Posted on July 22nd, 2018 by Anna Redding

So many of us now are aware of the benefits of taking time for ourselves, to say no occasionally, to press pause, even to pamper ourselves (if not check out our compassion blog where we explain). Yet, few of us do it. Sickness and burn out rates at work remain high, stress levels are high, mental health difficulties are on the up, we live for our next bit of annual leave where we can get some beach and sun (when it’s OK to stop of course) and when was the last time you actually took a lunch break… away from your desk? When I mention self-care to my clients, they curl their noses up, they squirm because its “giving in”, its “pink and fluffy” and they “don’t have time”. 

Well, I have a confession to make; I’m a psychologist and I am terrible at self-care. I teach it, I encourage others, I’m more than aware of the reasons why its so important and yet I “don’t have time”, I can rest “on holiday” and feel squirmy when I decide I must practice what I preach, commit to doing some self-care. I dip my toe in, then somehow don’t keep it up. Why, when I know how beneficial and needed it is?

I recently started learning more about compassion, particularly Paul Gilbert’s work and after a recommendation have started reading a fabulous, down to earth book “The Self-Care Project” by Jayne Hardy. Second confession, I bought it months ago feeling virtuous and it sat on my desk next to me ready to be absorbed.  Then it moved to my bedside table, gradually gathering dust and somehow fell further down the priority list. Why? What could be more important than looking after myself? I know the theory, yet I keep ploughing on. 

One thing Paul Gilbert said in a workshop earlier this year sticks in my mind. In a response to a question from the audience “how do you respond to people who continue to be critical of themselves and say yes…but?” he replied “I tell them…you’re not that special”. You may think this rude, but just take a moment to think about it.  He’s right. Everyone needs to self-care, we’re not that special that we can do something different. If we keep on keeping on, we burn out. If we don’t put fuel in a car, the little warning light shouts at us on the dash, if we keep driving, the car stops and there is damage done to the internal workings. This applies to every one of us, so why do we keep thinking that self-care is something that other people need to do, something that’s “indulgent” when actually, we HAVE to do it? When we stop, it gives our brains time to process, to catch up, to slow down, restore, take stock, do something pleasurable and smile. But we’re so used to “to do lists” that never get smaller, to rushing, to saying yes, to being everything to everyone that stopping just cant happen.

I have wondered if there is some sort of Kudos in keeping going. I’ve seen it in many a workplace, you offer a break, tell someone to go home on time, take their annual leave regularly, don’t take work home, stay home when you’re ill and yet they plough on with a wry smile. Are we afraid? That if we stop we might break or be deemed not strong or committed enough or dare I say the word…lazy? Or is it that if we stop we wouldn’t know what to do with the time, that whilst we long for it, actually doing it feels awkward? Or is it that stopping is only justifable when that warning light is screaming at us, when we’re on our knees or told we have to? 

We can make all the excuses, but when we self-care, we not only refuel (so we can give more to others and the world), but we set a good example for others, that this is OK, its allowed. Those who are more able to just “be” rather than “do” tend to be happier, healthier, more fulfilled. And you know what?.. Those people also tend to me more effective too. I’m talking work, recreation and hobbies, relationships, parenting… You name it! It’s powerful stuff.

So, do I want to be one of those therapists (or friends, or partners, or Aunties) who can tell you what will help you have a life worth living, with all the knowledge I have, whilst secretly racing around?  Or do I want to be someone that can actually say no sometimes, put my feet up “just because”, who makes time for me without guilt and judgement, (or allowing it if it is there and doing it anyway because it is important!), who can say “I need a break”. I know many of my friends, my clients, my colleagues find this stuff difficult too (especially those with children) and so…I’m doing it!

How? Start small. And I mean really small. Change can be scary, knowing what is soothing or calming for us can be trial and error. Other people around you might find it hard to adjust to you saying no, it might feel awkward or silly or indulgent. Well, let those thoughts go…Keep doing it, keep trying different things until you find what works for you and this might be different on different days or moods or situations. We’re on a mission here and we’re important!

Self-care and self-soothe isn’t “fluffy” (or doesn’t have to be), it can be a walk, it can be dancing in the kitchen with the wooden spoon as your microphone music blaring, it can be a cup of tea, it can be a night giggling with friends, yoga, baking, crochet, a hug…it can even be a run. Whatever puts fuel in your tank. If you value yourself (and why the hell shouldn’t you, you’re fabulous), then rather than saying “I don’t have time” or “I can’t afford to” we should be asking “can I afford not to?”