well, I’ve been working to figure out what else might work. Self-care has been immensely helpful. And the biggest part of it, for me, is giving myself permission to take care of myself. At first, I had to think about it in terms of efficiency: I realized that pushing myself super hard meant that I turned out substandard work. If I rested, my work quality improved. If I’m exhausted, I am not nearly as helpful to my clients and coworkers. In my most recent classes, I’ve had to give myself permission to take breaks—sure that paper is overdue, but I’ll end up crying and giving up on it unless I take a break right now. If I get some rest/ have some fun, I am more likely to feel refreshed and interested in continuing on the project.
Since I worry about slacking off too much, I negotiate with myself: this amount of time for study, that amount of time for fun. I’m not allowed to cancel events to punish myself. Since I have the option to do so, I have also taken a break from classes so I can rewrite my dealing-with-stress script. I schedule weekly activities that get me out of my apartment and interacting with other people. I call friends. I meditate. And I try to do a check-in with myself once in a while. Right now, my status is “decent, but needs more exercise and more time meditating.” It’s a pretty continual back and forth process; it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve noticed how much better I feel when I’m getting regular exercise. It’s still not a solid part of my schedule, but it’s getting there. Slowly. Find what things work for you; everybody’s got their own style.
I often get caught up in the feeling that I’m too busy and there’s no time for self-care. That’s a huge sign for me: it means that I’m overextended and I need to spend more time on self-care, not less. It also means that I’ve let self-care slide to a lower spot on the list of priorities and it’s time for me to give myself permission to rank it higher up the list again. Put self-care higher on your list. Reduce the number of things you have to do. Delegate something. Decide that the dishes can wait a little longer because you really need to paint that picture. If the fun thing is stressing you out more than it’s helping you, drop it and pick another fun thing (or a nap). Sometimes there’s a crisis and you need to just push through; as soon as you have time to take a breath, reevaluate your needs. If I push too hard for too long, I break down and become useless. When I make sure I’m getting enough rest, food, water, etc., I can keep going for a lot longer. And I treat other people better, so less stress gets passed around that way.
So here’s the last thing, the bit of insight that’s lurking behind these ramblings: you are worth it. You are worth taking care of. You deserve to be treated well (even—especially—by yourself). When I stopped trying to punish myself and focused on taking care of myself instead, my load got a lot lighter (even as I got more done). The transition can be rough, but it’s so worth it.
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Gifted Self-Care. To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_self_care.htm.