“Just wondering if you would mind picking up . . . ?” “I have a small favour to ask, could you . . . ?” “Gosh, I really could use your help with. . . ” “You wouldn’t mind doing . . . for me” And then added to that, if you are also a parent, you are more than familiar with the “Mom can you do this? Dad can you do that? that comes with raising and caring for children. Those cries for help happen with great frequency and usually at the most inopportune times like when you are in the bathroom or on the phone or trying to make a meal.
Being asked for help is not unusual and, in fact, our intrinsic value/goal for community feeling, the sense of wanting the world to be a better place – a desire to help, is met through our saying ‘yes’ to these requests. However, what happens when we are constantly saying ‘yes’ to others and their needs? What happens to attending to our own needs which are also very important?
Many people notice a shift in priorities when they become parents or hold jobs in service sectors, like nursing, teaching, medicine, allied health professions, fire fighting, policing, tech support or team lead and management positions. The very nature of such work encourages and even demands us to put aside our own needs in order to be of help/service to others. The constant ‘them first’ approach is often a necessary expectation, however, is it a healthy one?
When it is not balanced with adequate breaks and reasonable shift rotations – it can result in a dangerous practice that spills over into our personal lives. Because what happens is that the helping does not stop at work, it continues on the home front. So you end up falling into bed exhausted many times with your own basic needs for nourishment, relaxation, exercise and rest going underserved or even unmet. For example, it is not unusual that even in this state of exhaustion, the person finds him or herself awake at 4 am with their thoughts racing and complaining in the morning of having ‘tossed and turned all night’. Sound familiar?
Therefore it becomes imperative to re-assess one’s priorities. You may counter argue that there is no solution because this is the nature of your profession and your role as a parent/grandparent. How is anything else possible? Yes – your work requires you help others and yes, your children/grandchildren require attention. There is no argument there. And then there is you – and your needs for self-care.
Perhaps the most helpful analogy for this situation is the parent on the plane holding their infant child. Suddenly there is an emergency on board and the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling. Do you apply the oxygen mask to your infant child you are holding in your arms or to yourself” It may seem like a ‘Sophie’s Choice’. A no-win situation for fear one of you will be harmed.
So let’s think this through carefully. If you put the oxygen mask on your infant child they will be initially fine. Then what happens to your child when you are struggling for air and holding your infant becomes too difficult because you are increasingly light-headed and eventually pass out due to a lack of oxygen? The infant falls out of your arms and with your seatbelt still secure and eventually passed out – you can be of no help. The mask could then become dislodged from your infant’s face and your child is now no longer receiving any oxygen. This is likely to lead to fatal harm.
Instead let’s explore the alternative action in which you place the oxygen over your own face while holding your infant in your arms. Receiving oxygen allows you to be alert and attentive to your baby’s needs at all times. You are able to know when you need to share the oxygen mask between the two of you so both of you are getting your needs met. You are well enough to do this back and forth exchange of oxygen until outside help via an emergency landing and ground crews can assist you and your infant. Both of you have improved your chances considerably in surviving alive and well.
This balancing of your needs with another’s needs is an act of self-love. Being self-loving means that you are getting your needs met while still responding to the needs of others whether in your service or your care or both. Here are some self-care solutions you may wish to try on for yourself:
#1: Pay yourself first. . .
- Upon waking, remain in bed and give yourself 5 minutes of quiet reflection. Allow yourself to take some slow deep breaths and let your mind be free of thoughts of all the activities that are facing you today.
- Once out of bed, schedule in time to exercise as a first priority before your day becomes too busy.
- Make sure to make a lunch for yourself so you don’t find yourself skipping it or reaching for highly processed ‘grab and go’ items when on the run.
- And feed yourself some breakfast – it can be a simple, ‘auto-pilot’ meal that you do every day like oatmeal. No planning necessary. You know exactly what you will be having and it becomes a quick and easy routine.
#2: If you never say, “no”, your “yes” means nothing”.
- This is a common understanding from assertiveness communication training and a very helpful mantra to adopt. So exercise your ‘no’ muscles because it helps you to be less a slave to any guilty feelings you may have for not helping each and every time. Your ‘no’ encourages others to discover their own capabilities and strengths – that they can do things for themselves and that they can also reach out to others for help if necessary.
#3: Practice makes a habit
- Anytime you attempt to change a long-standing behaviour, it takes: time X effort. So be patient and understanding of yourself as you ‘try on’ different strategies to help you be better at meeting your own needs. Others may also express confusion, frustration and even hostility at your attempts to change into a person who is saying ‘yes’ to their own needs and sometimes ‘no’ to others. Remember you have every right to love yourself – in fact it is a basic right for each of us.
- So be prepared that others may say ‘no’ to you and make every effort to accept it respectfully because you know the courage it takes to love yourself!
Putting ourselves on the path to greater self-love is a rewarding and challenging journey. We end up learning more about ourselves and in the process grow to love ourselves more. This in turn encourages us to be even more loving toward others as well!