How Going Back to the Basics of Self-Care Overflows to Others

(Graphic artwork by McKenzi Matsick)

How Going Back to the Basics of Self-Care Overflows to Others

By Jehn Kubiak

Self-care has always felt, well…selfish. As I’m sure it does with a lot of benevolent men and women like myself. We care deeply about everyone in our lives—coworkers, church friends, kids, friends, and even the poor cashiers who constantly receive criticism from dissatisfied customers. Therefore, we put our own needs on the backburner.

It’s okay if I don’t get a lot of sleep tonight. My company really needs that shift covered.

I don’t really mind spending a few hours after church to help with that event, even though I’ve barely seen my kids all week. They’ll understand.

I can skip my lunch to help this customer who’s been waiting in line for over an hour.

Do any of these sound familiar? For those who struggle with self-criticism, at least one (if not all) of them probably hit hard. But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that self-care is actually allows you to be more selfless. That might sound backward, but the truth is, a lot of us have learned that you should “always put others before yourself.” And while that’s true in a lot of situations, you have to have some time for yourself.

Why? If you don’t, then you won’t be yourself. If you’re constantly undereating, then your mood will tank (and it’s even worse if you’ve work out at least an hour a day). A constant lack of sleep leads to irritability and poor coordination, meaning you make more mistakes than usual, according to Healthline. If you leave no free time for yourself, you’ll spend time helping others while yearning for a smidge of Friends or even time to curl up with a novel.

If you’re not feeling well or feeling like yourself, finding the motivation to help others becomes extremely difficult because that genuine desire to volunteer, work, or even be in relationships with others dwindles; it becomes more of an obligation than an opportunity.

Furthermore, self-care isn’t all physical; it’s equally a mental game. Constant self-criticism leaves you feeling like nobody appreciates your efforts because you made “x mistake” or are “too much of a ditz,” as I frequently have told myself. Everyone has their own weaknesses, so fill in the blanks with your words or phrases here. The general idea is that this constant self-criticism can often leave you angry with those who don’t validate your generosity or always say “thank you.”

With that said, I went through an extreme period of burnout this summer. If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ll know that it got to the point where I couldn’t talk for about 10 minutes—just nod and shake my head—when my coworkers asked, are you doing okay? That could have been avoided if I wasn’t constantly worrying about whether or not I was “good enough” for people or pressuring myself to always be “at 100 percent” for each individual person. But I learned that your “best” isn’t perfect—it’s whatever you can give at that moment—so I started taking care of myself mentally after this point by telling myself, you are loved, and you’ve got this. Those few words have worked wonders on my mood and positivity.

As for the physical side of things, I first started with making sure that I got quality sleep. I was definitely “sleeping” enough, but I’d wake up a few times a night. To ensure I had sufficient quality sleep, I journaled, drank chamomile tea, and had Benadryl for those hard nights. Second, I got back in the pool for my own swim time—not for teaching swim lessons. After doing that 4-6 days a week for a couple of months, and keeping that habit, I felt tremendously better since slicing my arms through the water is a thrill. Third, I had to start eating more, especially with my increased swim time. I looked for foods with high iron/protein, healthy fats, and made sure I was getting more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Six months later, February 2021, I feel immensely better. My mood is constantly positive, I feel like I can tackle the day, and I no longer worry about receiving validation from others. That’s overflowed into my relationships because I’m a much better person to be around. I’m frequently less frustrated, have stopped holding grudges against people for the littlest of things, and willingly keep helping those around me without expecting recognition or pushing myself to my limits. I know that even the littlest things I do matter, and those who truly care understand when I say “I need recharge time.”

In today’s busy world, self-care gets pushed back for the reasons I previously mentioned: pressuring oneself to be benevolent and the need for affirmation. We live in a society that can’t slow down, and though you don’t have to take a major vacation, you do need some time to care for yourself. For me, I’m so high-energy and love activity that I can’t really take more than a day off at a time. However, I do try to sneak in an hour every day or two hours every other day for a solitary activity like playing my guitar. This way, I can truly be myself and be there for others, yet not neglect my own needs. During this time, do whatever you need. Super tired? Catch a nap. Didn’t eat all day? Make a good plate of pasta. Just need to be alone with God? Grab a pen and journal, then sit down with some calm instrumental music.

Perhaps you get stuck sometimes and feel trapped between wanting to have that self-care and wanting to help, but just think about this first: am I really helping someone when I cannot possibly give more? Any time I get stuck, I just think about the people in the Bible who really did put themselves first, and Jesus is the best example of that:

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” – Luke 5:16

Let’s get back to the basics of self-care and start simple: one foot in front of the other. Remember: you do have time. The question is, what is the priority?