A lot of us know that self care is important. But one thing that many of us struggle with is how to make time for it in our busy lives.
Instead, we women, and moms especially, spend a lot of time satisfying everyone else’s needs, thinking we’ll attend to our needs, later.
But the truth is, later never comes. Unless, you make time for it.
Many mental health experts say that those who don’t take time out to take care of their own needs, won’t be all that effective in taking care of another’s needs.
I know that this is certainly true for me.
So how can you make time for yourself when self care often feels so selfish?
Giving From Our Overflow and Not Our Left Overs
In my 30’s and 40’s I was driven by this obsessive need for perfection.
In my zealous attempt to “serve God whole heartedly” I drove myself ragged trying to serve others perfectly as a teacher, wife, mother, home maker and business owner.
But perfection, of course, is impossible–or at least that’s how it was for me.
What eventually happened was a complete spiritual, mental, physical and emotional breakdown that I didn’t even see coming until I’d run completely dry.
As Gary Smalley, the author of The DNA of Relationships, tells us, a malnourished person can’t help another malnourished person. Instead, giving to others should come from an “overflow” of the abundant grace we’ve received from God and not from its left overs.
Also, if you find yourself struggling to take care of yourself, you’ll most likely experience hardship in taking care of others. This is exactly what happened to me and what I couldn’t admit to until much much later.
Just as Jesus told us to:
“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew7:5
I keep going back to this scripture verse when I forget that if you don’t empower yourself to take care of yourself, than you’ll become powerless to serve others, too.
The Things That Get In The Way of Self Care
The funny thing I discovered, however, was that the only person getting in the way of my self care was myself.
These are the things that always got in my way. Tell me if you can relate….
I felt that if I was spending time doing something for myself, like reading a book, when the kids were home, I was being a “bad mother” since a good mother would want to spend that time with family. (i.e. “Shame on you!!”)
I held back from pursuing hobbies and ventures or anything else that weren’t directly related to serving the family and/or others.
It took me almost 3 years to start this blog, for example, because I was so caught up in doing everything for the sake of others’ like: baking, cooking and doing only those things that pertain to family and home.
This is not to say that any of these activities are unimportant. They are! And I enjoy doing them, immensely. But my perfectionism was driving the joy out of doing them because I doing it from a place of proving myself rather than doing these things from a place of unconditional love.
Over-Commitment Can Lead To Over the Top Emotions
Although I consider myself pretty stingy about what and where I choose to spend my time on, I always felt this “need” to constantly say “yes” to my husband or my kids.
What this did to me, though, was make me more resentful and even hostile towards them-and not more loving and gracious.
As Gretchen Rubin writes in her book, The Four Tendencies, I experienced a type of “Obliger rebellion” where doing things for others made me shut myself off from others who asked for help.
A case in point was when I screamed, “I can’t take it anymore!” , at my bewildered husband one time when things got really rough, and then yelling at him to find a new wife/housekeeper because I was going to check myself in to a mental asylum.
The Power of One
Doing for others constantly, and driving yourself to perfection non-stop, and shaming yourself in the process can and will drive you insane.
Fortunately, by God’s grace, my body broke down, before I totally fell apart–mentally that is.
During my period of forced rehabilitation, I realized that my selflessness had essentially been a warped version of my selfishness.
It’s only when I realized that I needed to get what I needed before giving to others that I started to incorporate self care into my life.
How to Find Time For Self Care Without Being Selfish
If you want to make time for yourself, and overcome the obstacles that are holding you back, here are 3 simple tips to get you started.
Self Care Tip #1: Self Knowledge Equals Better Self-Care
Everyone of us is wired differently. So unless you figure out what type of self care methods work for you, you’ll find it more difficult to give yourself a time-out.
For example, taking baths, or hanging out with my girlfriends or going to a spa just drains me.
Instead, what truly inspires me is reading a good book, crafting or DIY’ing furniture or even organizing my house (yes… pretty sad, I know..).
What’s really sad, however, is that I didn’t know this about myself until I finally gave myself permission to do these things AND enjoy them without feeling guilty!
Guilt and shame are huge time wasters! So rather than get stuck, trying to decide if what you want to do, matches up with what you should do, figure out what you want to do and get started.
Is it going to the opera, or going for a scenic drive? Or taking a knitting class on-line? Whatever it is, take time out and pour your heart and soul into them.
You’ll find that whatever little time you invest in caring for yourself this way will pay you (and others around you) back in dividends.
