Long-term Stress and the Gift of Self-Care
It’s not selfish to treat our bodies and our minds with love. If we don’t care for ourselves, it’s easy to ‘burn-out’. When we burn out, we feel like we’re hitting brick wall after brick wall. We find it hard to be fully attentive to the needs of those we love and the needs of our own selves. This can happen because a pattern of self-neglect has set in, over however short a space of time. So many part of ourselves are hurting that we can’t keep tabs anymore.
When we don’t care and love ourselves, it’s painful. If we numb that pain and believe it’s selfish to pay look at it, not only do we suffer but the people around us start to suffer suffer. And, if they really care about us, they can tell we’re not happy… they can tell that we’re running ón empty and aren’t really there anymore. We’re there in body, but not spirit or mind. We’re disconnected and out of touch with what really matters.
I want to suggest something that can feel radical. True love starts with you. I know romantic novels, songs and films constantly tell us that love is always about someone else, but the truth is that we can’t be there for anyone if we don’t turn up for ourselves. Sadly, resentment and bitterness become the fruits of self-denial, and it starts to show.
So, however challenging your responsibities are, create a routine of checking in with yourself a few times a day, even if it’s to do short and simple things like taking a few deep breaths while looking up at the clouds, enjoying a walk in nature, or listening to piece of beautiful music. Make a habit of giving yourself the gift of self-care, and this practice will be sure to make you spiritually stronger. Over time, practice makes perfect. It’s like digging a well. It takes time, and is has to be done properly. Take care to dig deep, and a well of life-giving water will fill up inside you. It will refresh you. When you have that magic inside you, it’s there to share with others too. People will find you refreshing to be with. But no one wants muddy water! That’s what comes of rushing the job of self-care. Everyone deserves beautiful, life-giving sustenance that makes them feel happy and well… including you!
But sometimes it’s hard to know how to deeply, properly care for ourselves. I used to know someone who had a very demanding family life and grew up in a house where it was normal to neglect feelings and emotions. She said,’people say I should love myself, but I don’t know what they meán. I’ve never felt loved, really. I barely even liked myself as a child, let alone now. So how do I start loving myself?’
The truth is, we all know, in some part of ourselves, what it means to nurture. As humans beings, our brains are hard-wired to know how to love and care, because through generations and for thousands of years, we have survived as a species by nurturing our childen until they can stand ón their own two feet and go ón to do the same. Unlike so many beings, as humans we are reliant ón the attention óf care-givers for a long time. We don’t learn to walk within a day of being born or become able to leave home when we are one-year-olds. We are born needing care, and are born with the potential of being able to give that care. Even if it’s a skill we haven’t used much, those seeds, that potential for love and for self-love, lives inside us. It is the gift of our anscestors.
There are many simple exercises we can do to tap into this potential and keep us ón the path of self-care. Here is one:
If you’re ever in a moment where you don’t know how to get in touch with your own needs and love yourself, this exercise will help:
- Write one sentence to state a situation where you want to inviteself-care. For example: I am tired and short-tempered because I’ve been looking after my mum, and I haven’t had a break.
- Imagine that it’s someone else, who you love very much, who has come to you to share this information over a cup of tea. Imagine that this person – a friend, family member or partner – is asking you for advice because they trust and respect you. They know you can help. Now, think of what you’d suggest to that person as advice and write it down…
(The basis for this exercise is the fact that it can be much easier to visualise being supportive of someone else who isn’t us.)
- Now read what you wrote down, and heed that advice as a gift to you instead. Take it as the guidance that the kindest, wisest part of you is offering. If you have written down more than one suggestion, or many, that’s even better. Take the smallest, easiest suggestion to start with and apply it to your day.
Something that I like to do, that you might enjoy, is to keep a jar with folded pieces of paper inside. I call it the ‘love bank’. On each piece of paper is a statement that I’ve written that makes mé happy or an idea for simple self-care that works for mé personally. One of my statements is “ all your pets in heaven and ón earth love you”, another is “you have nice hair!”, another is “look at pictures of flowers – they cheer you up!”, and another still, “taking a bath always helps after a long day.” If I need lifting up, I go to the jar, close my eyes and pick a piece of folded paper. Sometimes I need to read three or four statements to help fill up that well of self-love. This happens when I feel I’ve been ‘running ón empty’ for a few hours or a few days. Writing these statements and making this ‘love bank’ for myself is an exercise of self-care in itself, and it really is fun! Some of the statements are jokes that I know will make mé smile because they remind mé of a lovely memory. Whenever I have time, I add one ‘gift’ to the jar. It’s a present to myself!
I hope that you feel able to give yourself many gifts, because you really do deserve all your love and attention. You don’t have to do anything to be worthy of the gift of self-care. You just have to be you.
To end, here’s a sentence that makes mé happy and is in my jar. I’d like to offer it to you, now…
May you be blessed with light all the days of your life!