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What does it actually take to live a life that’s rich with self-care? There are five basic elements:
1. Understand your needs
You’ve got them, just like we all do. Sometimes the signals scream at you, like when you suddenly wake up with a seriously tweaked lower back. Pretty tough to ignore, right?
While you’re pumping the ibuprofen, consider this. Your aching back may be trying to tell you something about some aspect of your life where your needs are getting ignored. Especially if you had no precipitating fall, twist, strain, or intense new exercise that could have taxed you.
Chances are this pain has nothing to do with your back per se but instead is using that part of your body as a very loud megaphone. The same is often true for all sorts of chronic, stress-related illnesses like eczema, insomnia, gut issues, heart disease, fibromyalgia, and even herpes. When these kinds of conditions flare up, it’s a great time to stop, quiet down, and ask yourself—or even your aching body part—what you need.
See what answer swims up first. Then, instead of fleeing or ignoring it, just take note.
On the other hand, your needs might express themselves much more quietly. For instance, you keep meaning to call your dear old Aunt Sally, but who has the time? Still, Aunt Sally lingers in the back of your mind, and the thought chides you on a regular basis. One night in the middle of the night, you wake up knowing you really do need to talk to Aunt Sally. Like now.
This is the kind of need that, when you’re extremely busy, is easy to ignore. After all, you’ve barely spent any time in the last several years with Aunt Sally, even though you adored her when you were a child. You decide Aunt Sally can get along for one more day without hearing from you, and you carry on as if nothing had happened.
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But then comes that terrible moment when you find out that Aunt Sally suddenly died. You didn’t speak to her, you feel guilty and ashamed of yourself, and so it goes.
Another unmet need becomes one more arrow in the quiver of self-inflicted arrows that ultimately take you down.
It’s remarkably hard when you are very busy to allow your-self to follow that tenuous path back to your heart. So often, those moments just seem so unimportant, and honoring them may feel completely counterintuitive and like genuine time wasters.
Yet here’s where the magic is.
The unexplainable desire to connect with Aunt Sally was a message from none other than your heart and soul, the very same part of you that keeps getting ignored as you press ever forward with your to-do list. By stopping and actually listening to that critical voice within and acting on it, you give yourself a small, precious gift.
As you begin to meet your needs, life suddenly shifts and becomes remarkably easier. You find you can breathe again. The more you do this, the more your life begins to change.
This is when the drama stops. People around you seem to become more respectful and loving, and the out-and-out assholes disappear. Meanwhile, you become kinder and more relaxed. As you begin to tune in to yourself more and more and honor those seemingly innocuous instincts, your life simply improves.
This is how you learn to do less, achieve more, and live in peace.
By simply understanding and honoring your needs.
2. Set boundaries
It’s remarkable how hard it is for some of us to say no, right?
It may feel like someone’s always nipping at our heels, trying to get in there with a request. There may be a virtual avalanche of requests coming at us all the time. Or so it seems if we’ve been in the habit of saying yes all the time. Because once those boundaries get trampled, the rest of the world comes barreling in.
You may find yourself agreeing to things you don’t want to do but then muttering to yourself, “I’ll just get through this, and then everything will be okay,” or “Just this one last time.” That, my friend, is a red flag.
How do you know where you and your boundaries begin and end? It’s all about your agitation level.
Notice how your body reacts when a request is made. If you’re like some of us, your mind will say yes while your body is screaming “NO! NO! NO!” That would be a significant boundary worth paying attention to.
Yet you may ignore your body. Instead, once again, the ever-compliant you says yes.
Of course, you have perfectly sensible reasons why. You tell yourself that somebody has to do it. Or that if you do the task, at least it will be done correctly. Or you convince yourself there’s no one else who can do it or that there will be some sort of advantage down the road to agreeing.
And yet, your body did issue a firm, unequivocal no, didn’t she? That was the voice of your soul, the living breathing heart of you that always looks out for your well-being. And when she says an unequivocal no, she means it. In other words, somewhere along the line, you will pay for this errant yes.
