First Things First: Making Self-Care a Priority in Your Life
Self-care is something most of us know we need more of. So why don't we do it?
In the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, the expression "first things first" is used to remind those in recovery of their most important priority - staying sober. Without sobriety, no real alcoholic has a chance of living a full, productive, and meaningful life. I speak from experience here.
In a similar way, each of us has a responsibility of putting "first things first" in the amount of care and attention that we provide ourselves. Practicing good self-care is absolutely essential for maintaining optimal health and doing all the things we love to do.
But why don't we do it? Here are four key reasons that I've found in my research and work with others.
In our society, busy is the norm. The expectation is that if you're not busy, then you're not measuring up. If you're not regularly tired and stressed from being busy, then you're not doing your part to be a productive person. In essence, if you're not busy, then you're not normal.
You may have had your own "busy battles" with friends and family to prove to each other just how busy you are. (You can be honest.) We tend to wear our busyness like badges of honor, and whoever has the most busyness wins. Even more challenging is when we tie the social expectation to stay busy with our own sense of self-worth. The trap here is that you're never busy enough to feel good about yourself for long, because there's always something else that needs to be done. That can leave you feeling incomplete, ineffective, and less than your best self.
Self-care is difficult to even consider if you strongly believe that staying busy is more important than your overall health and well-being. Putting self-care first may still be countercultural. But it also leads to a healthier, more meaningful life for yourself and those you love and serve.
You might think that it's just plain selfish to take time for yourself. Health care professionals, nonprofit workers, servant leaders, and helpers of all kinds are especially vulnerable to this pitfall. With so many other people to take care of, isn't it a waste of time to indulge in self-care?
No, actually it isn't. You may be familiar with the quote that says, "Just like on a plane, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others." Never were truer words spoken. In the same way, when you are not at your personal best physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially, you can not give your best to others.
Chronic stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout are common for people who can not effectively prioritize self-care. Putting self-care first can reduce the effects of stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout when practiced regularly over time.
To some, self-care can seem like a sign of weakness instead of the strength that it is. Not taking care of yourself over the long run means that others will do it FOR you instead, and sooner rather than later - in the form of doctors, hospitals, specialists, family members, and the list goes on and on.
If you value your strength and independence, take care of yourself starting now. And if your understanding of self-care is all rainbows and lollipops, you've got the wrong idea. Self-care is all about optimal health, and that's anything but soft.
Others believe that it will never happen to them. The heart attack, the stroke, the injury, the spiritual crisis, the nervous breakdown, etc. We've all heard stories of those who never thought it would happen to them either.
Don't fool yourself by thinking it's too soon to worry about self-care. This is the perfect time to get started. Why leave your health and well-being to chance when you could do something about it right now?
To sum it up
Self-care is something most of us know we need more of but are unsure of how to actually integrate into our lives. We may think that we're too busy, that it's too selfish, too soft, or that it's too soon to start now.
But the truth is that by making self-care a priority, you're investing in the most important thing you have in this life - yourself and everything that matters most to you.
Reflect and connect
What keeps you from prioritizing self-care?
What would be different if you made self-care a priority?
How could you get started today?
Post your comments below or connect with me to share your thoughts.