When researching information for my book Radical Self Care, one of the principal questions I kept coming back to was "Why don't we look after ourselves?"
Most self care is fairly standard and whilst we can get better at it and learn more about it, most of the time we at least have a rough idea of how we need to care for ourselves and yet over and over again, we do not!
It's a common theme I not only see in the therapy room but I have also seen in my own life too. The most amazing part of this neglect is that we tend to do it when we need to care for ourselves the most!
I encounter people every single day who are going through difficulties and, without my having to point it out, they will acknowledge that they “should” be eating better, sleeping better or exercising more. Deep down, we know that what we are doing is not good for us and yet when we are struggling we cannot seem to stop ourselves from sabotaging and neglecting ourselves.
Research shows that there are many reasons for us neglecting our self care. According to The International Centre for Self Care Research, we struggle to perform self care largely due to a challenge in changing our behaviours. Some of the most common reasons for us struggling to practice self care are:
Our habits make up much of our daily behaviour and are operated within the subconscious mind. This makes it increasingly difficult for our conscious mind to either start or stop a habit as they are often conducted when we are on ‘autopilot’.
Many of our fundamental self care behaviours are habitual, such as sleep, nutrition and movement, and changing them can feel almost impossible when we are already in a well established habit with them.
Self care is seemingly never more important than when we are struggling with a chronic illness, a time when caring for ourselves and prioritising ou
r needs would be much needed. However, this is also a time when we have little to no energy to create new habits and behaviours.
When dealing with a chronic illness much of the time, there is a need to assume responsibility and management of our own health. Out of 525,600 minutes in a year, patients with chronic conditions spend only on average 66 minutes (0.01%) of the time with a healthcare professional (Riegel et al, 2017) highlighting the need to take responsibility and invest time in managing the condition daily.
However, this is often frightening, overwhelming and daunting, leaving those with chronic conditions feeling confused, isolated and frustrated.
Taking time to care for our own needs often leads us to incorrectly label that as a selfish act. This mindset can come from many experiences, but it is fundamentally from our childhood when we are encouraged to compromise and collaborate with others.
As a new born baby, we are entirely self-focussed (or selfish!). We do not care that our caregiver is sleeping or eating when we want our needs met - we scream and cry until it is taken care of. This ensures our survival and is essential to our development. However, as we begin to get older, we learn that we also need to interact with a community and its survival is dependent on cooperation between each other. We are encouraged to share, to be patient with others and to understand that sometimes their needs have to get met over our own. We are rewarded for doing this and often punished with the chastisement of “Don’t be so selfish” when we do not do it.
Tying into selfishness is the heavy burden of guilt we may feel if or when we do anything that is entirely for ourselves. We believe that doing something for ourselves is ‘wrong’ in some way and start to feel guilty.
In the case of self care, this often means we feel guilty because we spent a whole hour to ourselves and did not clean the house. We cannot go back in time and clean the house in that hour, it has passed. This leaves us feeling persistently guilty and as though we should have done better.
Are you experiencing any of these barriers right now? Over the next few weeks I will share tools to help you overcome these barriers so that you can prioritise your self care but if you just cannot wait, you can get your copy of the book on Amazon today.
If you need one to one help or have any questions please feel free to reach out to us, we always respond.