A beautiful guest post by a beautiful writer, Jennifer Baxter.
(If just reading the words “putting your own needs first” in that title made you cringe a little, this post is for you.)
Are you the type of person who does everything for everyone?
You cook the meals, you clean the house, you take on the extra projects at work, you coach the kids’ sporting events, you volunteer… and then at the very end of the day, if you have any time or energy left, you might pay attention to yourself.
It’s kind of an epidemic these days, especially with us ladies. For whatever reason, we have become programmed to think that we are supposed to take care of everyone around us before (or in some cases, even instead of) ourselves.
Maybe that’s how our mothers did it. Or it’s what’s being presented to us on TV or in magazines. Or maybe that’s what our friends do, so we figure that’s what we should do too.
Regardless of how the thought got planted in our brains, many of us are subscribing to the theory and running ourselves ragged in the process.
Take for example, a friend of mine, who was venting to me recently about her family “obligations.” (I say obligations in quotes here, because these were not matters of life or death, or even moderate peril.) Her family simply wanted her to go on vacation with them like she had every year.
The catch this time though, was that the trip included a lot of drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy food, and my friend just happened to be starting a new lifestyle of healthy eating (and living). So, not only would she not be able to participate and enjoy herself with everyone else, but she would also be subjected to a lot of temptation to veer off of a course that she had worked VERY hard to be on.
She was feeling guilty about not going because that would be disappointing her family and in actuality, putting her own needs ahead of theirs. It’s understandable that she felt this way – I think many of us would – and she is by nature, a very giving and nurturing person. Simply put, she wanted to go to make her family feel good, because she loves them.
But what she was missing in that moment is that IT IS OKAY TO LOVE YOURSELF TOO.
I pointed out that even if she made herself go on the trip, her family would most likely still end up disappointed and unhappy because the version of her that they wanted wouldn’t be showing up. They would probably still want to throw back a few cold ones with her or have her partake in a big family meal at the end of the day, and she wouldn’t be able to do either one.
So in reality, making herself go would probably just end up in disappointment for both her AND her family.
But beyond that, I tried to remind her (and myself) of how important it is to take care of ourselves too.
If we are always giving, giving, giving to everyone around us and leaving ourselves until the end of the day (literally and figuratively), half the time we will probably run out of juice before we actually do anything nice for ourselves.
It can lead to us being exhausted, guilt-ridden, resentful versions of ourselves that no one wants to be around!
Yet, it is actually all within our own control.
So, how can we make self-care a priority in our lives, without feeling like an awful person?
#1 Use your words.
Yes, just like they teach the little kids in preschool. It is important to express ourselves clearly and communicate our needs to our friends and family, so they understand where we are coming from. In the example of my friend, I suggested she say something to them like, “I really appreciate where you’re coming from and I would love to be there as well, but I have worked very hard to get my health where it is, so it is not a good time for me to go away. Let’s plan a get together for all of us when we can really celebrate together.”
By acknowledging where the other person is coming from, you are validating their feelings and affirming that you have indeed heard them. But you need to follow that up with a confident statement about your own needs and DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR THEM! So often, if we even get up the nerve to voice our needs, we start or end the sentence with “sorry” and we have nothing to be sorry about! Then, end with a suggestion of an alternative activity or plan that you may be able to do that will accommodate both of your needs.
#2 Delegate your time.
At first, the idea of scheduling out all the time in your day may seem a little silly. Do I really need to put time on the calendar to play with my own children? Well, yes, if you want to keep healthy boundaries. And I mean boundaries in both directions. You don’t want your work day encroaching on your family time, any more than you want your kids busting in during a conference call.
Setting aside specific times to work, do chores, spend time with your family, and whatever other obligations you have vying for your attention, will help you to put your full attention and energy into each one. This is particularly important if you work from home, where the lines can get easily blurred.
And then once you’ve set up these time boundaries, use your words to express them clearly to others. Let the hubby and the kids know that “me time” means you are to be left alone to read a book, soak in the tub, or do something else that nurtures and cares for you.
#3 Stop feeling guilty.
Easier said than done, right? But the truth is, there is no reason to feel guilty! You are not cutting your loved ones (or your volunteer work, your job, etc.) out of your life entirely. You are simply learning to balance it with time for yourself. And making that time a priority will result in you being a healthier, calmer and more productive you.
Which in the end, will be better for everyone!
Jenn Baxter is an accomplished writer in Charlotte, NC, who has been published in numerous print publications, as well as featured as a columnist on Beliefnet.com. Her freelance clients span across the nation, as well as Australia and the UK, in the fashion & beauty, health & wellness, travel and life coaching industries.
In 2015, she launched her website, Live a F.a.s.t. Life, based on her own experiences with clean living, emotional health and downsizing into a 160 sq. ft. tiny house, and released her first book, “Tiny Abundance: My Journey to a Simple, Yet Fabulously Abundant Life in 160 Square Feet,” which is available on her website and Amazon.com. She also strives to help others learn to clean up their homes, their bodies and their lives in her first e-course, “De-Clutter, De-Tox, De-Stress.”