When I first had my son, people would say to me, “Make sure you’re taking care of you!” I always wondered how they thought I could possibly have time to do that. Between the seemingly constant feedings, diaper changes, baths, rocking, consoling, and of course snuggling, there wasn’t time to even utter the words “self-care.” And if there was, I certainly had to take advantage of that brief window to catch up on the laundry, dishes, vacuuming, cooking, thank you letters, emails, work assignments…Oh, and maybe I should grab a shower since I haven’t had one in who knows how many days. I would like to have at least half of a conversation with my husband at some point as well. And seriously, when was the last time I went to the grocery store? There is no food in this house. Fingers crossed my son stays asleep long enough for me to do one of these things – probably the grocery store because I just realized I forgot to eat lunch.
The days blurred together, and time was measured simply by when my son would need to eat again next. Of course I wanted to do the things necessary to take care of myself (I longed for more naps and dreamed of more showers), but there was simply no time. My son needed me constantly, and the rare spare second I happened to find had to be used to catch up on the accumulating housework and growing to-do list. I decided that my chores were far more important than a nap or a shower. It was easier to let go of those things because they only benefitted me; I took care of my son and our home for our family, so I couldn’t skimp on those responsibilities. Other people depended on me. It took me a while to understand that in order to serve them to the best of my ability, I had to prioritize taking care of myself.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “self-care,” it has a negative connotation with it. Shouldn’t we always put others above ourselves? Doesn’t prioritizing ourselves accomplish the exact opposite? We feel selfish and consequently guilty if we even think about doing something for ourselves, but the reality is that we will serve others better if we have taken care of ourselves. Think about rechargeable batteries. Just as these batteries cannot fuel a device if they haven’t been charged themselves, we cannot serve others the way they need us to if we have not stopped and recharged ourselves. We need rest and nourishment to do our jobs sufficiently, just like these batteries do.
I would be lying if I said I don’t still struggle to prioritize self-care. Looking after my son, husband, home, and work seem so much more important, and they are, but I cannot be the mother, wife, and employee I need to be if I ignore and suppress my own needs. When I am exhausted and burned out, I become short. I snap at my husband and get frustrated with my son; I may check off some of my to-do list, but at what cost? If I allowed myself a necessary break every now and then, I would be better equipped to serve my family graciously and work more efficiently.
Maybe you can relate to my situation. We all get caught up in different things, many of which originate with truly noble intentions. We want to work as hard as possible to provide sufficiently for our families. We want to keep our houses clean so our spouses have a welcoming atmosphere to relax in after a long day at work. We want to have well-planned and nutritious meals on the table at 6:00 every night so that our children have the proper nourishment. These are all wonderful things, but in order to do them, we have to be physically, mentally, and emotionally recharged. Otherwise, we won’t be able to do them to the best of our ability.
Even Jesus went away to rest. Luke 5 says, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” He was the most selfless man to ever live, and he knew that in order to be physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared to serve, heal, and minister to these crowds, he needed time away to rest, pray, and recharge. This was not selfish – it was necessary for him and beneficial for those around him.
Learning to prioritize self-care when it is usually the furthest thing from your mind can be difficult; forming new habits is certainly easier said than done. To help you take better care of yourself, Mental Health America recommends the following five tips:
- Live healthy – Eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and alcohol. Manage stress and go for regular medical check-ups.
- Practice good hygiene – Good hygiene is important for social, medical, and psychological reasons in that it not only reduces the risk of illness, but it also improves the way others view you and how you view yourself.
- See friends – Spending time with positive, loving people can ease stress, help your mood, and improve the way you feel overall.
- Do something you enjoy every day – This could include activities such as dancing, watching a favorite television show, working in the garden, painting, or reading. Anything that you like!
- Find ways to relax – Meditation, yoga, getting a massage, taking a bath, or walking in the woods are good places to start.
Heed Jesus’ example. Make it a point to recharge. Remember that you don’t have to do everything. Practice the five tips for self-care. If they seem overwhelming to you, start with just one. Give yourself grace. Let the guilt go. Leave your child with his grandmother for a couple of hours to get some “you time.” Put the work phone and emails away when you get home at night. Read a chapter of your favorite book, take a walk with your spouse, or meet your best friend for dinner. As you do, remind yourself that doing these things will enable you to take care of others and your responsibilities more successfully, and enjoy them!
Paul Anderson Youth Home