Give yourself the same self-care and attention that you give to others and watch yourself bloom. The Sprouting Sunflower
Fit your own oxygen mask before helping others.
We have all heard on the aeroplane safety briefing to fit our own oxygen mask before helping others. This seems so obvious, we think. Of course, that would be what I would do in that situation.
Except, in life as a parent, we often do the opposite.
The most important tip for self-care is to guard against the guilt. So often we know what we need to do to stay happy and healthy, but we don’t do it because our obligations or our sense of what others need from us are the greater pull. We feel guilty, indulgent even, for doing things for our own physical and mental health. However, if we can remember that we all need self-care like we need oxygen, then maybe we will be able to fit our own mask more often before helping others. (1)
Another great tip is to do a mix of the productive and the pleasurable. There are many different routes to happiness. However, a purely relaxing and enjoyable pursuit only gives an early rush of happiness. It isn’t sustainable if this is the only type of activity that we do for self-care. The slow burn of the satisfaction from time spent productively doesn’t give that initial rush of happiness, but it does build self-esteem and self-worth. A little bit of both kinds of activity are needed every day. (2)
So, now we have the justification for doing something for our own self-care, and the two different types of activity to include… how are we going to squeeze this into our busy routine and find space? It’s not easy for those who are perennially time poor, often juggling family, work, further study, caring for extended family, commuting and so on. Time for self-care needs to be built into the routine and time needs to be protected and allocated regularly. It can be as simple as adding on a quiet coffee in the park after a gym session, to listening to music or a podcast rather than immediately starting the catch up on emails in the evening. (3)
We should never forget the basics either. A balanced diet, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, reduced screen time and avoiding drugs and alcohol are the foundations for a healthy and happy mental life. These things are imperative for our physical health of course but we can’t forget that our brain is an organ of our body too. It works best when the rest of our body is working optimally. Physical and mental health are tightly intertwined in ways we don’t yet understand. We know that they work both ways. Being happy leads to greater longevity and better physical health; and being healthy in body leads to feeling healthier in mind. (4)
And lastly, we need to value unstructured moments to just sit and think. It’s when we are at our most creative, and when the solution to a problem will sneak up on us and present itself. Modern life seems to have stimulating input at every turn. We all walk with headphones providing audio background or talk on the phone to someone, while we are oblivious to what is around us. Try to turn the noise down and give yourself space to think.
- Miller C.L., Strachan, S.M. Understanding the role of mother guilt and self-compassion in health behaviours in mothers with young children. Women Health 60:7, 763-775 (2020), DOI: 10.1080/03630242.2020.1713966
- Baker, L.A., Cahalin, L.P., Gerst, K. et al. Productive Activities And Subjective Well-Being Among Older Adults: The Influence Of Number Of Activities And Time Commitment. Soc Indic Res 73, 431–458 (2005). DOI: 10.1007/s11205-005-0805-6
- Mills J, Wand T, Fraser JA. Exploring the meaning and practice of self-care among palliative care nurses and doctors: a qualitative study. BMC Palliat Care 17:63 (2018). DOI: 10.1186/s12904-018-0318-0
- Veenhoven, R. Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care. J Happiness Stud 9, 449–469 (2008). DOI: 10.1007/s10902-006-9042-1
Dr Rebecca Wood BSc(Med) MBBS MPsychiatry FRANZCP