Everyone knows that we each need to make time to take care of ourselves, but how many actually do that? I know I don’t. When things get hectic, or my kids, husband or clients need something extra from me the first thing to go is my self-care. Because of the MS, self-care and stress management are incredibly important for me. When I neglect these areas my mental and physical function suffers.
For me, ignored stress causes muscle cramps, brain fog, anxiety, physical and mental fatigue, stuttering, and a tendency to be too loose with my dietary choices. That last one causes all sorts of other physical problems. Sadly, I often don’t recognize that I’ve been ignoring my self-care routines until I suffer MS symptoms or until I feel completely overwhelmed.
One of my health goals this year is to get better at remembering to take care of myself. But, in order to do that, first I have to figure out *exactly* what those needs are. Evaluating what I NEED vs what I want, or what I think I need is an important first step. To be truthful, my biggest hurdle with myself is trying to convince myself that I *don’t* need something, when I actually do. For example, I’m an introvert. I need regular time alone to process my thoughts, meditate, and just be. I have a large, active family. Time to myself is something of a luxury, and quite frankly, I feel guilty making myself unavailable to my kids and husband for any portion of the day. But, it’s something I need to learn to do. I can function fairly well for a pretty long without meeting this particular need. Or at least, at a superficial glance it looks like I’m functioning well, but really, I’m not. When I don’t get enough uninterrupted time alone I lose my creativity. I become completely unable to hear the characters of my fiction writing. It takes a few months, but eventually I get mentally and emotionally fatigued and impatient with my husband. That’s usually the point when I realize I haven’t been taking the time apart that I need.
The question I get from many clients is, “How do I know what I need?” It’s a reasonable question. Many of us were taught to put others first, we’re taught to consider the needs of family, friends and community before our own. Many of us live in a fast paced world where we go from one activity to another, completing necessary tasks, and jobs that are expected of us without considering how those activities make us feel.
Every activity, job, task, or conversation you engage in effects your mood, body, outlook, energy level, and more. At first glance it might not seem that way, but when you stop and examine how various activities make you feel physically, mentally and spiritually it becomes easier to see.
The first step in determining how to best take care of yourself is to make the time for introspection and close examination of how your current activities, tasks, friends, associates, lifestyle, and family effect you. I’m not suggesting you make any changes at this point. Simply observe and keep written notes in private place. I suggest a password protected file on your computer to ensure privacy. Take at least a month to record how everything you do, and everyone you come in contact with effects you. Don’t read over your notes, don’t try to evaluate your notes, simply put it down.
After that month is up, go over your notes and look for those things that consistently make you feel drained, fatigued, frustrated, or otherwise upset. Ask yourself, “Is this something I can let go of or change?” For example, if you see that you come home from work angry, frustrated and upset most days, then maybe it’s time to look for a new job, either similar work with a different company, or a completely different type of work, depending on what it is about your job that is causing you upset.
In the event that you can’t change or otherwise let go of the situation, then you need to find ways to release and cope with the associated stress. Let’s stick with the job scenario. If your job is causing the most stress in your life, and really is no possibility of changing jobs in the near future, then you have to find ways to help you cope. Look closely at how the job makes you feel. If you feel discouraged then find things to do outside of work where you can feel that you’re making progress. If your job feels pointless, then look for activities that feel meaningful to you. Maybe you can spend time volunteering for an organization that you feel really makes a difference in your community. Or, you might commit to spending more quality time with the children in your life, in an effort to make more of an impact on those young people. If your job makes you feel angry, you could try relieving that anger by using your lunch break to sneak in a work out either at a local gym, or a local park. Another way to reduce stress and negative feelings caused by your workplace is to leave the office during your lunch break. Even if you do nothing more than sit in your car and listen to music or engage in any other activity that relaxes you, getting away from the stressful environment for 45 minutes will help. If nothing else, it gives you something to look forward to.
Your list of stress relieving activities is most likely different from mine. The point here is to sit down, and address the most stressful things in your life. Evaluate those situations to determine if it’s something you can change in the near future. If it’s something that can be changed, then take the steps to create that change. If it is something you absolutely can NOT change, then make a list of activities you might engage in during and after the stressful event to help you get away from, and relieve the stress.
Step one is knowing the difference, and understanding what you need.