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Why making yourself a priority is a must
Many of us fail to prioritise ourselves – we often place the needs of others before our own, which means when life gets busy, we end up compromising our own beliefs and desires. The saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” couldn’t be more fitting. More often than not, our wellbeing takes a backseat as we go about our day checking off our to-do lists, prioritising everyone else’s needs over our own.
“It is such a great reminder of where we go if we ignore our own needs for too long,” says psychologist, mindfulness teacher and EMDR-accredited practitioner Kellie Edwards. “When you fly, if you’re travelling with someone who you’re caring for, you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping them secure theirs. We are no good to anyone passed out on the floor, let alone ourselves.”
Edwards believes there are three key areas to consider when practicing, and prioritising, self-care – reducing the negatives, increasing the positives, and building resources for flourishing. “Attending to these three areas opens you up to all that life has to offer, and your cup will be well and truly full,” she says.
Giving too much, receiving too little
Why do we put others’ needs before our own? Edwards trusts it’s because we are so much better at looking after other people than ourselves. “It’s out of habit, our culture, how we were brought up, or just what was expected of us in core relationships,” she says. “Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t know how to work out what we need, and don’t realise that life can be better if we do look after that as well as look after others!”
Most of us, without even realising, associate the idea of loving others with forgetting about ourselves. Due to this, feelings of resentment and irritation build up, which can even end up subconsciously harming those around us. But we have nothing to give when we feel depleted – we’re drained of energy and desire, simply going through the motions but not truly engaging.
“Underneath it all, we all want life to be fair,” Edwards says. “Part of this is the idea that if we are good, generous and kind to others, others will be good to us in return or the universe will reward us.”
Self-care is not selfish
It’s time to shake up the notion that putting yourself first is selfish. Edwards says this is a prime example of ‘too much of a good thing turns a strength into a weakness’. There is a stark difference between taking care of ourselves and taking from others to feel better. In fact, a little tender loving care strengthens us and helps us better support our loved ones.
“It’s great to help others, to help take care of their needs, to be kind and generous, but taken this far – where we also feel morally unwilling or unable to include ourselves as one whose needs are prioritised – is a recipe for exhaustion, possibly resentment and ill health,” she says. “This might come from our family values and upbringing, our faith, or even just a habit of a lifetime of caring for others.”
A selfish person doesn’t consider – or care – about the impact their actions will have on others and they’ll likely do anything to get the best outcome for themselves, no matter the consequence. At the other end of the spectrum is selflessness, which is often misconstrued as never thinking about yourself and prioritising everyone else. Constantly pushing ourselves to the limit and forgoing our needs can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. If we’re not attuned to who we are and what we want, we begin to make sacrifices that will negatively impact us and our loved ones.
Finding a happy medium can be tricky, but the truth is, sometimes we all need to be a little more selfish than selfless. There will be times where we must look out for ourselves, and only ourselves.
Putting yourself at the top of your priority list starts with self-awareness. No one can take care of you better than you, so acknowledging when you’re feeling flat, run down or simply need a break will help making little change to your lifestyle that much easier. “A good place to start is to simply ask ourselves, ‘What do I need? What might be helpful?’. Just notice what, if anything, bubbles up when we ask ourselves those questions,” Edwards says. “Another way is to ask ourselves, ‘If I were my own best friend, how would I take care of myself?’”
Life can be all-consuming, so taking time out from the hustle and bustle to explore your feelings can also do a world of good. “It might be as simple as noticing the blue sky, hearing the happy chatter of children in the street, smiling at a stranger passing by, remembering something good about your life, or savouring a favourite happy memory,” says Edwards, who invites all her clients to stop and savour the moment. “Really take it in for 20 seconds or so – you are filling that cup back up again each time you do.”
Implement some ‘non-negotiables’
Creating a few day-to-day guidelines to stop you from compromising yourself and your happiness is vital to ensuring your overall physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. These could be as simple as getting to bed early, allowing time to enjoy a healthy breakfast before zipping off to work, practicing yoga or meditation, or simply turning the phone off during dinner time.
“Ongoing healthy habits like getting enough sleep, exercising and moderate nutritional eating are healthy and happiness-boosters that are great ways of taking care of ourselves,” says Edwards, who also encourages “forms of stillness”, like mindfulness and self-compassion practices”.
Meditation and mindfulness – the practice of simply turning inwards and observing your thoughts – can be incredible for the human mind. According to a study, meditation increases the daily experience of positive emotions. Compuware Corporation, a business software company in Detroit, Michigan, offered its staff six 60-minute group meditation sessions over seven weeks, which, in turn, produced an increase in productivity, purpose in life, support, and a decrease in sickness.
Edwards also stresses the importance of connecting with our loved ones when we’re in need of a little boost “An often under-estimated but fundamental need is to connect to others,” she says. “We are wired neurologically to be social – we need each other – but we don’t always see this as an important part of taking care of and resourcing ourselves for the challenges of everyday life.”
So, whether it’s curling up on the couch with a good book, filling up the tank of fuel and hitting the road, or even enjoying that extra slice of pizza, find calm and clarity in every day. Prioritising your own health and wellbeing is one of the best things you can do, not only for yourself but also for your loved ones. “We are physically, emotionally and mentally well when we’re looking after our own needs, but this needs to be a lifelong habit, not a once in a while thing,” Edwards says. “It also helps us be better company – better partners, friends and carers – so go for it!”
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