There are lots of reasons why people get stressed and anxious but recently I keep hearing the same thing from the clients I see. They are suffering from overwhelm because they care for others to the extent that they don’t have enough time to care for themselves.
Double edged sword
One of the problems is that being kind, generous and helpful feels good. There is lots of evidence from the world of positive psychology that altruistic behaviour has benefits for both the provider and the receiver. However, it can create a problem when one’s major source of happiness is looking after others and neglecting oneself in the process.
Some people are care-givers to their elderly relatives and have dependent children at home too. Although all the parties have needs to be met, these have to be realistic and prioritised as one person may not be able to provide them all. If getting support and help from others isn’t possible. then it’s essential that the needs of the care-giver are also taken into consideration and prioritised. Struggling to do too much, for too long will ultimately end in physical and/or psychological strain and have a negative effect on everyone, the care-giver as well as those who are dependent on them.
Self-care is not selfish
Some people seem to regard self-care as selfish and self-indulgent behaviour. If they also feel that the happiness of others is more important that their own. they can unintentionally put themselves into a position where they suffer from fatigue, anxiety and overwhelm. Trying to make others happy can be at the expense of one’s own happiness and health.
Sometimes, in order to review the situation it is necessary to see it from another perspective. The question, a variant of this, “Would you be happy for someone you love to feel as you presently and cope with all you do?” can sometimes provide the realisation that self-care and self-compassion is an essential part of caring for others. Self-compassion means caring for oneself in the same way that you would for others that you love. Adopting an attitude and acceptance that it is not possible to be all things to all people can also alleviate the stress of striving for perfection. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is all that is possible. No-one has unlimited resources. A balanced diet, enough sleep, exercise, leisure time, time spent with friends and the opportunity to relax and recover should not be regarded as ‘nice to have’ but as essential to one’s wellbeing.
Finding the best fit
The secret to self-care is to find what is most effective and useful for the individual and then making sure that time(s) is set aside each day so it becomes daily practice. Choosing something enjoyable creates the intrinsic motivation that makes it less likely to be overlooked
It doesn’t matter what it is
I have worked with people who have a vast range of different activities and strategies they use to recover from stress and tiredness. Some are active such as playing a sport, going for a walk, gardening and others more based in relaxation such as mindfulness meditation, reading a book,or listening to music. It doesn’t matter what it is if you feel you benefit and there is no health risk (such as drinking alcohol or eating non-nutritious foods which simply numb negative feelings rather than address them).
It doesn’t take long
There is a perception that self-care will require a lot of time but it is remarkable how much can be achieved in just a few minutes. A one minute meditation, a 2-minute phone call to a friend, or a five-minute walk, may be enough to restore, rejuvenate and reinvigorate
Life can easily feel tedious, serious and hard going but there is nothing like fun and laughter to bring light relief. Doing things that bring a smile or better still creates laughter can transform one’s mood. I run regular free laughter sessions in my community where we sometimes laugh continually for 10 minutes or more. The positive physical, psychological, emotional and social benefits which result in a cascade of happy chemicals (oxytocin, serotonin dopamine and endorphin) can last for days and help people to feel more resilient and energetic. Even listening to laughter can help – listen to the audio clip from one of our laughter club sessions and see if it causes you to smile or have a positive reaction.