Are you surrounded by people who need your help? Do you feel unable to say "no", or experience guilt for even thinking about taking time out just for you? I wonder if you ever tell little white lies, in order to make others feel better… maybe to help them believe you're not as tired as you really are.
These can all be signs that you care for others at the expense of caring for yourself.
Something people often tell me when they call LETSS is that they are supporting their friend, family member, or work colleague through a hard time – and are trying to hide the fact that they are having a hard time of their own. "I don't really think about me", they say. "I don't have needs".
These beautiful, generous, caring people feel bad for even imagining having needs of their own. "It wouldn't be fair of me to leave her alone", one caller whispered, when I suggested they indulge themselves with a nap, or warm bath - just for half an hour. "I always try to help…but I don't think anyone would do it for me" another caller cried softly.
Why does this happen? How does taking just 30 minutes to engage in a self-care activity become considered a wrong thing to do? What happened to that healthy place in-between caring for someone else, and completely sacrificing yourself?
There are many reasons we put other's needs ahead of our own. It could be we are trying to show a friend or partner our value. Maybe we love them, but we don't feel like we love ourselves. Sometimes we are rescuers – seeking out people who need saving because it feels so good to save them. Another pattern can develop where we mistake self-care for selfishness, and avoid it at all costs. Or, we mistake dependence for love; thinking that the constant texts and calls from people who 'need' us, show us they care. There are as many stories as there are people, and everyone's story is unique.
It is absolutely possible to look after yourself and care for others, though.
Caring for others does not mean that you need to make their pain your own pain; or that you have to fix their problems. In between 'selfish' and 'selfless' is a totally workable (and totally more comfortable) place called self-full. A self-full action is one of self-care, AKA: The self-initiated practice of taking deliberate action to preserve or improve one's own health and wellbeing.
When we think about all the areas of our health and wellbeing that require care, it can be useful to use the 'SPECCS' model. SPECCS stands for "Social, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive, Cultural, and Spiritual". These are all areas of our lives that require attention if we are to stay connected, fit, calm, motivated, stimulated, grounded and growing. Caring for ourselves in all these areas is an important, healthy behaviour which allows us to replenish our resources rather than letting them drain away - which would leave us burnt out.
Taking time to quietly read a book, nap, go for a walk, or watch a movie that you like - is as healthy and important – as brushing your teeth. It does not make you self-absorbed, selfish, or uncaring at all.
In fact, caring for yourself is also part of caring for others. How can that be? Well, studies have shown that maintaining self-care and wellbeing makes us more productive; strengthens our immune system (making us more resistant to illness); increases our self-esteem, and promotes self-awareness. And the side-effect of all those things is that they make us better helpers, who relate better to others and have a better capacity for compassion!
It might be difficult to find time to do any self-care, at first. You might need to set boundaries upon your time; which can be challenging if someone is accustomed to you always being available. If you find that your person is unable or unwilling to respect your new boundaries, and contests your self-care (such as by sulking or laying down a guilt trip), you may wish to seek support around ways to navigate your communications with them.
And, if you just genuinely do not get a minute to yourself, you may need to seek some support in the form of another person to take on your caring role while you do the things you need to do for your wellbeing. If you are unsure where to go to for help, LETSS may be a good place to start!
At a bare minimum, you need time to eat, wash, sleep, and maintain your daily activities. You should also get at least some time for non-work, non-essential things such as reading, exercise, art, or whatever you enjoy. Self-care looks different for different people.
If you are stuck for ideas about what you might do for some self-care - or it's been that long since you self-cared that you've forgotten what you like! - there are heaps of ideas online. There was also a very cool list of "50 Self Care Activities To Do At Home" in our first "LETSS Peer Workers Guide to Staying Well" which came out earlier this year - if you haven't received a copy and would like to, just let us know!