Self-Caring is not Selfish
Martha M. Sheridan LPC, CSAC
Augusta Health Outpatient Behavioral Health
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Augusta Health provides both inpatient psychiatric treatment and traditional outpatient behavioral health treatments and therapies. More information is available at www.augustahealth.com/service/mental-health
We can’t give what we don’t have. That is a wonderful and terrible truth. It’s wonderful because it lets us know that it is important to take care of ourselves. We need to do so in order to be able to give something. It’s terrible because it feels so hard to do.
We can get home so exhausted that we sometimes have nothing left for our families much less for ourselves. What do we do? If the answer were simple we’d be doing it already. The good news is that it is fairly easy once we learn how. It’s a little like riding a bike; we can do it whenever we decide to be intentional and lean into the skills that help us with self-care.
In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy we teach about mind states. We have our “Emotional Mind” that is rich with all of our feelings and our “Rational Mind” which is filled with all kinds of thoughts. Our strong desire to help others comes from our feelings and our thoughts. Others need our help and we desire to be of help. Left unchecked this can exhaust us and leave us feeling like we have nothing left. The good news is that there is another part of our brain, our “Wise Mind” or frontal lobe that can be called on to help us find balance in our lives. We just have to learn how to listen to it.
We have learned that by quieting the mind we can actually access the wisdom that is already there. It can be hard to quiet the mind at first. “Rational Mind” wants desperately to figure things out and “Emotional Mind” is busy with a myriad of feelings. The easiest way to quiet the mind is by doing some mindful breathing where you focus on your breath and when distracted you keep pulling your attention back to your breathing. If we can quiet our mind the mind can begin to access its’ wisdom.
That wisdom says among other things that it is so important to take care of ourselves especially when we are taking care of others. It reminds us that others can help and that we don’t have to do everything. If you have ever had a maternity leave or a paternity leave you will realize that our coworkers can get on without us. That is good news too because it reminds us that though our contribution is great, it really is ok for us to have more balance in our lives. We can go on vacation. We can keep our medical appointments. We can make time for our families. We can actually practice self-care as I’m sure we encourage others to do.
Self-care can be indulging in a rich dessert or it can be not indulging in a rich dessert. If our sugar has been an issue, wise mind would tell us that a rich dessert would not be a great idea. A massage might be! Our emotional mind might disagree and rational mind might say we deserve it. Wise mind says we deserve a treat but perhaps a different kind of treat.
We can do this! We actually have a wise part of our own brain that we can consult by quieting the mind. One way to think about that wise voice is to imagine that she/he is the loving parent of someone exactly our age who is going through exactly what we are going through. What would she/he say? I can promise she wouldn’t tell us how much of a mess we were. She’d tell us how proud she is of us. She would strongly encourage us to take good care of our precious self because our love and compassion are so needed in the world. We can’t run on empty. We deserve a nap or a long hot bath or a hug or a holiday. If we missed Mother’s Day due to work she’d say we can do a “redo” and have our fancy meal out and our flowers on a day we might enjoy them. She would remind us how very much we are loved. And we would feel her love deep in our bones. We would remind ourselves that we are inherently lovable just as we are and that we deserve to put ourselves at the top of the list. This is self-care not selfishness. By caring more for ourselves we can be at our best for others. We really can do this. We are truly worth it!