You’ll feel much calmer and more refreshed if not more patient even with your demanding children and think it’s cute when they leave their dirty dishes on the kitchen counter soon after you’ve started the dishwasher.
You may be so filled up that you’ll even find yourself enjoying that 4th round of competitive Bingo with your son!
Self Care Tip #2: Self-Focus Equals Better Self-Care
Once you choose a self care activity, make sure that it’s something that hones your spirit, mind, body.
Things like mindless on-line shopping, non stop social media browsing, or binge watching Netflix until 4 am on a workday are addictive activities that will leave you mentally spent and physically drained (I know this from experience).
They’ll also distract you from doing things that fill you up: like eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and going outside to exercise.
Like junk food that numbs our appetites for wholesome foods, mind numbing activities will only sap your energy and mental well being.
Instead, focus on only those self care activities that will sharpen your mind, strengthen your body and uplift your spirits. Mindfulness activities like prayer, meditation, or physical activities like yoga or creative activities like decoupaging, are great ways to refresh and restore.
Also, whatever self care activity you choose to do, be sure to schedule them in daily as a matter of routine.
As Gretchen Rubin writes in her book, The Happiness Project , the more self care habits you instill in your life, the happier you’ll feel and more energized you’ll be to serve others.
Self Care Tip #3: Schedule Self-Care
Scheduling time for self care is as simple as blocking out some time on your calendar–and it doesn’t even have to be that big a block of time, either.
As suggested by the economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1865, 80% of what you produce is usually the result of only 20% of your efforts.
In self care terms, this means that even if you can only spend 20% of your day on doing things that build you up, you’ll be able to have 80% of your day in which you can lavish care on all the others you serve.
This can mean that just spending 30 minutes on the treadmill will give you the stamina to power through that huge pile of laundry that needs washing, drying and folding.
Or that 20 minute cat nap mid afternoon will keep your energy flowing until you tuck the kiddos into bed so you can stay up to catch up with your spouse (***Note: Naps are something I hated until I started seeing the benefits of it. Truly worth it!).
I’m willing to bet that if you can fill your schedule with these few essential activities, many of the non-essentials that you’ve been overcommitting yourself to will all magically fall away or get resolved all on their own.
A Scene from Our Asian Past
In a late 80’s Japanese movie called Tampopo, a deathly ill, bed ridden mother gets up out of bed just long enough to cook her family one last meal before passing on.
Although I wince every time I think of this scene, I’m also reminded of what lengths we mothers (and fathers) can go to sometimes to serve those we love.
Similarly, selflessness was a way of life for my immigrant Korean parents. Like many other Korean parents of their generation who gave up their desires, needs and wants for the sake of their children’s success was the mark of good parenting in my childhood Korean-American home.
Self Care is Not Selflessness
My Dad was a good example of this. He gave up a pretty successful career as a professional musician in South Korea to come to the United States to give my brother and I better educational, financial and career opportunities.
But in all his self giving, I don’t remember getting anything more valuable than catching a glimpse of him practicing his clarinet.
A few months before he passed, I watched my Dad, decked out in his L.A.P.D. band member’s uniform, practicing his solo clarinet piece in his office.
The intensity and passion in which he played made my eyes tear up and heart swell with pride. This scene reminded me of those few times where I’d get this way singing worship songs. It felt so heartbreakingly beautiful….
What a shame that I only got a glimpse of his good pleasure shortly before he passed.
Self Care Magnifies God’s Pleasure In Us
Unfortunately, I think many mothers (or even fathers for that matter) don’t give our children the opportunity to witness such beauty and wonder in what we spend so much of our time doing.
We get so wrapped up in giving them our time, money and effort that our kids don’t get to witness what our heart most desires.
In one scene from The Chariots of Fire, Olympic hopeful Eric Liddel says that God made him for a purpose. That besides going to China as a missionary, God has also made him”fast” and that he can “feel his (God’s) pleasure” when he runs.
It’s only by freeing ourselves to do something we enjoy doing, that we honor God since we reflect the glory of THE One who gives us the capacity to do these things.
We can serve others better this way, too. When we show off God’s glory and passion as a witness to others, they become better for it and because of it.
Shaming and perfection has no part in enjoying the excellencies of all that God gave us to share with others. But without striving to make time for those things we’re good at, we can’t showcase our best for others, either.
So, my friends, how will you make time for your self care today? Schedule in self serving time so you can expand the time you share your pleasure with others.
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