How are your New Year’s resolutions going so far? We are not even a month in, and already I feel my resolve slipping away. My list of goals for 2023 is long – and almost exclusively revolve around what I want to do for others. I was taught to think of others before myself, as was the case for many of us boomers. Is it a bad thing to want to help others? Of course not, but setting healthy boundaries is equally important.
Why do so many of us put ourselves last? We live in a society that encourages us to help people, and women in particular are taught to tend to the desires and needs of others before our own. Our partners, children, friends and parents come first. The last couple of years were hard for many, and the difficulties may continue for some. Most of us hate to watch others suffer and want to help, but it’s just as important to take care of ourselves too. How can you take care of others if not in a good place yourself?
In fact, self-care is the secret not only for your well-being today, but for years to come. We hear that all that time, but why don’t we all do it? Because many of us believe we need to be productive every minute of every day, and don’t recognize how much that need to keep busy contributes to both short and long-term problems we develop. For example, issues related to the lack of self-care include anxiety, stress and a decreased capacity to remember information long-term. I strongly encourage you to get in the habit of practicing self-care now rather than later.
Be kind to yourself in 2023
I’m not suggesting we go in the opposite direction and become completely self-centered. However, none of us can effectively care for others if we ourselves are exhausted or unhealthy. Think about the flight attendant on a plane who talks about the importance of putting the oxygen mask first on yourself in an emergency before helping anyone else. We need to invest in our own well-being before we can help others. This advice applies to many situations outside the airplane, and the only person who can make sure you are at your best mentally and physically is you. And why should you be kind to yourself? As Tim Herrera explains in a New York Times article, “you deserve it!”.
Set realistic expectations
Life is busy, not to mention stressful, a lot of the time. We worry about family, career, money. Some of us are too consumed with technology to make time for ourselves. With so much going on, it’s easy to understand why we forget to take care of ourselves. I know I need to focus more on myself in order to be available support those I love. Deep down, I think we all do. None of us are superhuman. We all possess a limited amount of energy and resources, and need “me-time” to recharge. While learning to take time for self-care, we must also set realistic expectations of ourselves. We can’t be all things to all people all the time.
Self-care includes anything you love to do. So, what makes you feel replenished, well-rested, and happy? Once you figure out the answer, you can start to incorporate these activities into your life. Too many of us feel guilty if we take time to take care of ourselves. Yet, it’s incredibly important to take good care of your body, mind and soul regularly to remain healthy and resilient. Self-care is not selfish and it is not an indulgence; it is necessary to be your best self. It should not be something you do only when you are ill.
Need some ideas? Below is a list of five self-care actions I chose to work on in 2023. These activities may or may not work for you, but you can use them as examples to help you brainstorm about what “me-time” might look like for you.
- Sleep 8 hours/day
You may think you are too busy to waste a chunk of time in bed. In reality, none of us can afford not to get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep negatively impacts memory, appetite, and resistance to disease. I learned over the years to force myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour because when I don’t, I get cranky, think less clearly and eat inappropriate foods in large quantities to stay awake.
- Give yourself a time-out
Not everyone needs time alone, but I definitely do. I enjoy my time with other people, but find myself exhausted if I have to be “on” for too long. For that reason, I plan alone time daily if possible, even if I can only squeeze in a half-hour each day. Solitude has a calming effect on me as it provides me with time to recharge and reflect. Afterwards, I am more productive and better able to engage further with others. Says Amy Morin, mental strength trainer, ” If you aren’t used to solitude, it can feel uncomfortable at first. But creating that quiet time for yourself could be key to becoming the best version of yourself.
- Forgive yourself
Most of us know forgiveness is a good thing. Research shows forgiveness frees us from bitterness and anger, emotions that not only feel bad, but also affect our physical and emotional health. We need to forgive others to be able to move on. Why is it that we can more easily forgive people who caused us pain than to forgive ourselves for past mistakes? That’s my problem. I ruminate about situations I wish I handled differently. I fixate on my regrets and say terrible things to myself; things I would never say out loud to anyone else. To forgive myself is harder because it means I need to admit I made a mistake in the first place, taking responsibility for whatever role I played in creating the problem. This year, one of my goals is to allow myself to be vulnerable so I am more open to my own forgiveness. I want to learn from my mistakes and apply the lessons in the future. According to Daniel Dennett, co-director at the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, “The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them – especially not from yourself”.
- Learn to accept compliments, even from ourselves
Humility is an important and positive characteristic: no one likes to be around people who boast about themselves. However, some of us, myself included, find our own accomplishments difficult to acknowledge. Compliments are hard to accept from others, but perhaps more so from ourselves. Why do we find it difficult to acknowledge our strengths and what we bring to the table instead of obsessing over the negative? As long as we behave in a humble and not arrogant way, it makes sense for us to know what we do well as well as where we need to improve. My plan is to say a simple, “thank you” to compliments from others in 2023, and to learn to recognize, and even celebrate, the positive in myself more often.
The bottom line
“How we care for ourselves gives our brain messages that shape our self-worth,
so we must care for ourselves in every way, every day.”
— Sam Owen
originally published 1.5.2020
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