The basis of self-care is knowing your needs and effectively communicating and executing them, resulting in having and maintaining a cup that is not half full, but overflowing.
“You don’t have anything to give you that don’t have” —Oprah Winfrey
Self-Care is particularly challenging for women. We tend to put others first and ignore our needs. Often times it isn’t until we are forced to turn our attention to ourselves from sheer exhaustion or even worse, a health scare. The first step in Self-Care is listening. When we listen, our body will tell us what it needs. Each body is different and will require something unique. My body needs consistency. Consistent exercise. Consistent sleep times. Timely vacations. And good boundaries that support me “stepping away from the computer.” I continue to listen for these subtle requests.
In my commitment to the Greying Goddess — it is very clear to me the importance of “Self” in the term self-care as we age, and educating the Goddess on how to maintain and sustain their well being programs. It is the foundation of good health, good relationships, balance, happiness and living well.
This term is bandied about a lot these days, at least in the circles in which I travel. Initially, I thought self-care was regular manicures, pedicures or massages. It can be. Yet, I am understanding that it can be more. Much more.
For women, perhaps it begins with our DNA. One of my colleagues who recently volunteered for his daughter’s school’s weekend trip mentioned how upon arrival the boys “threw their backpacks down and headed out to explore,” while the girls were in their assigned rooms “putting things away, organizing and generally nesting.” These were 10-year-old kids. The behavior is present early on!
U.S. statistics show that women across the country named fatigue among their top five health concerns (the other four were period problems, “super foods” best for nutrition, thyroid conditions, and sex and relationship issues). 2010 in WebMD’s Annual Year in Health Survey.
How many times have you felt worn out and weary, only to keep going when your cell phone chimed, your child called, your partner’s petitions became a priority, the office oppressed with emails, and the household chores harassed? Pushing past your limits — physically, emotionally, mentally and professionally? Is this our DNA coupled with our female, cultural heritage, along with our self-imposed standards in our roles as mother, spouse/partner, employee/employer, neighbor, friend and more? Consistently ignoring the cry of our overdone selves?
For years I exhausted myself believing this was the only approach to accomplishment and success. Exhaustion was a friend with a bad influence. Exhaustion = doing a good job, pulling my weight, an exemplary employee, a saint. In fact, I bonded with exhaustion, elevating it to some sort of holy way of being.
Physical effects of fatigue can include sleeplessness, depression, thyroid problems and heart problems. A worn out and weary woman has moved into depletion. She has lost the art of giving and receiving. Her cup is empty. There is an absence of flow, generosity, vitality and presence. She is in the red zone, a deficit. No energy. Very little capacity to generate, create, or make good, clear decisions. She will have an even harder time focusing and misses not only the small print, but the vision, intention and goal of her life. She is unable to hear or care for her soul.
Driving home one Friday evening, in the familiar state of exhaustion, I began to ponder my demon:
Looking in the rear view mirror, I cannot say that the results of my efforting and exhaustion have made a significant difference in my life. I’ve been successfully replaced at former jobs, erstwhile lovers have moved on, and I see no real positive results or effects from all those years of exhausting myself. Emails still strike annoyingly during dinner and family obligations threaten to overtake a free weekend. My to-do list is longer than ever — there’s always plenty for me to still get exhausted over. But I’ve had to kick this habit (yes, not unlike an addiction) to the curb. Mostly.
It’s not enough to want to promise you’ll rest on Sunday. It’s not enough to take a walk occasionally or drop in on your local yoga studio when you are depleted or fidget through a not-very-present meditation. You need a plan. A plan that begins before you’re tired. A plan that involves action, love and commitment. A plan that is supported by friends and family. It involves a calendar where you begin the plan of SELF-CARE and see it’s upcoming reward. Every. Single. Day.
I’ve learned, with the assistance of my coach and mentor, Susanna Maida, that self-care needs to be scheduled, or it doesn’t happen. Plan the entire year, if you can. The best way to ensure a restful spot at some point in the future, is to circle the dates on the calendar, buy a bus, plane or train ticket NOW and plan for the event or getaway. Self-care can be affordable. Groupon has great discounted events and trips, along with massages and spas. Invite a dear friend who honors your self-care program. Start a self-care group with people who nourish and support you. There is a Self-Care plan for every budget. Commit to finding yours. At 64, my body and greying goddess demand consistent self-care. Unless I can recycle my parts, I need to really keep them healthy, nurtured, engaged, vital, oiled and polished. Every three months, there is a plan for turning my attention to my greater well being. I even have a savings account ear marked for the events. In the interim, I focus on daily meditation, walks in the park near my office and regular Pilates classes.
The real key is to recognize when you are headed toward overdoing and stop yourself before you get there. This takes practice and a deep awareness of your patterns, along with some boundary setting (just because the phone rings, doesn’t mean you must answer it, or respond to emails at the moment they ping their arrival). This process and plan will go a long way toward maintaining a consistent program of self-care, well being and aliveness in your life.
One of the most becoming qualities of a goddess is her ability to know what she needs and tend to it. This is what Brené Brown has to say: ”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. It’s time.” Indeed, it is time. As your Goddess begins to grey, self-care expands to include fully knowing yourself (and what doesn’t work in your life anymore), understanding your gifts (and what depletes them), contribution to your community and living and giving from the overflow. It is an exquisite balance of giving and receiving. This is abundance in action. This is the life of a Goddess well lived.
We goddesses are up to big stuff in our lives and cannot afford to sabotage our grandness, grace and confidence with depletion, weariness or lack of flow. Contrary to what we were taught, it is SELFLESS to put ourselves first. I’m always reminded of that great airline requirement: “Put your oxygen mask on first . . . then tend to others”.
Goddess Sustaining Self-Care Suggestions
Wellness is an attitude, not a last minute rush for a medical fix. It involves a way of living that includes all parts of you – mind, body, spirit — and supports each of these systems with attention, intention, great care and love. Listen to what Oprah says about honoring yourself.
It is from Hygeia that we get our words hygiene, hygienic, hygienically, hygienics, hygienist, hygiology, hygeology, unhygienically, as well as unhygientic.
Hygiene is the science of preserving health. The subject of hygiene includes all of the agencies affecting the physical and mental well-being of people. It involves consideration of food; clothing; water and other forms of drink; work; sleep; and exercise; personal cleanliness; special habits, such as the use of narcotics, tobacco, alcohol, etc.; and other kinds of mental health.
To your radiant health and well being,