As found in the information booklet on an airplane, “Put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs.” It seems a cliche but it’s true; if you can’t breathe, then you are of no use to anyone else. And there are so many instances in life that find us short of breath physically, mentally, and spiritually. By taking the time and making an effort to catch your own breath, you will be better equipped to be the support system for both yourself and others that you need to be.

We all need to realize that it isn’t selfish to love, respect, and take care of ourselves. It is okay to demand that your needs be met like needs of those around you are being met. Culturally we seem to glamorize people who martyr themselves for the supposed well-being of others. Instead, we need to encourage each other to take care of ourselves. Remind each and every one of us that self-care is not selfish, but a requirement.

By making yourself a better and healthier person you are contributing one more productive person to society and that’s what we ultimately need. And if everyone could do that, not everyone can, but you will be in much better shape to be a caretaker if you are healthy and cared for.

First, let’s address the guilt factor. We have been programmed to believe that taking care of ourselves should take a back seat to caring for others and for accomplishing tasks on our “To Do” lists. The other day I had a rare and unexpected day to myself when my son stayed over-night at my mother-in-law’s house. I had my entire “To Do” list written out and I was chipping away at it. When I met my husband for lunch, we were both mentioning how tired we were. Sickness had struck at our house, first my son, then my husband, and it was creeping up on me. When my husband first suggested that I go home and take a nap after lunch, pointing out that as soon as my son got home I may not have the chance, I balked at the idea. How could I take a nap when I had so much left to accomplish? Shouldn’t I be doing dishes or working on one of my writing projects instead? But after getting home and crossing off a couple more tasks, I started feeling worse, and finally realized that resting for a while wasn’t just a luxury that I was taking advantage of. Resting would give my body a chance to fight whatever illness was attacking it. I gave in to my need for a nap, laid down for an hour, and woke up feeling rejuvenated and able to tackle the rest of my list.

Another source of guilt is the feeling that are letting others down if we don’t put their needs above our own. On New Year’s Day, I wanted to spend part of the day focusing on something that I loved doing and that spoke to my goals for 2015. In order to justify how I wanted to spend my day, I first suggested that each member of our family pick one thing they’d like to do for the day. My husband chose to watch a hockey game and my son wanted to play with his new toys. I realized that these were things they would be sure to incorporate into their day whether I had suggested it or not.

What I really wanted to do was go to the bookstore, one of my favorite treats for myself. In my mind though, I could only do this when it would be convenient for everyone, namely during my son’s nap. This would make it easy on my husband not having to take care of a toddler and it wouldn’t make my son sad that mommy went somewhere without him. But as it turned out, my son had other plans and wouldn’t fall asleep. He fought with everything he had and each time I thought he was finally sleeping his eyes would pop open and he’d be moving again. My husband finally told me, “You are just going to have to leave if you want to go to the bookstore.” And again, my husband was right, He understood that I deserved to take part of the day to do something for myself, just like he took part of the day to do what he enjoyed.

Once you have overcome the feelings of guilt, you will find that there are many benefits to your self-care that extend past you (or at least the current you). In addition to feeling better, you will be modeling this type of behavior for your children. I want my son and any other future children I have, to know how important it is for them to take care of themselves. When I decided I needed to start eating healthier, I taped a picture of my son to the inside of the cabinet to remind me of my motivation each time I open it. Use this same method of motivation to remind yourself to take care of you. Also, think of it as investing in the future you.

You can invest in future you by being healthier, by exercising, by stopping bad habits. You can also give you a few hours from now a treat by making the bed in the morning, programming the coffee machine before you go to bed, or not procrastinating on something that she will have to deal with.

What are some other ways you can take care of yourself?

Physically

Make time for exercise, for eating well, and for getting plenty of sleep. While these may sound hard to do if you are taking care of others, remember that they will benefit as well. If you cook a healthy meal, your entire family can eat healthily. Keeping snacks like fruit, nuts, and vegetables around encourages everyone to eat right. For exercise, you could join a gym that includes daycare facilities or gets the kids in on the exercise. I have found yoga videos online that my son and I do together. He likes the catchy, silly songs and I like that it gets us both moving. If you are getting enough sleep, you will be healthier and better able to attend to whatever tasks you have for the day. Plus you will likely be in a more pleasant mood, which is beneficial for all those around you. And all of these are not only improvements on the current you, but you are investing in your future as well.

Mentally

Don’t forget to give yourself some breathing space and do things you enjoy, like walking through your favorite store, taking a bath, reading a book or writing a journal. these are some of my favorite tactics but you need to figure out what resonates with you. And if possible, don’t be afraid to leave your kids with your spouse for an hour or two to do something for yourself.

Spirituality

Take the time to go to church as a family or if that isn’t your thing, meditate or pray or connect with nature or read and reflect. Again, do what makes you feel like you are being at the best you.

You are the only person in your life over which you have 100 percent control. You can’t control your spouse, parents, friends, or children. Ultimately, you are responsible for you and making sure you are well cared for is your responsibility. You can also look at if that by taking care of yourself, you are making it less likely that you will need to rely on others. Not that there is any shame in relying on others, and actually, if you need help, be sure to ask early. By asking early, you will save yourself misery and heartache and you will probably end up needing less help in the end by taking the time to gather yourself with assistance.

We need to start really encouraging each other to take care of ourselves. You deserve to be happy and healthy and it is okay to make your own well being a priority.

By Jessica Graves

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