If any person had told me a couple of years ago that I needed to take some time to take care of myself, I would have said to them, “Self-care? Um, I don’t have time for that.” It is absolutely amazing how much has changed in my life in the last couple years and even in the last couple months.
I will credit the fantastic program of Al-Anon with finally helping me see the importance of self-care. In Al-Anon I learned HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). When my life was out of control and I was upset and struggling and crying and bemoaning my fate with the big “Why me?” it never occurred to me to stop and ask if I was feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired. I seriously didn’t even know such a possibility existed. Stop and take some time for myself? Rest? Eat something? Figure out why I’m angry and take some deep breaths? These were not options in my life.
I was raised from young age to do what was expected of me, to read certain books, to sing certain songs, to dress a certain way, to always be helpful, to not complain, to not swear, to be seen and not heard and to always do what my mom told me to. When my mother had a migraine, my job was to drive her (starting around 11 years old) to the hospital for a morphine shot and then get her home and do everything for her and keep quiet doing it. But there was also a certain level of secrecy we had to keep about my family. There usually wasn’t enough food in our house or money to buy food. So I worked, cleaning gutters, mowing lawns, babysitting, etc., so that I could spend that money on food and things my mother could not buy, like notebooks, pens, makeup and hairspray. I think what I’m trying to get at was that I acted like an adult when I was a child and I felt this intense need to do for others so much that I didn’t ever think it was OK to stop and do for myself.
I got the flu when I was a kid, I was tired (exhausted), I was certainly hungry, but no one said it was a good idea for me to stop and take some time for myself. I had to study, I had to go to work, I had church activities I had to participate in and I had an early morning newspaper delivery route I did almost every single day of my life from the time I was 11-years-old until I graduated from high school at 18 and a half. I was up at 4:30 AM every day, I had early morning church class at 7:15 AM and school started at 8:40 AM. Then, from the time I was 15, I worked after school and I was also in competitive pep band, choir, debate and speech, I was involved in musical theater and I worked on the weekends at a restaurant washing dishes during dinner to make extra money.
I didn’t ever stop and think “I need some time to myself.” And so the pattern was set. I was always busy “doing” something and did not stop to just “be.”
I rarely took time for self-care, even as a young mother. My first-husband started in with the mantra that I needed to “earn my keep” early in our marriage so I didn’t think I could take any time for myself. After all, if I have to earn my keep, how is taking a few moments to catch a nap going to earn anything? He made the money, I kept the house and the kids in order, and if I didn’t do that, I didn’t get the “privilege” of living there. It makes my chest hurt just to think about those days.
Needless to say, I was pretty late to the self-care awakening. But now that I’m here I can tell you that meditating for even five or ten minutes a day is a necessity for me. Sitting in the sun in the backyard for a few moments and listening to the birds, the leaves, and even the neighbor who seems obsessed with his loud motorcycle, is something I need to do. I often ask myself if I’m hungry and if I am, I take some time and eat. Because I have Celiac’s Disease I generally have a lot of food prepped to grab just in case. If I’m tired I lay down. If I have a migraine, I don’t keep working and keep cleaning, I grab an ice pack and lay down in a dark room. If I’m lonely, I call a friend or I text one of my kids and say hi.
I make lists of things I need and want to accomplish and within those lists are tasks like “finish book”, “schedule a massage”, “go get a pedicure”.
Stress and worry are probably the most prevalent feelings in our lives. I didn’t even think about saying to someone “I’m just really stressed out right now” as a reason for not calling someone back, not sending an email, or not being available. At times, I have lived with a constant pit in my stomach and a flutter in my heart. I don’t know if it’s my intuition or just a knee-jerk reaction to life. Here are some things I do for stress, but take these as a jumping off point and create your own list.
- meditate with or without sound in the background (I have an app on my phone that plays beach sounds, rain falling, etc)
- go for a run or a walk
- take a bath
- sit on the patio in the sun and let my body get warm
- brew a cup of tea and sip it while I read a fiction book
- listen to really, really loud hip hop music so I can feel the beat in my heart and I can’t put any serious or stressful thoughts in my head
I know that last one might seem odd, but when I’m in my car and I’ve had a rough time visiting my mom and am feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, really loud music that rattles my car keeps me from thinking about what just happened and tensing up about it.
I used to be a huge procrastinator. I only opened my mail once a month, because I knew I didn’t have money to pay the bills. Then I ended up calling half the companies asking that they forgive the late fees because I missed the payment deadline. With college, I could map out my entire semester on a calendar and have a end-of-term paper already rough drafted by midterms. But other things, things I felt less control over or things that I thought might lead to confrontation, I put those off. Here are just a few things I do to help with the worry I feel about procrastinating:
- make a “to-do” list; I do this weekly and even sometimes have daily lists
- I open my mail every day, so I know what is going on and what to expect
- I tackle a craft project I’ve set aside so I get some time to myself and also feel a sense of accomplishment
- if I need to have a conversation with someone and let them know how I feel, I write it out first, I quiet my mind and do deep breathing right before I talk to them and then I do it
I really do not like confrontation. I know it is because I carry with me a deep-seated fear of abandonment. When I need to tell someone how I feel and I’m worried, though I still have a tendency to put it off, I try not to go for too long. I make a decision and I stick with it. One thing I learned the hard way was that sometimes not making a choice is worse than making it. If we put things off for too long we give others time to make decisions and choices and sometimes living with that outcome is so much, much more difficult.
I was raised to not show anger. In fact, anger was considered evil or the devil acting on a person. I stuffed a lot of things inside me. It was only when I went to my first group therapy sessions when I was in my mid-20s that a therapist actually said “anger is a secondary emotion” and asked that I look behind what was making me angry. At first it was difficult to stick with feeling words, like I was disappointed or sad or frustrated, but when I finally was able to more consistently understand the feelings behind the brewing anger, I was better able to process how I was feeling. Here are some things I do now to practice self-care when I’m angry or upset :
- accept that I am upset and angry; do not say to myself that I “should not be feeling this way”
- write down how I feel, let it all out; remember no one has to read it
- be gentle with myself
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if we are so caught up in our own stress and worry that we ignore our body, we are not taking care of our self. For example, I suffer from migraines. I have for most of my life. They started when I was 14 (when I went through puberty) and continue to this day. Though they did reach a controllable point for a number of years, as I get older, they are getting worse. What I used to do was work through my migraines, clean house, cook dinner, do laundry, go out to church, and do every single thing I used to do. Then days later when I was worn to the bone and my head was still pounding, I would wonder why. What I needed to do was get an ice pack and get myself in a dark, quiet room right away. I could probably have taking care of myself and used good common sense to get the migraine to go away within a day, rather than suffer trough it for days on end. Here are some things I do to take care of my body:
- I don’t skip sleep
- take a nap
- get a massage
- take a bath
- I am also a big fan of getting a foot massage
It is important to remember that you and I do things everyday that are part of good self-care. So if you’re feeling like you aren’t doing enough, try this:
Ask yourself what things you did today. Things like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, drinking coffee (I know it has caffeine in it, but if you love it … do it), doing laundry, calling a friend, looking both ways before you crossed the street, taking your vitamins, etc. If you did any of these things or did similar tasks, then you are already practicing self-care.
Write down what you did today, so you feel a sense of accomplishment and then if you feel up to it, write down something you want to do or could improve on.