I have a confession to make. I am one of those guys who sometimes wears the word “busy” as a badge of honor. Frankly, I need to cut it out. It’s a problem that’s led to mental, physical, and emotional health issues for me over time. I admit to not paying attention to the crucial practice of self-care. For that, I have suffered, and so has my family. You’re never too old to learn new tricks.
At one point in time, I was working a full-time position, teaching martial arts, working on a startup company, mentoring students, and writing a book. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it was something along the lines of, “who needs to sleep?” It was a clear recipe for burnout.
Until I started paying attention to what I needed to be healthy, I wasn’t successful at anything. That included being a dad – the most important thing in my life. My health suffered in many ways and things started going downhill.
What is self-care?
The term self-care might be a little confusing because there is a medical context. Patients who have chronic conditions need to do certain things to take care of those conditions. That’s obviously important, but I’m talking about something a little different.
Self-care, for me, is an ongoing process of taking deliberate actions which increase the well-being of the body mind and spirit. It’s the stuff you do to take care of yourself – whatever that may be. It’s deliberate – collapsing from exhaustion doesn’t count. And it should be ongoing, not a one-time thing.
Think about self-care the same way you think about recharging your cell phone battery.
Why is self-care important?
It seems crazy that I need to spell this out, but self-care is important because your health is important. And this includes mental health. In our culture there’s a severe stigma around mental health and, quite frankly it needs to stop. The body and mind are linked, and things like depression have physical roots and can be as debilitating as any disease of the body.
Stress can be a killer. It can lead to serious health problems. If you aren’t doing what you need to maintain a healthy level of stress, it’s going to catch up with you eventually.
For me, this manifested as a severe mood issue compounded by adrenal fatigue. I burned out my adrenal glands and will now probably be on adrenal support supplements for the rest of my life. Sleeping, eating, weight gain – all became issues for me.
Why self-care is not selfish
Like many working parents, the idea of taking time to take care of myself seemed like a selfish thing. Every parent who loves their children makes sacrifices. Telling my family I was going to spend non-work time by myself seemed selfish to me. Ultimately, this is the wrong way of thinking about it.
You need to take care of yourself first.
If you’re a caregiver, wearing yourself thin, means that you’re not going to have the health or energy to be present for those who are important to you. If you’re not, sacrificing yourself on the altar of being fatigued is going to hurt all of your efforts at work and play.
You can’t be 100% effective if you aren’t at 100%.
What can you do?
Ultimately, you need to decide what works for you the best. If you’re new to all of this, start with small pleasures. What restores you, what do you enjoy? It could be as simple as reading a favorite magazine, watching a sitcom, or talking to friends.
I suggest you include something that involves physical touch and social interaction. Why? Because these things release Oxytocin – a powerful mood elevating hormone. Sex is an obvious choice, but massage therapy works wonders too. Being social with people you enjoy works.
I am a HUGE fan of mind-body practices like yoga, martial arts, and meditation. And you can add a mindfulness component to anything you do – even just breathing. A recent study has shown that mindfulness meditation reduces key inflammation markers. It’s good stuff.
Anything that is health-giving – eating healthy, proper exercise, getting enough sleep contributes to self-care. Having a couple of drinks with friends can be great, but binge drinking to relax is going to take away from health. You already know this stuff, right?
I have three recommendations if you’re having trouble getting started: 1. Schedule time for self-care activities. Schedule even 15 minutes a day to walk outside, or 30 minutes to garden. That’s your time, always keep that appointment. 2. Do something every day to take care of yourself – make it a habit. 3. Learn to say no and don’t take on too much (a big one for me).
You will surprise yourself at how much your life improves. I know I did.