Self-care is a highly important, often neglected, need we all have. Often our days are so hectic that even if we are highly tuned into to our needs, it can feel impossible to do anything about it. We take care of the needs of others, listen to a friend vent, cheer on our partner, help a parent after a surgery or medical need, attend to the many needs of children, and more. If we get sick, we practice self-care. We (hopefully) stay home from work, eat hot soup, hydrate, and see the doctor. Emotional self-care is another vital component of healthy living. We are happier, more present, more productive, and healthier when we attend to our emotional needs. We cannot be our best selves if we are only ever meeting our most basic needs.
It can be confusing to know how to prioritize our varied needs. Abraham Maslow, psychologist and professor at Brandeis in the 50s and 60s, theorized a hierarchy of needs. Maslow stated our most basic needs come first. Food, sleep, and shelter come before higher-order needs such as improving our self-worth. Once basic needs are met, we can attend to safety. Safety includes physical safety as well as mental, emotional, and sexual safety. Once safe, we can focus on needs related to love and belonging, such as our relationships to family, friends, work, and community. If these needs are met we are able to examine esteem: self-esteem, respect for our selves and from others, confidence, and mastery or competence. Finally, comes self-actualization, reaching our full potential and the most stunning version of ourselves. To connect to something as complex as self-actualization each lower-level tier must be achieved. It's much easier to examine fears regarding self-confidence, heal anxiety or depression, or attend to loved ones if we have a full belly, a good night sleep, and aren't worried about making rent or covering the mortgage. So many of us are working on multiple personal growth goals while meeting our own needs and attending to the needs of others. Recognizing where we are missing something can prevent frustration with ourselves. It's easier to be compassionate with yourself for not making it to the gym when you're exhausted because your little one is teething.
Self-care is the ability to meet your needs once you are aware that they exist. Learning to recognize your personal warning signs is key. Are you tired? Hungry? Are you ruminating on some worry that keeps you from being fully present with your loved one? Do you feel it in your body, do you notice behavior change? Maybe you clench your jaw, get tense int he neck or shoulders, or feel really tired and run down. Some people get impatient, let go of healthy habits, have more conflict with others, or experience a decrease in quality of work. Does a certain situation, person, or place leave you drained and exhausted? Tap in to your existing self-awareness and self-knowledge and learn to read the signs. Be able to recognize what brings you down, what causes you to contract, what leaves you feeling drained and you then have the power to return to balance.
Learn what recharges you. What sustains us and brings us back to balance is just as unique as what drains us. Find what fills you up. Does the salt of the ocean sooth your nerves? Do you let the sound of the waves wash over you and carry your worries away. Maybe it's the voice of a loved one, a cup of tea, the steam of a hot shower. Get to know the texture of what makes you release the tension in your shoulders, or whatever part of your body stress lives in, and allow yourself that, just as you would have a cup of coffee when you're tired.
Knowing yourself and really listening to those warning signs is one important piece but carving out time for self-care is another. Make it a point to get as much sleep as you can, eat when you are hungry, recognize when you are drained. This may mean cutting things out of your schedule that are unnecessary. How often do people forego sleep? Eat rushed and unhealthy meals? Make it part of your daily routine. Take 15 minutes at the beginning of your day to review your to-do list, make it a point to go to a fitness class once a week with a friend, join a book club, or go for a walk with the family every night. The more built in self-care is, the easier it becomes. If it's a habit to eat dinner together, you are making daily time to attend to family relationships and the structure is there when a need arises. The same goes for morning or evening routines. Set your intentions for the day in the morning or review challenges of the day before bed. It doesn't matter what works for you, just make it a point to do something. These practices build up a reservoir of health for times of need. When our partner is sick or we are pushing for a promotion at work, it's easier to stretch ourselves when there is existing strength and wellness from regular self-care. Many women can experience guilt when prioritizing their needs over the needs of others. Finding a balance that feels comfortable to you is important. When you check in with yourself and know what you truly need, in the way only you can truly know, you give yourself a gift. A much deserved gift of care and love and patience and compassion. You deserve that.