You only have a limited amount of energy. We all do. Hard as that is to admit, or even to understand.
“Put on your own mask first, before YOU HELP others.”
I imagine that the analogy of the aeroplane oxygen mask has been used time and time again, but I think it’s an important one to consider and remember when it comes to how we live.
If you don’t secure your own oxygen mask first your effectiveness in helping other people is severely compromised and pending failure is inevitable (eventually). It only costs a few seconds but has benefits that stretch way beyond.
However for many people it is not their first instinct.
Your initial response may well be to protect others, especially loved ones. And you would do anything to make sure they are safe before you even think about turning back to yourself.
That is natural for many of us. But it’s not effective, or wise. Particularly in the long run.
We all have an energy bar that gets eaten up bit by bit every day. Different activities and people take different amounts of the bar. But unless you consciously decide to restore it (I’m thinking apples and turkeys on Streets of Rage if that means anything to you), it’s only heading in one direction…downwards.
On a basic physical level we get energy from sleeping, eating, and moving. If these are compromised then we are already off to a bad start. And they often are, especially during times of stress. Our sleep becomes very broken, we eat badly (either not eating or eating too much of the wrong stuff), and we negate exercise.
There are other things too: creative pursuits, maybe meeting up with an old friend, talking/not-talking, going somewhere busy/solitude, listening to music, taking photos, watching films, writing, reading books, playing sport, going for long walks, and so on.
Everyone has different activities that bring the energy bar back up, and even though it can feel impossible to find the time or headspace to do them, it’s paramount that you do. Maybe you have to ask someone if they could watch the kids for a couple of hours. If you don’t ask then you will carry on presuming that they wont.
Is Self-Care Selfish?
It’s not selfish to make sure that you are looked after at a basic level. In fact to think otherwise is almost selfishness dressed up as selflessness (if we remove the motivation and emotion from it).
One of the first things they tell people who are caring for loved ones with illnesses is that if they are going to be an effective carer then they must primarily care for themselves. In the same way that a councillor, doctor, or leader who doesn’t look after him or her-self will begin to project the needs that have not been met onto those they are trying to help, care for, or support.
I suppose it requires a shift in thinking to see self-care pursuits as a part of the role of caring. Tugging on the oxygen mask and fixing it to yourself first, not because you want to be safe but because you want to be more effective in keeping others safe.
But we must know our bodies and minds if we are going to care for ourselves properly. And it can be surprisingly easy to forget, or never to know what it is we need if we are going to function with health and energy.
How do you care for your inner being?
For me it is taking some time in solitude, to write, make music, read, and think. I try to start each day with silence, a time of writing, firstly privately (journalling), and then more openly (blog posts/projects). When I do this I feel in a much better place for the rest of the day than the days I don’t. Swimming is also a good cleanser of my brain and restorer of my energy.