Over a 25 year period, I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate self-awareness workshops. What I found is that there are countless numbers of us, both women and men, who have taken on the role of primary caretaker and as a result have put aside our own self-nurturing and self-care. This is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves to develop a life lived with joy.
In some of these workshops, taking care of oneself seemed an almost alien concept to some. “What do you mean by self-nurturing?” They would ask. We raise our children while maintaining a healthy environment for them. We promote education, gently guiding family members in particular directions when a talent is recognized. We are there to “lift up” our spouses, significant others, friends and colleagues when they’re blue. We rise in the morning thinking of others. We go through each day, each hour, sometimes each moment planning how we will care for our family members, friends, or coworkers. We are the nurturers of the world!
I am mother to five children (now ages twenty-one through thirty-eight). When they were younger, I remember getting up in the morning before anyone else was awake heading for the shower already thinking of the dentist appointments, what to cook later for dinner and when? How would I get my then sixteen year old to a German club meeting and still get to the event I had volunteered for? Mind moving on and on, all of these thoughts occurring within a moment or two’s time… once resolved, I moved on to the other challenges I’d face that day.
Back then, time for my own interests was difficult to find. Whether to begin doctorate work became an anxiety ridden decision. Who would help with evening homework if I wasn’t home? Would my sixteen year old bring a troop of friends over while I was out? How would I prepare any kind of meal before I left for the evening? And finally, was the coursework something I even wanted to do? Or was I feeling pressured by my peers and employer? Talk about stress. One simple decision became a masterpiece of confusion and anxiety.
Does this sound familiar to you? Knowing how to care for ourselves, how to journey through each day being gentle on ourselves, being just as considerate of our “self” as we would be toward a family member, friend, or coworker… this is what we need to work toward and maintain. From a young age many of us were taught to be caretakers, we were conditioned to believe that it was our responsibility to care for others while our own needs were put aside. Today, many of us are caring for children or young adults, while very possibly caring for aging parents at the same time.
When you have a few minutes, try the following activity. What are some of the things that you do for others on a daily basis?
DO: List what you do for other people on a daily basis, right down to the smallest detail.
Here’s an example of what a typical day looked like for me while raising my children and working a full time:
- Cooked breakfast before school and work
- Cleaned up the dishes and started the dishwasher
- Made school lunches and my lunch for work
- Threw in a load of laundry in both the dryer and the washer
- Made beds
- Worked all day at the office
- Fed the birds
- Paid Bills
- “Helped” the kids do their chores
- Took recycling out to the garage
- Did the banking
- Helped my oldest write his resume
- Called a friend in need
- Stopped at the store to pick up household goods
- Worked on insurance benefits
My list was for a full day and I’ve most likely forgotten several things since that time. When you listed your day, you probably found your own list growing longer and longer with responsibilities that you typically do on “autopilot” and promptly forget. What I ask you to do next is more of a challenge. How much of your day is spent doing something for yourself, something rejuvenating or stress relieving? Something educational or a hobby you enjoy?
DO: List your own self-nurturing activities now.
I know you listed fewer activities. And you’re not alone! The majority of the people that have attended my workshops have had shorter lists as well. If you aren’t nurturing yourself, if you’re operating on overload… Not caring for you can lead to stress-filled days, resentment toward others, and finally burnout. What I’m suggesting is that you take the time to attend to your own well-being, just as you do for so many others.
Are you over-doing? It’s time to take steps toward self-nurturing. You are worthy of the same care you provide to others. You are just as important… just as special. Incorporate a reality check into each morning of your day. Evaluate what you want to happen in the day and how you’ll put some “me” time into your schedule. Set that time aside and stick to it as much as possible. Check it off at the end of each day. It doesn’t have to be some long impossible list. Here’s an example of my activities list. I would choose one or two from the list to incorporate into the day:
- Work out
- Spend time walking in nature
- Sit at the local bookstore and sip tea
- Read for 30 minutes after dinner
- Write uninterrupted for one hour
- Answer friends e-mail
- Lunch with a friend at work
- Sketch in my journal
- Read and post affirmations
- Attend a cooking class
- Join a book discussion club
- Have friends over once a week to just sit and gab
- Refurbish a piece of furniture
- Listen to music
What did you put on your list? Choose one activity close to your heart and begin incorporating it into your day or week. Make it formal by putting it on your calendar or daily schedule. Block the time out for you! I’d love to hear some of the activities you’ve incorporated into the day or week just for yourself.
Next week: “You are the Hub of the Wheel,” an activity that helps create a visual snapshot of your life activities and responsibilities. Have a fabulous week!