Paradox of Self-Care

Why is it that those who care for others have such a difficult time caring for themselves? The paradox of self-care is when an individual puts the majority of their time and effort toward caring for others, then finds no time to care for themselves. This path can lead to burn out, resentment, even illness. This idea makes me think of the airline training (that we are all supposed to listen to before taking flight) where we are instructed to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before putting it on our child/neighbor. There is often a mental resistance to this idea, but the truth is that if we cannot breathe we are of no use to others. How do we develop the habits of self-care to support our work/desire/obligations to care for others?

Fulfilling Basic Needs

Maybe we should start with the simple things – food, rest, inspiration. In yoga and Ayurveda there is a term ojas which refers to one of the vital essences (paired with tejas and prana) of the human body. Ojas can also refer to “vigor” when used in the context of physical health. To support ojas we need to develop daily habits that balance the body and mind.

Food is basic nourishment for our physical body. Unfortunately, many of us do not take time to eat healthy, nourishing foods. Speed eating is the norm, often combined with driving or working at the computer or watching TV. Simple habits of taking a moment to appreciate where the food comes from, saying thanks for the food, or focusing on eating with enjoyment increase our awareness of the nourishment we get from eating. Mindfully eating – paying attention as you focus on the activity of eating – can allow a moment to focus on the action of self-care. Mindful eating can also Being present when sharing food with others sharing the nourishment of the food and connection with others.

Rest includes good sleep habits as well as mental down time and play. What habits do you have in place to support good sleep? Some simple ideas to support healthy sleep is to have a reminder (like a phone reminder) when you want to start getting ready for bed. This allows you to stop other activities and at least begin the process of going to bed. Similar systems can be put into place to support mental down time and play. If time is tight, set a timer to allow for play time. Some folks find it helpful to reserve time on their calendar for down time or breaks throughout the day. Restorative practices can include 5 minute meditations, short walks, taking 5 breaths, or watching a funny video clip.

Inspiration comes from a wide range of sources. It may be from finding the “flow” mindset where you are fully immersed and feeling energized focus (Csikszentmihalyi). Hearing stories of others who have done amazing things. Learning about the wonders of the universe (Cosmos). Taking time to pray or cultivate gratitude. What nourishes you?

Self-care is a way to nourish yourself, to build the resources needed to live in the world and care for others. Regular self-care activities do not need to take all day or blow your budget. Take a moment to think of small ways that you can take care of yourself, activities that feed your soul and rejuvenate your energy. Save time for these things! Make a specific time for self-care each day, even if it is only 5 minutes.

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” ~Parker Palmer


The Resilient practitioner (book)

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