Too many of us prioritize others at the expense of our own health; we justify skipping a workout or not eating well because of family, social and work obligations.
Acts of "self-care" are framed as, at best, "nice when time permits" and more commonly, as a complex cocktail of self-indulgence, selfishness and narcissism.
Being active and taking the time to eat well isn't selfish! In fact, acts of self-care enable you to create the healthy, productive, emotionally intelligent and happiest future self that you, and your loved ones and co-workers, want and require you to be! You will be a better mother, daughter, boss, father, sibling, etc. if you take care of you.
I'm sure you're familiar with the adages "you can't pour from an empty cup" and "put your own oxygen mask on before helping others." Both encapsulate that you can't be of any service to anyone, including yourself, if you're dead, burned out or exhausted. You have to protect the vessel!
Another way to put this — my current favourite way — is, "You can't exhale if you don't inhale!"
Inhaling includes activities that refuel you — activities that fill you with energy and make you feel like the most centred, "authentic" version of yourself. For me, these include running, sleeping, meditation and listening to audiobooks. Others might inhale through painting, walking or gardening. You "exhale" by doing activities for others.
I gravitate toward this way of framing the idea because it works on both a physiological and a metaphorical level. Physiologically, to stay alive, you have to inhale air to be able to exhale. Metaphorically, you can't produce the "best version of you" if you constantly prioritize "exhale" activities at the expense of your inhaling needs.
What I double love about this saying is that it doesn't prioritize inhaling over exhaling; if you don't exhale you will also die. It simply highlights the fact that too many of us exhale at the expense of ourselves.
Creating a healthier mind and body comes through giving to yourself and giving to others. If you bias toward inhaling, add exhale activities to your life. If you only exhale — typically "exhalers" have nebulous boundaries — take time to inhale.
Now, self-care is not just physical. Self-care includes how you speak to yourself — your self-talk.
Too many of us aren't only cruel to our physical beings, but also to our minds; we make ourselves listen to unproductive, unloving and belittling words. Our self-talk is often hurtful, harsh — harmful! We have different standards when speaking to ourselves than to a family member or friend.
We have to learn how to have empathy and compassion for ourselves. We have to care about ourselves enough to make healthy choices — in how we move, what we eat and how we think .
The main take-away is that you have to "protect the vessel" — and you don't have to feel bad.
Embrace that not only do you have to protect the vessel you are, but you have to create the vessel that you want to be.
Your future self is created in the decisions made by your current self!
Life is an active process. Better health — increased fitness, etc. — doesn't "just happen." Sure, some individuals are predisposed to good health with healthier genes, but it is up to you (as my dad would say) to take what you are given and "hit a home run."
You are in control of you. If you want to have more energy, do things that produce energy. If you want to be stronger, do things that build strength.
Stop focusing on what you can't control and what you don't have, and focus on what you can control and what you do have. Can't go to the gym? Work out at home? Traveling for work? Pack a resistance band in your suitcase and train in your hotel room. Want a cookie? Have one.
Don't let the bus of life drive you; you drive the bus.