I woke up with a startle. How long had I been asleep? I checked the clock…two hours!!! I had intended to take a 10 minute power nap; but instead it lasted for several hours. Oh my goodness!!! An overwhelming sense of guilt came over me almost immediately. How could I have wasted all that time? I had a “To Do List” a mile long and I dare take two hours to rest? How could I? Here I am sleeping while the rest of the world was working and being productive.
It’s been five years since this event occurred. I still remember feeling like I had done something wrong. In my family we did not rest if there was work to be done…and believe me there was always work to be done. Not long after that experience I began to realize the vicious cycle of exhaustion I had become accustomed to in my life: I was tired because I was always working, I was always working because there was always work to be done, when there is work to be done there is no time to rest, but I was tired because I never got to rest, but I couldn’t rest while there was work to be done. Yikes! The cycle was more than just exhausting; it was a life sucking spiral.
Since then I have come to realize the importance of self-care. Not just the occasional moments of giving to yourself (like the ones that occur about as often as leap year), I mean true self-care that keeps us rejuvenated and refreshed. The importance of self-care was really instilled in me during my academic career. The program I attended required the students to formulate a “Self-Care Contract.” The contract had to state what we (the student) did on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis to care for our well-being. I remember vividly trying to hold in a laugh, that kind of chuckle you have to cover up with a cough. I could not believe that I was expected to draft and abide by a “Self-Care Contract” while being a full-time student and a full-time employee. I mean seriously, they had to be joking. As we (myself and all the other disbelieving students) discussed this valid concern with our professor he explained the absolute necessity of self-care for every individual, and especially for those in a helping profession. He illustrated his point by paralleling the need to care for ourselves with the instructions a flight attendant announces before a plane’s departure. During the emergency instructions the flight attendant will tell the passengers traveling with small children to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting a child. This is due to the fact that if the adult is depleted of oxygen he will become unconscious and be of no help to the child. That child is depending on the adult to care for himself so that the grown up can then help the child in their time of need. Our professor discussed how we, as future counselors, would be helping people in their time of need and if our oxygen is not being supplied we will be of no use to our clients. So he reiterated his request: “What is your oxygen? What is your self-care?”
The act of self-care does not only apply to those in a helping profession, but to any one who emotionally gives to other people; whether it be a romantic relationship, friendship, parental, or professional relationship. If we are giving part of ourselves we must be aware of the need to replenish ourselves. Just as we must refuel the gas tank in a car, our food intake when we get hungry, and our phone battery when it dies, we must refresh our heart, mind and soul as well.
Contrary to my family’s beliefs I am not required to work every second I can in order to be accomplished. When I rest and care for myself I am making an accomplishment. I am restoring myself to maximum capacity so that I can be the best Robin I can for those around me. In fact I still follow my “Self-Care Contract” from years ago. I’ve learned the importance of making sure I put on my oxygen mask first so that I can truly be of help to others. So I ask you the same question my professor asked me years ago: ”What is your oxygen? How do you care for yourself?”
I urge you to create your own “Self-Care Contract” and stick to it for at least one month. Notice how you feel and see if those around you observe any differences. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.