The importance of putting yourself first (and why you should make it a priority)
So here’s the deal. You’re overwhelmed. Work is demanding your time. At home, you have projects and to-do lists piling up and when you look at your calendar, it’s packed with overdue tasks and upcoming obligations. To make time for everything, you decide you’re going to skip lunch, miss the gym (just this once) and you push all your social obligations to the back burner. When we’re stressed, overwhelmed and consumed in the constant whirlwind of life, self-care is usually the first thing to go. The irony? That only makes things worse.
When spiraling through life, self-care might feel indulgent and unnecessary. We’ve been programmed with outdated constructs, living within the conditions society has deemed important. Most of us have grown up believing the more we sacrifice, the bigger the reward. We’ve taken the “hard work pays off” adage too far. So far in fact, it’s become counter intuitive. When we neglect ourselves our abilities are worn. Skills aren’t as sharp. We lose focus. We lose drive. We lose ourselves. We think we’re working hard but to what degree?
The aeroplane mask.
If you’ve flown anywhere, you’ve seen the safety demonstration. One of the points they hammer home? Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will fall from the overhead bulkhead AND you should put yours on FIRST. Why is that? What could possibly be wrong with helping others first?
It’s wise instruction for passengers but it’s also a great metaphor for life. And most of us do just the opposite. We take care of our work, family, friends, volunteer obligations, commitments, responsibilities… and in the process we wear ourselves down physically, spiritually and emotionally.
By putting everyone and everything ahead of ourselves leaves little time for anything else. Quite often the result is “burnout”. We feel like we’re giving too much and that evokes a whole slew of emotions such as exhaustion, frustration, anger and feelings of ineffectiveness, helplessness and hopefulness.
Putting yourself first isn’t just important, it’s crucial
When we’re in a state of busy and overwhelm even a small little reprieve from the roller coaster of life, feels like a luxury. Taking time to eat lunch, to head out for a walk, to plan after work drinks or (gasp) scheduling a massage… well that just feels like slacking.
Be careful of that mindset. It will only backfire the longer you embrace it. Self-care is the number one tool that will actually propel you further, be more productive and create balance and synergy in your life.
Self-care prevents “burnout”: Life comes with obligations and responsibilities and we tend to push ourselves to the breaking point. We are left feeling lost and overwhelmed and as a result, we give up. When self-care is part of your day, you can avoid getting to that point.
Self-care reduces “bad” stress: Dealing with daily stress is part of the human condition and it can certainly serve a purpose. But chronic stress starts to break you down, negatively impacting your mind and body. With self-care, stress doesn’t take over every aspect of your day and you can function at full capacity.
Self-care restores focus and motivation: I had a teacher in high school that understood teaching on a profound level and folded that into her classroom. I vividly remember (during an exam) she was walking around and peering over shoulders. Seeing I was struggling with a particular area she gently suggested I step away, take a little break and come back refreshed. It worked! Breaks are essentially the epitome of self-care. Studies even show they’re awesome at improving performance. *(reference below)
Connect with yourself
It can be tricky in this day and age to find balance between taking care of others and taking care of ourselves. We’ve been programmed to give back, volunteer, donate, show compassion toward others, care for aging or sick parents, ensure our “work” is completed, create supportive and loving relationships with our children and so much more. Push, pull, push, pull. No “me time” is a badge of honour and we think fitting in, say - taking a lunch break or meeting up with friends - as a luxury.
What I encourage you to do is not only see the safety mask hanging down in front of you, but use the mask! It’s there to offer reprieve from your hectic mind and your hectic life. Don’t push it aside believing others are more deserving than you. Actively reach for the mask and take a few moments to assess your needs and address them without delay. When you connect with yourself, you create space to connect with others.
Once you shift your mindset and see the importance of putting yourself first, you’ll start to weave it into daily life. Because if you’re not healthy and well, you really can’t take care of your loved ones (or anyone else for that matter). Take care of yourself first – then you’ll have time to give attention to others. Or forget all of them for a time and book that massage!
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Resources and references:
40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration