One of the biggest challenges women face is learning how to care for themselves while caring for others. It requires a delicate balance between what often feels like polar opposites. I’ve spent a lifetime studying self-care. And I’ve come to the conclusion that good self-care is the single most important aspect of our health, period. The programming of self-sacrifice leads ultimately to health-destroying sentiments, such as guilt, resentment, anger, and other emotions linked to high levels of stress hormones. Self-sacrifice feels wrong to us on a soul level—our spirit gravitates naturally to joy and happiness. That’s why self-sacrifice ultimately makes us sick and keeps us stuck in dead-end situations.
How well we care for ourselves as adult women is determined in part by how well our mothers cared for us (and themselves). Ultimately, however, it’s our responsibility to learn how to optimally care for ourselves regardless of what happened (or didn’t) with our mothers. We refine this process throughout our entire lives.
The key is knowing in your heart that the best way you can care for others is by caring for yourself. I know this requires a paradigm shift for many of you! Despite what you’ve been brought up to believe, caring for oneself is not an example of a zero sum model—where your gain is someone else’s loss. Everyone benefits from a woman who knows how to care for herself. Self-care sustains and enhances the health of all those around you. The flight attendants are right when they say: You have to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
Seven Easy Steps
Here’s a simple, up-to-date blueprint for enhancing your health through self-care:
Step 1. Tap into the stream of healing energy regularly.
Your body is connected to a healing stream of energy (also known as chi, prana, light, Source, and God) that you can absorb at will. All you need to do is be aware of it and be open to receive it! This is the basis for the healing power of prayer. My favorite prayer service is Silent Unity. Silent Unity has volunteers who will pray with you and then pray continuously for 30 days. Tell the volunteer your concerns by phone or email, any hour of the day or night, and they will pray with you. Another particularly powerful way to absorb this healing energy is the practice known as einstellan, which is taught worldwide by the Bruno Groening Circle of Friends. It involves simply sitting with your limbs uncrossed while listening to classical music and receiving a healing stream of energy. The practice, which is available to everyone, is associated with many well-documented physical and emotional healings from all over the world that cannot be explained by conventional medicine.
Step 2. Know that you are your own best mother.
Treat yourself like an ideal mother would by talking to yourself in a wonderful, nurturing way and providing for yourself that which you wish you had received from your own mother. For example, say to yourself, “Darling, I see that you’re tired. Why don’t you lie down and take a nice nap. When you get up, we’ll have a nice cup of hot tea” or “I see that you need a break. How about a nice hot bath and a good book.” You get the picture.
Step 3. Do something pleasurable each and every day.
Taking time for pleasure and fun decreases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, which, over time, are responsible for heart disease, cancer, and most chronic diseases such as arthritis and high blood pressure. Plus when you take time for enjoyment, you’ll be able to approach arduous tasks with more energy and a better outlook.
Step 4. Breathe deeply and fully on a regular basis.
Breathing in fully through your nose instantly engages the rest and restore parasympathetic nervous system and helps the body metabolize stress hormones. Put Post-it notes on your phone, your computer, and your bathroom mirror. Write BREATHE in beautiful letters that uplift and remind you to breathe fully.
Step 5. Get support for self-care.
Find a self-care buddy and agree that each of you will hold the other accountable for taking care of herself. Start with my suggestions and add your own ideas. Brag to each other about how well you’re doing and especially how well you are caring for yourself. Plan to call your friend whenever you start to slip into over-care of others.
Step 6. Use the incredible power of no.
When someone asks you to do something you don’t really want to do, say NO! This is especially important if saying “no” makes you feel guilty or unworthy. In most cases this means you’re letting the needs of others overshadow your own. Only you know how much you can handle without over-committing. Over time, you’ll strengthen your “no” muscle and also attract friends who support your need to set healthy boundaries. Remember, saying “no” to someone else usually means saying “yes” to yourself!
Step 7. Don’t wait for permission to start taking care of yourself.
Believe me, no one is going to give it to you, although I know how much you desperately want someone to do so! How well I remember being on call in the hospital watching the nurses give each other breaks. I yearned for one of my colleagues to give me permission to take a break after being up all night. But no one did because the culture of medicine (particularly a surgical specialty) is so macho. I ended up with a huge breast abscess that dissected into my chest wall while I was trying to nurse my first daughter and work full-time. I learned a huge lesson about self-care—and also destroyed my ability to nurse my second child from both breasts!
Taking care of yourself regularly takes courage in our society. Far too many women get sick because it’s the only socially acceptable way to get the self-care they require. I think we can do better, don’t you?
Prepare to be called “selfish” when you start taking better care of yourself. And when someone calls you that, celebrate! (Then call your self-care buddy to brag about it!) After all, taking care of yourself is prevention at the most fundamental level. And it sure beats getting sick. (For those of you who claim that you don’t have time to take care of yourself, think again. Do you really have time to get sick? And will dying prematurely really be the best way to take care of your loved ones?)
Although I told you that no one was going to give you permission to take care of yourself, I stand corrected. With the power vested in me as a medical authority let me end my self-care plan by giving you permission to care for yourself. Imagine that you have a prescription in front of you with your name, my signature, and the following words on it:
Rest when you are tired. Go the bathroom when you have to go. Do something that is fun and pleasurable every day. Breathe deeply and fully. Enjoy your life. Absorb the healing stream that comes from God. Remember that you are meant to live your life fully and joyfully, Mother yourself well.
Copyright © 2007 Hay House, Inc. All rights reserved. Photocopying or reproduction without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited.