Stress. Busy. Exhausted. Over-scheduled. Too many responsibilities, not enough time. These are just a few of the ways that I’m guessing many, if not most, of us would describe how we feel on any given Wednesday. We may have a big deadline at work, several errands to run, friends and family to talk to and spend time with, appointments and group meetings and the list could go on and on. In today’s society we’re expected to always be “on” – to be productive, to do things with or for others, to be busy. It’s hard to feel like we’ll ever get a break, or get to take some time for ourselves to unwind and relax. It’s in these moments that we’re most likely to forego giving ourselves what we need, trying to get everything done and everyone else satisfied. Let’s think about it for a second, do we remember what it means or feels like to relax?
Many of our clients, no matter whether they come for couple, family, or individual therapy, talk about feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed on a regular basis. Often, however, this feeling is discussed as a sort of side-conversation – something that is going on for them but that they don’t necessarily associate with what has brought them to seek help through therapy. While there are many factors both relationally and individually that can lead to life not going as we had planned, it’s important that we consider the negative impact that a busy and stressed-out lifestyle can have on our functioning.
When we feel tired and stressed out, we are not at our best. We might communicate more shortly with others or even sometimes snap at them. We might not have the energy to fully devote our minds to our work, or to listening to our children or significant other. We might grab convenience food, sleep less, and engage in less exercise because “we don’t have time” for those things. But we all know that these behaviors, in the long run, tend to make things worse for us, right? Yet we tend to justify them anyway because, right now, it’s all we can handle. Right now, it’ll have to work.
Unfortunately, if we continue along this path “right now”, we begin to feel worse and worse, and the cycle continues. The problems we face will still be difficult, and possibly more-so if we’re not feeling good ourselves and aren’t ready to handle them. It’s in these times of stress when the need to take care of ourselves is greatest and will have the greatest impact.
In order to break this cycle we need to take back the concept of self-care, or giving ourselves the things that we need in order to function well in our daily lives. Self-care can look very different for different people. For some, it may mean taking some quiet time alone with a book once a week. For others, it might mean building in time for a workout each day, or spending time with friends after work. Think about this: when you need a break, what helps you relax? What do you do that makes you feel good, that recharges you? Make a list of those things, and create a plan to implement them into your schedule. Sometimes writing these activities down in your calendar, as if they were an important appointment, can help us remember that they’re important pieces of our day. In fact, many people report that they feel more productive, happier, and more patient in their relationships with others when they give themselves what they need first. If you’re having trouble identifying what it is that would make you feel good and would help you to rest, consider some of these ideas:
• Listen to your favorite music
• Spend some time outside in nature
• Go for a run or attend a yoga or exercise class
• Use an aromatherapy candle or lotion
• Take a nap
• Read a book for pleasure
• Take a bath
• Call a friend or spend time with friends
• Take a drive
• Treat yourself to a manicure, pedicure, or massage
• Cook a healthy meal
• Watch a favorite movie
Do yourself a favor and take back self-care this week. To start, find something small that you can do each day that will help you feel good and give yourself permission to do or have it. Self-care doesn’t always have to be a big event, take a lot of time, or a lot of money – simple things like a quiet cup of tea before work or a 15 minute walk at lunch can go a long way toward making you feel better, and in turn helping you take back control of other things that are going on in your life. Each of us is faced with what can seem like a million responsibilities, but we can tackle them more effectively and with more happiness if we give ourselves what we need. I challenge you to take back self-care in your life, and to see what positive changes might occur as a result.
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides individual, couple, and family therapy services in downtown Bethesda, MD. Call us at (301) 200-5290 to schedule an appointment.