Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: It’s the Most Effective Way to Stop Being Burnt Out, Exhausted and Resentful
All the problems in life, as well as our stress, are intensified and magnified by exhaustion. Just look at the meltdown a small child has when they are extremely tired, but cannot find the words to express they want to go to sleep. Adults are no different fundamentally; while it may look more sophisticated when we have a meltdown, we still break down when we are burnt out and drained. This often leads to a vicious cycle in which we don’t know how to compensate for our exhaustion and so, we start blaming others, or our own self, for it. But there is a very clear, and simple, solution to stop this cycle. I just ask that you bear with me for a moment before we discuss how to feel refreshed, focused and motivated again. This is because while the is answer is simple, it’s also very common for our feelings about it to be complex. I’m going to ask you to first identify if you relate to any of the following statements before we talk about how to solve this problem.
Do you relate to any of the following statements?
- People need, and expect, too much from me.
- I have a never-ending to-do list.
- I “forget” to eat or drink water.
- It’s important to me to keep the people in my life happy.
- I feel guilty saying “no.”
- I want to but I never have the time and/or energy to exercise.
- I feel guilty about being tired and distracted when I’m with others.
- I sometimes feel like the people in my life couldn’t survive without me.
- I resent the people in my life sometimes for being so needy.
- Other people need to get it together and then I can have some time for what I want.
- I should be able to do it all. It looks like other people can.
- I’m proud of how much I can do, and how little sleep I need.
- I eat whatever’s around. I don’t have time to think about healthy foods.
- I feel guilty doing something nice for myself.
- Self-care is selfish.
- I don’t ever get enough sleep.
- I get angry when people talk about self-care. Don’t they know my problem is that I already have too much to do.
- Self-care is a luxury that I can’t afford.
If you relate to any one, or more, of these statements, then it makes sense why you are so exhausted. Clearly, you have too much going on but I’m sure you already knew that. What might be less obvious, is that all of these statements are actually very common experiences in codependency. This is way of living is deeply painful, overwhelming, and disempowering. But, for a fact, we can get better and stop feeling so drained, overwhelmed, and used by others. Recovery is possible. It just takes implementing the very simple solution.
The fact that you are taking the time to read this article while feeling so exhausted, is super impressive, and actually an amazing head start to solving this problem. The solution: Self-care. But not just any old self-care, an actual self-care plan and routine. You might be thinking to yourself; “I’m already overwhelmed and you’re telling me I need to do more.” Well, yes and no. I’m encouraging you to do more for yourself but less for others.
What is self-care really anyway?
Self-care is the practice of prioritizing our own care with healthy, consistent activities with the clear understanding that it fortifies us to stay present to our tasks in life, and others, without unnecessary overwhelm. Healthy activities fortify our mind, body, and/or spirit. It may include exercising, staying hydrated, taking a bath, journaling about your day, doing a puzzle or crossword, playing a brain game, taking your lunch break, praying, drinking a soothing cup of herbal tea, or reading about your spirituality. Self-care activities help you release stress, become calmer and feel refreshed. You know you have found a great self-care activity for you when you feel lighter, and more hopeful, after doing it.
We all have unhealthy urges when stressed that we sometimes justify acting on as self-care. We may think “I deserve it” and allow ourselves to overeat, spend too much, smoke, or scroll endlessly on our phones. Any time you practice an activity that leads you feeling regret, stressed, or self-loathing, you know for a fact that it was not truly self-care. And the problem with indulging in these urges in the guise of self-care is it actually perpetuates the very issues we are trying to avoid. We will never feel energized, refreshed or grounded by these activities. Instead, we have more problems which may include the stress of regret, physical bloating or fatigue, or stress about money.
Isn’t self-care selfish?
This is a common worry but, it’s actually selfish not to develop a self-care practice. This is because all human beings (this includes our own self whether we like it or not) have a finite amount of physical and emotional energy. If we neglect to care for ourselves, and fail to replenish our physical and emotional reserves, we will ultimately break down and burn out. This may not be obvious for a long time but it is a fact in life. I have met many women who worked so hard to be Super Woman and really, for years, it appeared they could function at a superhuman level without consequences. And yet, one day, they crashed. Either their body, or their mind (and sometimes both), gave out. This can look like severe exhaustion or depression in which one cannot find the motivation to even get out of bed, or do basic tasks for their hygiene like showering or brushing their teeth. It also often manifests as disease from years of self-neglect. It can even look like snowballing resentment towards a partner until there’s so much conflict, divorce feels like the only option.
