Let’s begin by nixing the notion that self-care equates to selfishness. How difficult is that for you to do? Depending upon your upbringing, socioeconomic status, cultural beliefs, etc, it’s no surprise that attending to and meeting your own needs can feel like a self-indulgent luxury for some, and a foreign language to others. Consider, just for a few minutes, how your belief system about taking care of yourself is serving or harming your quality of life. What about the lives of those around you? I purport that developing a self-care practice is actually the antidote to selfishness. What’s more, developing a self-care practice could improve two very important relationships in your life and lead to a host of other benefits as well.
The What and Why of Self-Care
“Self-care,” has admittedly become a buzzword in today’s culture. I like to think of self-care as any activity that a person intentionally does in an effort to take care of their mental, emotional, and physical health. Research suggests that if you engage in self-care activities, you can expect to boost your mood and decrease anxiety. Not a bad trade-off.
The Message of Work and Rest
In my work as a therapist I provide psychoeducation to my clients about the pedagogy of rest. Beginning a self-care practice is not a choice praised by the mainstream, in fact the general pulse of our culture has strong opinions when it comes to productivity levels versus resting. Our society promotes business as a currency and loves to attach our worthiness to how much we produce (and how quickly we produce it). It connotes “rest” as an activity for the unmotivated and the weak. How alarmingly advantageous of our capitalistic market to promote such a message! I advocate that a person hold a dialectic of both rest and work in their life. Working is important and gives us some purpose. Some of us must work more than others, due to life circumstances, but I still hold that everyone would benefit from developing a self-care practice of their own.
Self-Care to Improve your Relationships
I invite you to get curious about your personal values, and the messages you tell yourself. You (not society) get to decide where you find your worth. Do you like the kind of parent you are? The kind of friend you are? How’s your family’s work-life balance? If any part of you feels inclined to create a little more space in your life to develop habits that promote your values, consider the following reasons why developing a self-care practice could be helpful to improve your relationships with yourself and others:
- When we learn how to take care of ourselves, we teach others how to take care of us,too. Remembering that sometimes we are the ones to console, but other times we need to be consoled, and that’s okay! When we allow others to help us, we build them up, too. Everyone likes to be needed! Feeling needed feels good.
- There’s wisdom behind the “put on your mask first” colloquial. We can’t give from an empty cup. Moreover, tuning into our needs builds trust with ourselves while simultaneously improving the relationship that we have with ourselves. This occurs, most notably, when we respect what our minds, hearts, and bodies are asking of us.
- Self-care lowers our stress levels. When we are less stressed we can access our healthy coping skills and find it all around easier to be more patient, understanding, and generous with those that surround us. Our attitude trickles down to those around us whether we like it or not. When we take care of ourselves, it’s easier to take care of others.
- We have the opportunity to set a powerful example with our children and spouses. One day our children will reflect back to how their parents took care of themselves as a measure of how they should be taking care of themselves. We are their first teachers. Was I a parent that was always working late? Was I easily “set off?” At the end of a long day, how did I relax? They notice our habits. We can foster the development of their healthy coping skills through our example.
Self-care to improve your relationships is not about just strictly eating chocolate and taking bubble baths (though I hope you consider adding those elements to your well-rounded self-care routine!) There are both blessings and burdens that come along with taking care of yourself. My hope for you is that you advocate for yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself. Watch your relationships improve and enjoy the added mood benefits as well! Self-care is a creative way to express yourself. Consider reading this article written by Dori Mages, for practical ideas on how to incorporate self-care into your lifestyle.