Self-Care in Challenging Times
When we care deeply for ourselves, we naturally begin to care for others – our families, our friends, the environment, the whole world – in a healthier and more effective way
- Cheryl Richardson
I was listening to Oprah tell a story about life coach Cheryl Richardson the other day. Cheryl Richardson was a colleague of Louise Hay. I read one of her books a number of years ago called 'The Art of Extreme Self-Care'. Oprah was saying that Cheryl had been on her show in the 1990s talking about the importance of prioritising one's own self-care. People in the audience had booed Cheryl, saying that in encouraging them to prioritise their needs, she was implying that they leave their children out on the street to fend for themselves - and that she must not be a mother, or she wouldn't have made such a statement.
Now, in the 2020s, we are well-acquainted with the understanding that in putting our own life jackets on first we are ensuring that we are able to adequately take care of the needs of others. Self-care has become part of our vernacular, and rightly so. Our tired, burned-out, broken selves cannot effectively open our hearts and arms to others, and they certainly would not be able to do this without some frustration or resentment. That frustration and resentment would be sensed by others, and could be burdensome or even damaging for them. The work of Louise Hay and Cheryl Richardson, and The Art of Extreme Self-Care contributed to my understanding that loving and caring for oneself was far more important than we had been led to believe. A practice of self-love and attention to self-care enables us to bring our whole selves to every situation in our lives, and the value of this is beyond comprehension. Because, as Maya Angelou said, our legacy is in every life we ever touch, and with a self that is whole and healed we are better able to touch the lives of others.
Life is full of challenging situations, either the ones that we deliberately choose or those that happen without warning. I think it's essential to acknowledge the strength, courage and persistence that might be required during these times. Adult life is a process of parenting ourselves, providing the support and comfort that we need to balance the things that extend us. We need to resist the tendency to look for saviours and understand that it is our responsibility to care for own needs. In doing so, we will be capable of experiencing a broader range of situations and emotions. Different circumstances challenge different people, also. We shouldn't judge ourselves for finding particular situations more challenging than others do. Personality, biology and history can all account for the variations in the ways things affect us.
I've been thinking about the ways self-care plays out in my life. I realized that for me, self-care is the actions I take to ensure I feel my best. This means taking care of my physical and mental health. It means honestly experiencing and sorting through my emotions so that I can respond positively to situations that present themselves. It also means choosing not to suffer. There is no need to be overly tired, cold, hot or hungry. Denying ourselves provides no benefit to others. If I can, I like to be prepared so that I don't need to think about my physical needs when I'm with other people. This means simple things like bringing a jacket, an umbrella, a water bottle or a snack in my bag so I don't need to complain or feel uncomfortable. I also know that if I don't have enough time alone I won't be very good company or have much of myself to give, so I arrange my time to make sure that I have the energy that I need to connect emotionally with the important people in my life.
We may neglect self-care in challenging times, but this is when it is most necessary. Last week we had a family situation which required that I change my plans for a couple of weeks. My body is particularly sensitive to stress, even after recovering from adrenal fatigue. It likes a good night sleep and a calm emotional state, and it doesn't particularly like activities that involve adrenaline or cortisol production such as driving at high speeds or in heavy Brisbane traffic. For me, self-care in this situation meant taking my time to pack the things I needed to feel at my best; warm clothes, everything I needed for work, vitamins. It also meant making sure everything was in order before I left, buying some cosy slippers, taking some Bach Flower Essences to keep me calm, stopping for a coffee break halfway through the trip even if I didn't feel that I needed to, and singing along to some music I liked during the second half of the trip. For me, reducing potential risks is also important in minimizing stress. This means making sure my car is safe by regularly checking the tyres, oil and water.
There are ordinary, everyday situations that can be challenging too, like job interviews, the first day at a new job, hosting an event, or giving a presentation. A lot of people are nervous in these situations. Rather than let yourself suffer, try extreme self-care. Do whatever you can to sleep as well as you can, have everything prepared in advance, have a good breakfast, make yourself a nice lunch, leave plenty of time so you are not rushing, and have the clothes that you need to feel your best. Why not also plan a reward for yourself after you've finished; a treat, a present or some relaxation time. Acknowledge that you've accepted a challenge and met it with courage, and that you deserve to be rewarded for your efforts. When we can respect and nurture ourselves in these ways, we will find that we become much more open to new challenges and opportunities.
It has taken me a long time to learn that self-care should happen in advance. This is something that we haven't previously been taught. Our bodies give us signals to demonstrate that self-care is needed. Over the last few years I've had to learn to listen to my body's signals and I would highly recommend that we all do it. Prevention is always better than cure. Self-care means different things to different people, but starving your body for any reason is not self-care, neither is punishing it with excessive exercise. Staying up all night to study is not self-care, neither is going to work when you're sick. Allowing yourself to worry rather than looking for answers is not self-care. Delaying or denying yourself medical attention is not self-care. Allowing people to treat you badly is not self-care. Neglecting to maintain appropriate boundaries with others is not self-care. Self-care means nourishing your body, mind and spirt, not just sometimes, as a luxury, but all the time, as a way of life.
Taking care of my own needs over the last week didn't take anything away from anyone around me. It enabled me to bring my best self to the situation; not a self that was needy or resentful or self-sacrificing, but one that was able to adapt and make the best of things. Remember, when we sacrifice our own needs we place a burden on others, but when we take care of ourselves we enable others to be free. This is a selfless act, not a selfish one. We need to understand that our purpose here is to feel joy and to share it. We are not here to suffer. Loving yourself is not big-noting yourself. It is caring for yourself, being kind to yourself, and appreciating yourself so that you can live your life and contribute to the world in the fullest way possible.
There is only one of you in this world, and we need you.
You are perfect in your own way. You are worthy of your love.
Let’s promise each other to be a little bit kinder to ourselves today, and each day to come.
- Maya Angelou
Cheryl Richardson. (2021). Official website. Home - Cheryl Richardson
Louise Hay. (2021). Official website. Louise Hay - Official Website of Author Louise Hay
Maya Angelou. (2021). Official website. Caged Bird Legacy (mayaangelou.com)
Tulip and Sage: Inspiration for a life well lived. (2021). Maya Angelou quotes about self-love. 20+ Maya Angelou Quotes About Self-Love | Tulip and Sage