This is so commonplace; you likely have an example from your own life unfortunately. You may know someone who refused to see the doctor and by the time they finally did, they had a terminal diagnosis. Or, you’ve seen an aging loved one, physically decline because they refused to stay active. Or, a married couple who fixated on changing the other, rather than caring for their own self first and this drove them to divorce. All of these examples are deeply painful to personally experience but they also add to a stress in the lives of their loved ones. And so, it’s so sadly ironic that people refuse to self-care to focus on being so helpful to others. After all, this refusal only leads to greater dependency, and stress, for others in the future.
I do not highlight any of this to scare you. It’s simply to highlight that if we neglect our bodies, and minds, we eventually break down. I think that it’s actually awesome that in the face of this fact, self-care can actually prevent or, at least, minimize our mental, emotional and physical decline. I don’t know what is more loving for the people who love us to be completely honest. Even though it may feel selfish to self-care, it is truly one of the most caring things you can do for the people that you love.
But what about the people who need me?
One of the most common traps in codependency is the myth of how much we are needed by others. Sure, we can create relationship patterns with others that enable them and reinforce the illusion of dependency but, it’s just that: an illusion. The only people that are ever actually dependent on you are children. Other than that, whether they act needy or not, all adults are responsible for themselves firstly.
It’s actually unhelpful to other adults to try to take care of them. We can disempower them through our “help.” Sure, your spouse may not be able to cook with as much ease, or skill, as you but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of learning. Or maybe, you want to help your friend by always being on-call for their relationship dramas, but your availability may actually prevent them from feeling motivated to stop this pattern in their life. Or, perhaps you want the people in your life happy at all times, but you are actually limiting their whole experience in this world. It is part of our birth right as human beings to fully experience being alive and that means experiencing all of our emotions.
A lot of times, in codependency, the way we care for others is actually selfish even though it doesn’t look like this on the surface. We may do it with the expectation that they follow our plans, and advice for them. Or, we may do it because we want to feel appreciated. Or we are always willing to help out to try to ensure everyone likes us. None of these reasons are truly generous and centered in caring for the other person.
Given our limited time and energy as humans, you cannot do it all so you will likely need to stop doing so much for others but I sincerely hope you see how this is actually kind and loving. When you step aside, and allow others a chance to figure out how to help themselves, you are allowing them the opportunity to be empowered and whole.
Isn’t self-care costly?
If we want to have a healthy relationship and have self-respect we actually cannot afford not to self-care. There are plenty of self-care activities that are completely free. These include taking walks, deep breathing, stretching, reading a book from the library, and getting enough sleep. There are also plenty of self-care activities that are very low cost such as painting your own nails, applying a face mask, or eating a healthy meal. It is a myth that self-care needs to be expensive and luxurious. I mean, I’m all for a spa day but this isn’t a sustainable self-care plan in of itself. Your self-care plan needs to be consistent so it must be sustainable.
How do I find the time?
This is two-fold; as already discussed, we have to set boundaries on how much we help others so we have time for ourselves and plenty of self-care activities take very little time. You may practice deep breathing at a red light. You may get out of bed and do three stretches to start your day. You may take a leisurely walk to your mailbox while just scanning for how many pretty things you can find there and back. Or, you may notice you spend some time at night on your phone just zoning out, and may choose to find a book you like to read instead during this time. As stated before, your self-care plan needs to be sustainable so finding activities you enjoy, that take very little time, is a great way to ensure you will keep it up.
When do I get to stop with all this self-care?
I always say recovery is a lifestyle. Therefore, if you truly want to feel better, in a lasting and meaningful way, then self-care must become a way of life. Self-care will allow you to feel relief in the moment but also supports you long-term. If you take time every day to self-care, you will find because you feel so restored and revitalized, you feel like you have more time in your day. It takes up a lot of time to be overwhelmed and exhausted after all. With less stress, a clearer mind, and more empowerment, you will be powered through your days with more ease and success.