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Taking Care of Yourself

It seems kind of weird I am writing a blog regarding taking care of yourself……as adults, seems like we should know how to do that, right? Through my own experiences and my professional experiences over the past few years I have learned taking care of yourself is harder for many of us than it should be. Lately, I have been giving lots of thought to the reasons we struggle to take care of ourselves…. here are my thoughts and some suggestions.

First off, take a moment and list all the different roles you fulfill or how many "hats" do you wear in a day……how many can you list in a few seconds? Three? Five? Ten? Maybe even more? For many of us, our different roles include parent, child, employee, student, spouse. So, at any given moment, we seem to be pulled in multiple directions. I know for myself, there are days where I feel like a Stretch Armstrong Doll-----wondering how far I can be pulled before I break.

Now, back to the quick list you made---did anyone list yourself as one of your roles? I know I don’t usually place the role of self on my list. However, how are we to fulfill all of our roles if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first?

Two analogies come to mind---think about your bank account, can you withdraw money if the account balance is low? You possibly can but not without some type of penalty. Second analogy is for those of you who have ever flown in an airplane. What are the instructions regarding oxygen masks? That is right, to place your oxygen mask on first before assisting others. Why? Because you aren’t able to help others if you aren’t taking care of your own needs first.

This is true in life, also. If we are trying to care for others and not taking care of ourselves, we are trying to take money from our low bank account….and what is the penalty? In daily life, I often believe these penalties come in the form of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sleep difficulties, etc. Sometimes, it means we aren’t fulfilling these roles to our greatest potential.

So, if we know all this, why don’t we prioritize ourselves? For each person, it is different and I could list many varying reasons. I prefer for you to take a moment and ask yourself that question and come up with your own answer….

For me, it is valuing myself and guilt. I believe I need to “do it all”. However, I have slowly learned that I can’t “do it all”. I struggle to ask for help and to set limits with others. As a caregiver by nature, I tend to put the needs of others first. Not taking the time to fill my own bank account. Over the past few months, life has taught me some hard lessons and I am learning to put my own needs before others.

You might think, “isn’t that selfish?”. I am talking about a healthy balance. I am not neglecting my roles or responsibilities, I am learning to adjust and prioritize them. For me, over the past few months, I have found myself feeling less frazzled and sleeping better. I still have some ways to go, but I challenge you to join me in this journey.

Here are a few quick tips, I have found helpful in taking care of you:

1. Set boundaries: Just say “no” comes to mind. Okay…. I realize it is hard to say “no”. Instead when asked to commit yourself to an activity, respond first with “let me check my schedule”. This will give you some time to reflect on whether you actually want to commit to the activity. Ask yourself, “do I want to do this, or I am doing it out of guilt or some other emotion? “how will I feel after this activity?”

2. Schedule time for yourself: You put all of your appointments in your planner along with maybe work and your kids’ appointment, but when is the last time you wrote your own name in your planner? Try it! Set aside time each week for yourself. What would you do with a half an hour to yourself? After you have mastered setting aside time one time per week, challenge yourself to do it every other day, then daily. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time. It can be 10-20 minutes each morning or evening. Some people find meditation or prayer time to be helpful. For others, it is soaking in a tub or maybe taking a walk or even just sitting and watching nature. During this time, turn off your phone and make this time for you---free from distractions.

3. Exercise: When we exercise, our body releases endorphins which are “feel good” chemicals. Endorphins can reduce our feeling of pain and trigger positive feelings. Set aside and write your exercise time in your schedule. Plan for it. Pack the gym clothes and leave them in the car. Take a walk while your child is at their activity.

4. Get some sleep: Adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. How much did you get last night? About 40% of adults are not getting their recommended hours of sleep. What are the consequences of lack of sleep? Studies have shown that sleep impairment leads to cognitive impairments and health issues including emotional issues. Along with getting more sleep, remember to avoid those things which will disrupt sleep: screen time, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Think of your body as a car, would you expect your car to run with no gas? Your brain needs to “refuel” by getting rest.

5. Acknowledge your feelings: Taking care of yourself includes taking care of your emotions. Too often we “stuff” our feelings. Try journaling to express your feelings. Try talking to friends or family. Let people know what you are feeling. Be honest with yourself and others. You are entitled to your feelings, don’t keep trying to hide or “stuff” them.

Above are just a few suggestions of the many ways you can prioritize yourself. Most of all, you need to remember---YOU ARE IMPORTANT and WORTH IT!!!! If you aren’t taking care of you, who is?

Until next time,

Kim Altstaetter, LPCC-S, CDCA

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