We live in a busy, busy age. It seems like we’re always rushing: to work, to activities, to errands. We’re running out of — or simply don’t make — time to stop and smell the roses. In our lives as women, we frequently prioritize other people in front of ourselves. Although it’s a bit of a stereotype, women do tend to be natural caregivers and put ourselves last, to our own detriment.
Selfish vs. Self Care
Usage of the word selfish usually has negative connotations. Indeed, Merriam-Webster defines selfish as: 1 : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. 2 : arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others. a selfish act. Most people would not want to be thought of as selfish. Yet, in our current times, certain acts can be mistaken as “selfish” when in fact they fall under “self care,” which is an entirely different animal. We are so concerned with NOT being selfish that we deny ourselves self-care out of fear that we are being selfish. And often, doing things just for ourselves comes attached with feelings of guilt, and thoughts like “I should be doing such-and-such instead.”
Somewhere along the lines, selfLESS became the Thing to Be. This article is not about abandoning all others in favor of yourself, nor is it about charitable giving, volunteering, and caring for others. It’s a little magnifying glass to evaluate that in the midst of caring for others, you aren’t forgetting to take care of yourself sometimes.
The importance of self-care when you’re a caregiver
A few years ago, my mother had a serious, life-threatening operation. I was one of two people who were able to help her doing this extremely rough and painful time. Because I was back in my hometown for awhile, I took advantage of doing some of my favorite things while the other person was with her. I also made sure I got plenty of sleep during these periods. I went to restaurants and ate foods I wasn’t able to get in my new state. And every minute I was away from her, and doing things that I wished she was there to do with me, I felt extremely guilty. It was so pervasive that I had to do some personal evaluation and rationalization. The sleep was the most important thing. I believe that you cannot be a good caregiver if you are not simultaneously taking care of yourSELF. I needed sleep to be alert for visits with my mother’s doctors. I needed to have a clear head. And as far as doing enjoyable things while my mom was stuck in a hospital: I could not help her by sitting around and feeling guilty. She was in good hands. It would not have helped her at all for me to be miserable. And taking care of myself meant that I could cultivate a positive, healing attitude when I was with her, which she desperately needed. The moral of this story:
You simply cannot help others when you’re running on empty yourself.
Deferring our joy in favor of others’
Often we demur in favor of others, and in such simple ways we may not even realize we’re doing it. You really want Italian food for dinner, but your spouse wants Mexican; so you have Mexican. “No big deal,” you say, or “another time.” Dinner is a really simplified example, but we so easily surrender our wants and needs in a myriad of seemingly insignificant manners. Little deferrals happen frequently in spousal relationships; often it isn’t worth the battle, and other times it’s a true compromise; compromise is an essential component of a successful relationship. But if you’re compromising too much, this can build resentment over time.
Make a list, even a mental one, of things you like to do but never seem to have or make time for, and give yourself permission to do them. Make time. Time is flying by, faster and faster, and the time to enjoy yourself is now! Don’t let the things you like turn into regrets that you didn’t do them…or even do them enough.
Make time for you
One thing I do on a regular basis is have a “me” day. I always do the same thing: freshen up, put on some cute loungewear, and watch historic films by myself all day. I don’t use my phone. I’ll have snacks handy, and sometimes wine. The day is really capped off if I can get in a long, hot bubble bath. These days are my absolute favorite, and if I haven’t done it in awhile, I find myself craving it. It recharges my batteries. I need days like this. Sometimes it’s just an evening, and not a whole day, but the effect is the same.
Now that I’ve revealed my secret pleasure, I have to point out that there are lots of things I enjoy that I don’t do often enough. For example, I love French food, and I need to take myself out for lunch more often. My husband isn’t as big a fan as I am, so we rarely go together, and by default, I don’t go either. I shouldn’t deny myself French food! I am just as guilty as anyone else reading this article, so I’m preaching to myself here, too.
My self-care list
I’m a big fan of lists. I love organization, and I’m also a bit scatterbrained, so lists are my friends. Here is a list of things I would like to do more often, and maybe getting them in print will encourage me, as I encourage you to make your own list!
- Buy fresh flowers more often
- Spend more time at my community pool
- Set time aside for sewing
- Take more day trips with my husband
- Do more home facials
- Eat more French food
- Work on my book (this is seriously stalled!)
What are your favorite ways to care for yourself? What do you love that you aren’t doing? It’s time to do something purely for you. Even if it’s the simplest, tiniest thing in the world: if it’s important to you, it’s worth doing. And please: don’t feel a twinge of guilt for taking care of yourself. Especially if everyone else is doing just fine.
by Stacie Herndon
Stacie is a writer, graphic designer, and web developer. Legend has it that she was born old. She has always loved outrageous older ladies, often befriending them over people her own age. She is a devoted Francophile, loves a good Sauvignon Blanc and can mix a mean cocktail. She will have red hair until the day she departs this earth.