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Self-Care is Not Selfish

MJ O'Leary


At some point our car will run out of gas if we haven’t replenished the fuel supply. We refuel or recharge when the warning light signals it’s time, we change the oil every 5,000 miles or so, and we pull off the road to deal with a flat tire, avoiding further damage to the car.

We get one body to carry us through life, yet many people pay more attention to car maintenance than body maintenance. Do you tune in to the signals your body sends when you are running on fumes? Do you stop to repair your flat tire or do you push forward until you’ve ruined the rim? Are you careening down the highway of life ignoring the signs and signals that it’s time to slow down, refuel and replenish?

Lexie has carried me and my family over 200,000 miles and is still running like the day I bought her. I’ve taken good care of Lexie. If all goes according to plan, my body, with similar mileage, will function just as well as my car. Have you prioritized the daily care of your body so as to maximize its ability to serve you throughout your life, allowing you to celebrate your mature years with energy and vitality? Do you treat your body as well as you treat your car?

As a health coach, I support my clients on their journey to improved health.

Busy people (and just about everyone I meet falls into that category) tend to spend less time on their health when they feel overwhelmed with life’s daily activities — until something goes wrong. As the parent of a college student, it’s highly likely that for the past two decades or so, your well-being has taken a back seat to the needs of your child. With your child successfully launched into the adult world (congratulations!), it's time to focus on you. If you are still in the back seat, it's time to move to the front!

Prioritizing your health includes practicing the art of self-care, and embracing self-care with joy, gratitude and ZERO guilt.  Why do so many of us feel guilty when we prioritize our own needs? For us to show up as our best selves for our children, partners, co-workers, friends and family, we must take time to replenish. Only by taking care of, and fully loving, ourselves are we able to bring our best self to any relationship. Healthy relationships start with healthy individuals.

Self-care is any activity that nurtures and refuels you.

For some this is a massage, others a walk in the woods, a yoga class, quiet time with a good book, or spending time with friends. It matters not WHAT it is, just that it refuels YOU. If you are feeling a lack of energy and vitality, it’s time to replenish. A good place to start is to look at how you are handling stress.

Stress is inevitable. It’s how we deal with it that can make all the difference, for us and for those around us. Stress that hangs around for weeks or months affects our ability to focus, makes us more accident prone, increases our risk for heart disease, can weaken our immune system, disrupts our sleep, and can cause fatigue, depression and anxiety.

Of the many ways to manage stress, deep breathing and mindfulness are some of the most effective — simple, yet powerful. Deep breathing just a few times a day can have an extremely positive impact on your stress levels. Deep breathing is as simple as

  • breathing in to the count of four
  • holding to the count of six and
  • breathing out to the count of eight.

In two minutes you can completely reset your nervous system.

Tending to our own needs is the gift that keeps on giving to everyone around us. When we are able to show up as our best and most vital self, our family sees us as happy, energized and fulfilled. Research shows that being kind to ourselves and practicing self-compassion improves our well-being AND also benefits the people around us. Self-care is NOT selfish.

Start with the Foundational Five.

Are your self-care skills rusty? Start with the foundational five: eat, sleep, hydrate, move and breathe. It’s not just that you do these things (we can all agree you won’t get very far without any of them), it’s how best to eat, sleep, hydrate, move and breathe to fuel and replenish every cell in your body. We’ve already covered deep breathing. Here are a few practical tips for the rest:

Eat

Eat the rainbow! Each color represents a different family of healthy compounds. The more varied the colors on your plate, the more varied the health benefits.

Sleep

Sleep affects how we look, feel and function on a daily basis and is vital to our health and quality of life. When sleep is cut short the body doesn’t have time to complete all the phases needed for repair and detoxification. A lack of sleep (most adults need 7–8 hours) increases stress.

Hydrate

Staying hydrated is important to keep your body healthy, energized and running properly. One of the best habits you can develop is to drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning. This helps to eliminate the toxins your liver processed while you slept. Add a little fresh lemon for additional health benefits!

Move

Regular exercise can improve the quality of your sleep, strengthen your bones, increase your energy levels, and reduce your risk of high blood pressure. You don’t have to be the king or queen of CrossFit — all movement counts. The best form of exercise is the one you actually look forward to!

When we constantly prioritize others’ needs over our own, we lose vital force. These seemingly small self-sacrifices can add up over time, increasing our stress. So throw some Epsom salts in a tub and soak by candlelight, sit quietly with a cup of tea, finish that game of Words With Friends, or do anything that brings calm, joy and happiness to your life. I absolutely love this list of self-care ideas compiled by the GoodTherapy.org team.

Give yourself the attention you deserve. Take time to relax, to destress, to reconnect with your inner self, and your body will carry you beautifully through life.

MJ O'Leary is founder and executive director of wellnessmultiplied. A certified Integrative Health and Wellness coach and mother of four, MJ has a BA in psychology from Gettysburg College, a certification in finance from the University of Chicago, and is a 2017 graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

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