The importance of self-care

woman in yoga pose on rock above lake

Self-care: you can’t pour from an empty cup

How do you look after yourself? For many people, it’s something they tend to do in reactive rather than proactive ways – such as resisting that doughnut or extra glass of wine. We can feel guilty or indulgent if we take time for only ourselves, especially given the other pressing commitments most of us have in today’s busy world. But why do we tend to be better at looking after others than ourselves?

I gave a talk at a local business networking group a couple of weeks ago, and the conversation turned to self-care. Everyone there was running a small businesses – all women, many bringing up children at the same time. Some commented that the brief guided visualisation I conducted as part of the session was the first time they had relaxed in months. Not unusually, some of them felt guilty when they took time out for themselves. I replied that if they didn’t care for themselves, how could they best look after their clients – or indeed, loved ones?

Unfortunately we live in a culture that fetishises hard work, with predictable consequences. Burn-out is endemic, people spend less time with their loved ones, and everyone suffers. It is not selfish to take time each day to nurture yourself. By that I mean things like taking time to cook a nutritious meal instead of grabbing a take-away. Or spending quality time with people – preferably with phones off! Maybe taking a walk in nature. Or simply taking some time to reflect and relax – there are plenty of guided visualisations on YouTube if you’re not sure where to start. Basically anything that gets you to slow down, breathe, and reconnect with the world around you. Do you ever notice how much calmer you feel around someone who is calm themselves? Well, you can be that person! And you can try for yourself right now, if you like – check out this download and see how refreshed you feel after fifteen minutes.

Meeting the basic human needs

We all have basic needs which need to be met – such as the needs for intimacy and connection, goals and meaning, and safety and security. There’s an excellent summary and explanation of them here, along with ideas for ways that you can satisfy them. How many items on the list are being fulfilled for you? And what can you do to work towards those that aren’t?

People can feel daunted by making changes, but it’s often the case that we can easily make gradual improvements to our lives in small but consistent ways. Assuming most of us are fortunate enough to be able bodied, let’s use the example of making small trips by foot instead of by car. Already this is contributing positively towards our wellbeing, as daily physical exercise maintains our health. But there are a number of perhaps less obvious ways this small act can benefit both ourselves and others – for example, it keeps our stress levels down, due to not sitting around in traffic jams and so on. You could say it also fulfils the need for community and making a contribution, as we are more likely to interact with other people; plus it makes us feel better about not contributing to the pollution in our area. You’re also saving money on petrol, wear and tear etc. I’m sure there are more advantages too – by all means add your ideas in the comments! But you get my point – small changes add up; and once we take one small step, we can gradually be motivated to build on the momentum as we benefit from it.

Self-care: you don’t have to go it alone

If you need some support and encouragement along the way, there are many therapists and life coaches – including myself of course – ready to help. Therapy centres often run open days so why not try some different therapies and see what feels best for you? Many therapists and coaches, again including myself, offer free consultations, so you can decide whether they offer what you need. I am based in Canterbury, Kent and Peckham, London SE15; and also offer online sessions, wherever in the world you may be. Please feel welcome to call me on 07947 475721 for a free no-obligation 15 minute phone consultation to see how I can help.

Some people find the potential cost off-putting, but consider it an investment rather than an expense. Besides, a session with someone providing meaningful support costs about the same as a night in the pub. And a good therapist doesn’t just help you work through the issues holding you back – they will also teach you skills and strategies to take away and use to better the rest of your life. Who can put a price on that?