“Remember to place the oxygen mask on yourself first” (Pais)
The maintenance and development of personal vitality is a prerequisite to optimal functioning. Investment in one’s self is built upon the knowledge that distress undoubtedly occurs when others’ needs are continually put before one’s own. Thus, it is important to take steps to manage personal stress and to maintain physical, mental and emotional health by engaging in a variety of self-care activities.
Self-care incorporates how we care for, nourish, and replenish the self. Having respect for, interest in, affection for and protection for/of the self are fundamental. Unless we purposefully attend to self-care, we will not long be a vigorous person in the world. In fact we will burn out, or worse.
Warning signs that one’s functioning might be diminishing through lack of self-care include: anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, headaches, withdrawal, flagging enthusiasm, depression, fatigue, boredom, stagnation, apathy, loss of a sense of humour, frustration, feeling angry, feeling resentful, persistent self-doubt, losing a sense of meaning and purpose, working too hard, slavishly going it alone, violating other’s boundaries or habitually allowing one’s own boundaries to be transgressed.
Paying conscious attention to all our needs creates a balanced life. ‘The Health Wheel’ is a useful tool to use as a guide towards achieving and maintaining holistic balance in all the dimensions of ourselves and our lives.
The Health Wheel
This chart can be expanded to include: Meaning & Purpose, Creative, Financial, Self-direction, Goals, Leisure, Friendship, Love, or any number of other personal needs. Implementing more (or less) routine, structure and discipline into day to day activities, and having a mix of group and individual activities and interests will help achieve a balance between caring for ourselves and caring for others.
Regular self-care activities invite vitality into one’s life and this passes on to others. Engaging in activities such as: listening to music, mindfulness meditation, creating or simply playing, often bring about a flow state through which we feel energized and strengthened. Ultimately, self-care leads to becoming clearer about what we are willing to do, and what not; what we are willing to accept, and what not. Self-care can lead to greater knowledge of how to approach tough issues. It also enhances the ability to recognise and guard against some of our more harmful propensities such as: care-taking or people-pleasing, perfectionism, self-centredness, avoidance, and other self-defeating ideas and behaviours.
Such shifts in attitudes and behaviour help minimise wasted energy and exhaustion. Through becoming more present and available to ourselves, we become more available to others. We are freed to deal with, and to learn from, conflict and dilemmas in a calm and safe way. We no longer need to live being regularly overwhelmed by emotions, self-recrimination, confusion, isolation, uncertainty and so forth.
In essence, care-of-the-self, or self-care centres around an ongoing journey of personal development and expansion. Through achieving a healthy balance between all our various needs, we come to know ourselves as fully human, fully alive. We more often experience healing and growth; love, fun, laughter, joy and awe; and we can better accept, care for, and help others. So it seems that Shakespeare was right: “self love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self- neglecting.”