Prioritizing Self-Care (even when you think it’s impossible)
This time of year has always been the most challenging for me, especially when it comes to taking care of myself. It was as if life went into overdrive on all fronts: work deadlines, social obligations, kids’ school festivities, gifts, holiday cards, special foods, traveling, etc. Each of these seemed to come out of nowhere, wrapped in a package labeled “URGENT!” And I’d take on each task as if EVERYTHING depended on me doing it and doing it well, because of that voice inside me saying, “The holidays have to be special and meaningful!”
Seeing the problem/opportunity
The tragedy lay in the fact that all that work I put into making the holidays special and meaningful led to one stressed out mother, wife, friend, volunteer, employee, and each of my role performances suffered as a result. I was living far more in the future than in any given moment, mostly missing out on the very things I wanted most! It would end with me feeling unhealthy (all that mindless eating!), exhausted (lack of sufficient rest) and somewhat empty (where did the time go? where’s the specialness?). So the question for me became, “How can I contribute towards a special and meaningful holiday AND take care of me at the same time?”
Growing awareness and bringing about change
This year is different. I’ve learned how to prioritize ME, with a focus on that which makes me tick, my life drivers, my longings, my personal needs. In other words, when I clearly know what they are, I can get ALL of my needs met, which for me is self-care in a nutshell.
As a result of learning self-connection techniques, I’m now pretty clear that my top needs around the holidays are:
In previous years I was busy prioritizing a myriad of must-do (mostly tradition-based) strategies, without stopping to check if they actually contributed toward meeting my needs. Now I’m better able to decide if certain strategies are good for me or not. If they don’t contribute towards these needs, then I search further and try to be creative.
Why look at personal needs?
Needs tell us what’s at the heart of the matter, what’s really important to us, the essence, our longings and intentions. They are the “why” we do things, whereas strategies are the “how.” When we’re busy with strategies without being clear on underlying drivers, we often experience being lost, frustrated, stuck.
So when I started looking into my underlying drivers on a day to day basis, I got to know myself far better, particularly WHY I did many of the things I did. I learned to embrace my needs, feel compassion for them. And I started to realize I did not much care for many of my strategies (HOW I was meeting some needs). So many of them contributed to things really, really important to me as a child (e.g. safety, love, appreciation), but weren’t serving me well as an adult (e.g. hiding emotion, not asking for help, pleasing, etc.).
Letting your “personal hierarchy of needs” guide you
Not long ago, I received more clarity than ever when I took my list of 10 most re-occurring needs and prioritized them. What I loved about this personal hierarchy of needs list is what it taught me about THE REAL ME. Much can be derived from your own personal hierarchy of needs list. Here, I’ll just focus on the top need. One can fill in the blank:
“When I don’t prioritize _________, I have a difficult time getting my other needs met.”
This is in synch with Maslov’s (bottom-to-top) needs pyramid, which puts forth that certain basic needs are required to be met (at least partially) before one is capable of moving up to the next level. Simply put, if one doesn’t have shelter or enough food or water, then her focus remains mostly there and she isn’t very available to fully go for other needs such as pursuing inner talent.
So, even though I knew it in the broad sense, this really put things into better focus for me. I want to prioritize my physical and mental health first and foremost. When I don’t take care of me, all else suffers to varying degrees. I can think of countless times when this has happened in my life, especially since I became a parent. But now, I’m making an effort to bring it into my daily consciousness, and I’m noticing big differences.
[image from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/millennials-maslows-hierarchy-needs-matthew-larsen-morava]
Try these steps:
- Your personal hierarchy of needs list: decide on your top 10 needs and then prioritize them. Reflect, ask for feedback, receive empathy, get coaching sessions—whatever works for you—to get clarity. Only you can ultimately know what these are, or in what order to arrange them. If you want to try it on your own, use my needs list as a reference.
- Mindmapping or other visuals: start with your top need and reflect on it alone. When I tried to get clarity on what self-care actually means for me, I decided to map it out, give myself a visual. You can also write it out or use magazine clippings, paint or other visual methods. I wrote “SELF-CARE” in the center of a blank page, with the intention to fill it up as associations and ideas came to me. I was surprised to see how much came to me and how quickly I could categorize it all. In the moments I drew a blank, I asked myself:
- What does it mean for me?
- How do I best meet it?
- What has worked in the past?
- What new ideas attract me?
Repeat this step for any other personal need for which you want more clarity – “what does this actually mean for ME?”
- Daily referral: hang your visual of your top need(s) in a place where you can see each morning. When you see it, take a moment to reflect and choose one or two ideas to carry out each day. Do this from a place of inspiration and motivation; no “have-to’s!” Keep your personal hierarchy of needs list in prominent place as a daily reminder / for reflection. Ask yourself if there’s any action you’d like to take or stop doing to help you meet one or more needs.
- Find an accountability buddy: this can be someone who knows how to listen (and doesn’t provide solutions), who agrees to check in on you routinely to inquire about your experience, be present (in a nonjudgmental way) for your full expression and any desired fine-tuning.