See if this sounds familiar...you wake up exhausted already. Your feet hit the floor and the day begins: barking at the kids to get ready for school, getting yourself presentable, making breakfast and the kids' lunches, dashing into the office, working through lunch because you were late, grabbing a candy bar (heck, two) from the vending machine at 2:30, rushing out the door to pick up the kids from school, trying to figure out what kind of dinner you can make out of takeout fried chicken, canned corn, and whatever is moldering in the bottom of the veggie bin, dealing with kids' homework, their squabbling, their acting out because they are hurting, then you zone out in front of the TV with a glass of wine and a bag of Cheetos, followed by going to bed so you can do the whole thing again tomorrow. Not awesome. And, on top of that, you are feeling sad, resentful, and generally freaked out about life as a suddenly single mom. You go on because you have to - for everyone else's sake.
We have heard that women are hardwired to nurture. And, did you know that these instincts could be affecting your health, as well as your mental and emotional well-being? All day long women make sure everyone else is fed, taken care of, and paid attention to, and then fall into bed utterly exhausted with nothing left over to give to themselves.
If this sounds like a completely normal day for you, I invite you to look at the idea of self-care differently. Think about it this way: If you're not taking care of yourself, you are limiting your ability to be of service to your kids, family, coworkers, and friends because your capacity to give to others is directly tied to your ability to give to and nurture yourself. Now, you can get away with not taking care of yourself for awhile, but the result is inevitable: burnout, exhaustion, and everything that goes along with that.
Remember how flight attendants urge you during their pre-flight spiel to put on your oxygen mask first so you will be able to assist others? Life is like that. You can't be of any use to others if you are lying on the floor unable to breathe because you were taking care of every one else and forgot to put on your mask. Are you hoping that someone will notice you on the floor and take care of you? Do you find yourself resenting it when people don't notice that you need help too?
If you are experiencing the loss of a spouse or partner, either through death or divorce, it can be one of the most intensely stressful experiences to go through. Grieving the loss of your partner takes a toll on you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. And, the feeling of having to do your life all alone is heartbreaking.
It is common to experience physical symptoms like having trouble sleeping, feeling exhausted, not eating well, and having body aches and pains when you are grieving. Your body is trying to send you a message: It's time to make your Self-care and Self-nurturing a priority.
How you are taking care of yourself physically will have a direct impact on how you cope with loss emotionally. Rebuilding your life after loss takes tremendous energy. However, it's not so easy to focus on creating a new life when you are feeling completely depleted - like your "gas tank" is always on empty.
So what's the solution? Stop putting yourself at the bottom of the list! That's not as hard as you are probably making it out to be, and not so easy either. Learning to take care of yourself first is not just developing new habits, but taking on a whole new mindset and way of making decisions about what's really important. It's time to challenge those limiting beliefs about self-care. For instance, how many of us have been taught that it is "selfish" to take care of ourselves first?
Radical Self-care is the assertion that you have the responsibility to take care of yourself first before attempting to take care of others. It's necessary to fill your cup first, then to give to others from the overflow. This is what gives you the capacity to heal and to move forward into your next chapter of life.
Ask yourself what you can do to take care yourself this week. Then do it, even if it feels selfish and indulgent. For example, get a massage on the weekend, ask a friend or relative to take the kids to school one day this week so you can go to a yoga class, or find 5 minutes of quiet time each morning to just gather your thoughts before launching into your day.
Try working with an affirmation such as, "I am nurturing myself first as a way of creating capacity to care for others and engage wholeheartedly in life." Saying this to yourself each morning as you get out of bed can be a great way to lift your energy.
It's important to put yourself into the picture when you are making plans and getting wrapped around the axel of how much everyone needs you. Slow down for a moment and decide if it's even possible to do as much as you think you can do in your head. Make your lists, consult your calendar, and be sure there is space for you to come up for air. Put yourself on the list. Include an activity that is solely for your benefit on your calendar.
Remember, you can only help others to the extent that you help yourself. Put your mask on first.