Sometimes self-care goes out the window, despite our best efforts. We get too busy with school or work, our friends invite us to outings we really want to take part in, we over-schedule ourselves, or we simply overdo it, to the point where our body just says: “No more. I’m done for a while.”
Sometimes, we are able to see this for ourselves, anticipate it, and get out in front of it. Other times, it takes an illness flare to realize that we’ve got to slow down a bit.
Sometimes, self-care means unplugging. It means giving up commitments to take needed time for yourself. It may mean disappointing others. But what I’ve realized is that if I am not as healthy as I can possibly be, I’m no use to anyone, including myself.
I had several experiences recently that put me over the edge, and made me realize that I really need to take care of myself and not put myself in situations that are just going to be too much.
The first: I was taking part in a pharma event in Miami. I was scheduled for an early morning flight out, was scheduled to be in Miami for 36 hours, and then had a night flight back. Heading out of Miami, the gate for my flight was changed four times, and after a three hour delay, my flight was ultimately canceled. I spent six hours waiting in line to speak to American Airlines customer service, but ended up having to get out of line when I was five people from the front so that I could run to another terminal to catch a Delta flight that I ended up booking while in line.
The second: I went to Boston for a work trip. Again, I was scheduled for an early morning flight out and a late flight back. Although there were no major snags on that trip and it was longer, I realized that I cannot subject myself to those kinds of hours and conditions.
Here are some things that I like to do when I need to stop and just “do me” for a while:** 1) Listen to music.** Did you know that music can decrease pain and increase immune functioning?
2) Eat mindfully. I really try to focus on using food as fuel, rather than as a mechanism for comfort. I also eat a lot of soup. That might sound weird, but soup has a lot of benefits, including making you feel full without a lot of fat and calories. I also find that I can get a lot of nutrients, like protein and fiber by eating soup, but it doesn’t have the negative effect on my gut as eating a lot of roughage does.
3) Read a book. Sometimes losing my mind in another world is exactly what I need.
4) Take a hot bath or shower. Taking a hot shower can decrease pain and improve mood.
5) Color. Coloring isn’t just for kids anymore, and there are some really awesome books and framed pages out there that are definitely worth displaying after you’ve colored them.
6) Drink a cup of tea. While I’m a coffee addict, I do love my tea, especially if I need to relax and unwind.
7) Take time and rest. This goes for all the time. But when I’m traveling, especially alone, even if I’m in a new and exciting place, I have to take time to stay in my room and rest. This doesn’t mean sleeping necessarily, but just taking time for myself, and enjoying the alone time.
8) Take a walk. If I’m feeling stressed out, especially at work, I will remove myself and take a short walk to refresh myself and collect my thoughts.
9) Talk to my friends and family. When life gets crazy, I don’t always have the time I would like to check in with my friends and family. But whenever I take the time to talk to them, it brings me up and fills my tank.
10) Write a letter. Especially if I’ve been in a situation that was less than ideal, like when I got stuck in the Miami airport and American Airlines customer service was completely unhelpful, I write a letter airing my grievances. My experience was so subpar that they needed to know about it. If you’re not like me, you can always write a letter, but not actually send it.
Notice that I formulated all of those statements about what I do to focus on self-care. The reason “I” did that? Because I think that’s a form of self-care, too. I also think that self-care is very personal. Not everything that I do to focus on myself will work for you. But I do hope that some of these suggestions will be useful.
It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I really know what I need. And I’m starting to know what will be too much for me, when I need to say “no” and when I need to advocate for myself in terms of what I can and cannot do.
Should it have to get to the point where we can’t function to take the time for self-care? Absolutely not.
But unfortunately, if that does happen, we have to listen to that. It was a wakeup call that I’m not a healthy person. I can’t just do whatever I want and not feel the repercussions. I’ve learned I need to say no to things that I really shouldn’t do, and that I need to put me first. You can learn it, too.
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Leslie Rott authors the blog Getting Closer To Myself. She is a professional patient advocate, and has been raising awareness about lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and issues involving chronically ill students in higher education since 2008. Along with writing for HealthCentral, she writes for a variety of other health sites, as both a featured blogger and a guest contributor.