Being there for someone and vice versa is wonderful and human act. It shows us that we are needed and that we’re surrounded by an empowering environment. It reminds us that we are allowed to give and take.
However, when it comes to being there for ourselves, a big ‘but’ that tends to get in the way. ‘But I have to…’ ‘But I should really…’ ‘But my boss/friends/family want…’ Often we no longer even notice how much these internal checklists influence our behaviors, all the way down to our smallest decisions.
Give? Yes, right away. But take? Not right now, maybe later...
Perhaps we already know exactly what would do us some good, but putting it into practice and integrating it into our life might seem too difficult or even impossible. And if we put it off until our well-deserved break comes along, we’re often too out of breath to fully appreciate it.
Yet what if we thought about self-care more sustainably? What if a life filled with self-love wasn't an add-on, but rather part of our norm?
Choose your battles: What’s important to you?
As trite as it may sound, only when we know our priorities can we make daily decisions that are truly in our best interests.
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to involve an arduous and complicated deliberation, nor does it have to end in a 5-year life plan. Instead, we can provide ourselves with a loose framework that instinctively weaves in our answers to questions like:
What are the things that bring me joy, reward me and motivate me? What gives me strength, even in times of struggle? What gives me good, positive vibes? Do I feel like I can bring my full self to my environment? Which priorities do I already give time to in my current day-to-day? And which ones can I incorporate easily into my routine too? What do I need in order to accomplish this?
We might not have time to do a 10-step morning routine when we get out of bed. We don't all have to do yoga, meditate and make entries in a gratitude journal every day. Maybe we do one of them, or something else entirely. Instead of pursuing what’s supposed to make us feel more relaxed and mindful, we’ll get more out of what actually results in making us feel that way.
If the answers aren't immediately obvious, we can start by contemplating our wants and needs from other people. This could be our friends, our partners if we have them or someone else in our lives. When it comes to what these people contribute to our lives, what acts and sensations do we associate with them? And can we do something good for ourselves that makes us feel this way too?
Learning to say no and setting boundaries
The question is not just about what we do for ourselves. What we don’t do is also crucial.
Our life is seldom in an ideal balance. There are moments or phases when other people or issues require our full attention. A young child, an important project, a friend in trouble. Self-care does not mean that we can’t care for others — on the contrary.
By keeping an eye on ourselves during these times, we can ensure that we don’t lose sight of ourselves in the process as we deal with challenging periods. But times when it’s only about us are just as important for balance too. This is the only way we can be there for ourselves and others in the medium- and long-term.
Maybe there are some things that we don't necessarily have to do. Maybe we don't have to answer every email from our boss immediately. Maybe by adjusting our dialogue both with ourselves and with others, we can shape things in such a way that they work even more in our favour. Like even asking others for help.
It takes negotiation to find out what’s possible and what’s not. Because none of us can do everything at the same time, certainly not on our own. And when we take ‘perfection’ off of our list of priorities, suddenly we understand that it’s perfectly fine to be simply good enough .
Learning self-care: How to take care of yourself
How can we reconcile our needs with those of the people around us? It’s a question that we all must find our own answers to — and then new answers. And then other answers too. Because self-care not only has a lot to do with us, but also has a lot to do with our relationship with other people. And thus why it’s something that’s constantly changing.
That said, with this in mind, we can already achieve a lot for now through small, targeted steps. This could be an evening care ritual, like lighting candles in the bathroom — a few minutes dedicated to just us to prepare our body and mind for a good night’s sleep. Or it could be taking an online course to get us back in touch with a long-lost hobby.
Another small step is to realise when it;s enough — and to always know that it’s alright to ask for help from time to time.