The beautiful thing about boundaries is that your body always tells you just where they are, even if you don’t always agree.
Meanwhile,your good excuses become very flimsy when held up to the light of reason. For instance, there are definitely other people who can do this unwanted task instead of you. If you died tomorrow, it would still presumably get done, wouldn’t it? And if not, maybe it wasn’t that important to begin with. And as for getting the job done “right,” consider this. There may be someone you don’t even know who might do this job better than you.
In the end, no one knows where your boundaries begin and end but you. The question is whether you will honor them.
3. Ask for help as needed
Some of us are a lot better at this than others. But for the most part, we’re a steely, independent lot, us hardworking women. We don’t want no help, no how.
And yet, think about how much easier that might actually be. Then you might get a little time to breathe and think and simply be. Then life might calm down significantly if you could just delegate or even find someone to lean on.
Still, if you’re like many of us, you convince yourself that you don’t need any help. “By the time I explain all this to someone else, I could have done it myself twice,” you say. Or you insist you have enough help, even though you’re a frantic mess by day’s end.
Consider this. What if you reject getting adequate help because it might make you feel vulnerable?
Would accepting help somehow make you feel less heroic and more…sigh…human? Allowing in help may simply mean that you are not the rock star you think you are. And if so, well, you’re not alone.
When you actually allow in support, then you have some extra time on your hands. Which means you can then get in touch with all those feelings you’ve been avoiding.
All it takes is one quiet evening, you know.
If it sounds like I’m trying to get you to rethink how you’ve been rolling, it’s true.
4. Take action
Before you get excited about this one, let me be clear.
I’m not talking about “working hard” at self-care or even sneaking in items from your lengthy to-do list. Instead, I’m saying take steps that undo your old, steely habits of self-neglect. Even if that step is to do nothing and relax.
Take action by reading this book and doing the exercises. Take action by being courageous enough to do things differently, to get out of your comfort zone and ask for help. Listen to your body, and do what it asks you to do.
Take action even by taking a rest.
It may feel strange, but I promise it’s okay.
5. Build self-care into your day
Once you’ve begun to get in touch with what you want and need and you’ve adjusted your boundaries and learned to ask for help, there’s one final critical step. Take those new, mildly uncomfortable self-care habits you’ve discovered, and build them into your day.
I’m talking about automation here. You pay bills like your car insurance automatically, right? So why not set up a schedule that automatically builds in meditation, exercise, massages, and time to just sit around and relax?
Why not get the help you need—one way or another—to make this happen? Because if you don’t set up actual habits and systems to support this new life you’re building, delicious self-care items like getaways, naps, and journaling time quickly get ignored.
If you’re serious about destressing and enjoying more self-care, then your schedule must begin with you and your needs. After that, you can begin to fold in the rest of the world, in moderation, where possible. And only if it soothes your soul.
You can do it.
©2019 by Suzanne Falter. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission from
The Extremely Busy Woman's Guide to Self-Care.
Publisher: Source Books, Inc www.sourcebooks.com.
The Extremely Busy Woman's Guide to Self-Care: Do Less, Achieve More, and Live the Life You Want
by Suzanne Falter
After facing an unthinkable tragedy, Suzanne Falter transformed her identity as a stressed-out workaholic to find her way back to wholeness and balance. In The Extremely Busy Woman's Guide to Self-Care, Suzanne shares simple, bite-sized suggestions to help you ease on to the path of effective self-care in a way that feels doable rather than demanding. The road to soothing self-care is right in front of you―all you have to do is say yes to the journey and take the first step. (Also available as a Kindle edition and an Audio CD.)
About the Author
Suzanne Falter is an author, speaker, blogger and podcaster who has published both fiction and non-fiction, as well as essays. She also speaks about self-care and the transformational healing of crisis, especially in her own life after the death of her daughter Teal. Her non-fiction books also include How Much Joy Can You Stand? and Surrendering to Joy. Her non-fiction work, blog, podcasts and her online course, Self-Care for Extremely Busy Women, can be found at www.suzannefalter.com