The Practicality of Self-Care
THE PRACTICALITY OF SELF-CARE
By Rod Campbell | MAMFT, LPC-S
In my work with families, I routinely come across moms and dads who are exhausted, burning the candle at both ends as well as the middle, who give of themselves unselfishly in service to children, their churches, and their extended families. For these parents, the day is often a blur of morning chaos and demanding jobs, and evenings of homework, mealtime, and extracurricular activities.
WHAT IS SELF-CARE?
Many say that by the time their children have been herded into bed, they have little time to attack one or two items from their ever-growing to-do list before collapsing into bed for a precious few hours before rising to do it all again. When I speak with these families about the importance of self-care, they often think I am talking about pampering themselves with manicures, massages, or cool evening walks in the flower garden.
What I’m actually speaking of in these instances is a far more foundational principle. Many parents fall into the trap of believing their job can never be completed, therefore they cannot do self-care because to do so means taking care of themselves instead of taking care of their children. I contend that as parents we must be capable of taking care of ourselves so we are able to take care of our children. Simply put, self-care is about making certain we are physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy.
Below are some specific tips to help you prioritize and take better care of yourself.
PHYSICAL SELF-CARE: SLEEP, EAT, MOVE
Using an actual calendar, start by inputting your wake-up time every day. Then, go backwards eight hours. This is your go-to-sleep time. Then go backwards another hour to find your “start getting ready for bed” time. This time is when you put down what you’re working on and begin preparing for sleep.
For example, if you wake at 6AM, you need to be sleeping by 10PM, and therefore need to be done with activities by 9PM so you can go through your nighttime preparations for bed and be in bed well before 10PM. (Stop laughing—I’m serious.)
Next, take a hard look at how you eat. One of the most important lessons I ever learned, which I also hate, is to, “eat for fuel, not for fun.” Be certain you know what your body handles well, and what it doesn’t.
In college I tried to be almost 100% fueled by double-decker moon pies. Trust me, it didn’t go well. A disciplined diet is a difficult thing to do consistently, but it is necessary to keep us properly fueled and not riding the ups and downs of wildly fluctuating energy levels that comes from repeated doses of sugar and caffeine.
Be certain you are getting 20–30 minutes every day of exercise. Make sure you are wise about the limits you push yourself to, consulting your doctor as needed or as is helpful. Maybe start some walking or do some stretching. I was shocked as a kid to learn that right after God created Adam, he told him to get to work! I thought work was a result of the fall! In truth, our bodies are made for motion. Our bodies and brains work much better if we get regular exercise.
Go back to the calendar, and write it down! Make a plan and stick to it.
SPIRITUAL SELF-CARE: CONNECT WITH GOD, CONNECT WITH PEOPLE
As human beings, we are built for connection. Without connection we simply cannot grow properly in our mother’s womb, we cannot develop properly as infants or as toddlers, and we cannot flourish as adults. Our most important connections are our connections with God and with his people.
There is simply no substitute for consistent, intentional, and protected time in personal Bible study and devotion. Whether it works best for you to start your day an hour before your children wake or to pause as soon as everyone is out the door for work or whether you take this time at the end of your day, this is another item that must be specifically planned on your calendar.
Likewise, your calendar needs to contain regularly scheduled intentional time of meaningful interaction with other disciples. This can take the form of small group Bible studies, discipleship groups, accountability partners, or prayer groups—but no matter what they are called, they are integral to the health of the believer.
EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE: BATTERY CHARING, STRESS MANAGEMENT, AND HEALING
We all need something that helps charge our batteries; something we look forward to and participate in because it offers us opportunities for challenge and self-improvement as individuals. This can be a meaningful hobby, an artistic expression, some form of competition, or other activity in which we take part that is not centered so much around entertainment as it is nourishment.
Stress management means not just handling the stress you have, but also being ruthless in cutting out unnecessary stress from our lives. I see people on an almost daily basis who are involved in unhealthy relationships, who have accepted the burden of someone else’s responsibilities, who are substantially overloaded with “good” obligations, who don’t delegate well, who need control, or who simply have not yet learned how to say no. We must recognize the very limited number of hours per day we have and prioritize well so we can accomplish those things that are most important to us.
And lastly, we need to be certain we have attended to any old or recent emotional wounds that might keep us from operating at our full potential. Simply ignoring a history of abuse or neglect, past trauma, anxiety, depression, or other significant emotional stress can radically lower our effectiveness, especially in terms of being healthy parents, spouses, and coworkers.
NOW, GO GIVE THIS A TRY!
Give this a shot for a couple of weeks. Put your whole life on a real calendar. Schedule your sleep time, exercise, Bible study time, time with your spouse and kids—all of it. Make the schedule actually work.
When someone asks you to do something, don’t just say yes; instead, look at your calendar and see what you’ll have to delete in order to make room for the request. Be certain you are eating well, sleeping enough, staying connected, and recharging your batteries. I promise you’ll feel better, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find that you enjoy your life more as well.
Rod Campbell, MAMFT, LPC-S, serves Pathways Professional Counseling through our Birmingham, Pell City, and Oxford offices.