As my last few posts indicate, self-care is a priority for me. When I’ve met my own needs – physical, spiritual, emotional – then I have time and energy for others. Giving when I am cranky or tired or resentful is not good for me, nor is it pleasant for those I’m “helping.” I’ve come to realize the importance of attitude in my actions. Giving when I don’t have the energy is not really giving.
So I try to balance helping others with doing things for myself. I like the concept of “service” to describe the actions I take to support others in my life, even family. Giving my father a ride to a medical appointment, taking the carpool responsibility so my husband can attend an important meeting, going to a museum with my little niece and nephew – these are examples of service. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy these activities – they might very well be fun for me, too. But not if I haven’t made sure I’ve slept well, eaten enough, and taken “me” time.
Taking care of my needs on an ongoing basis contributes to a sense of well-being, and a positive attitude. When I’m feeling good about myself and the world, it’s a lot easier to cheerfully help someone else. The last thing I want to do is to show up to support someone when I’m in a bad mood. Not only am I not enjoying myself, but my attitude could easily affect the other person and sour the whole activity.
Why do you think the airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others? Clearly, you’re no good to your seatmate if you’ve stopped breathing.
It’s the same for everything in life. If you’re slammed to the wall with work and personal “to dos” and then agree to visit your grandmother in the nursing home on top of a long day – how much cheer do you think you’ll be able to bring her? Better to go home, eat, relax, rest, and visit on the weekend.
So how do you know if you’re ready to give? If someone asks you to do something for them:
• Listen to your gut feeling and let it guide your response
• It’s ok to say no, especially if you can be kind about it
• Before saying yes, check your status – are you rested, fed, comfortable?
• Before the event, be prepared – take care of your own needs first
Although it runs counter to cultural conditioning, for me the truth is that loving myself is loving others.