One of the biggest challenges women face is learning how to care for themselves while caring for others. It requires a delicate balance between what often feels like polar opposites. I’ve spent a lifetime studying self-care. And I’ve come to the conclusion that good self-care is the single most important aspect of our health, period.
The programming of self-sacrifice leads ultimately to health-destroying sentiments, such as guilt, resentment, anger, and other emotions linked to high levels of stress hormones. Self-sacrifice feels wrong to us on a soul level—our spirit gravitates naturally to joy and happiness.
That’s why self-sacrifice ultimately makes us sick and keeps us stuck in dead-end situations—and why its opposite, self-care, is so essential to living a happy, healthy life. How well we care for ourselves as adult women is determined in part by how well our mothers cared for us (and themselves). Ultimately, however, it’s our responsibility to learn how to optimally care for ourselves regardless of what happened (or didn’t) with our mothers. We refine this process throughout our entire lives.
The key is knowing in your heart that the best way you can care for others is by caring for yourself. I know this requires a paradigm shift for many of you!
Despite what you’ve been brought up to believe, caring for oneself is not an example of a zero sum model (where your gain is someone else’s loss).
Everyone benefits from a woman who knows how to care for herself.
Self-care sustains and enhances the health of all those around you. The flight attendants are right when they say: You have to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.
Seven Easy Steps to Better Self-Care
Here’s a simple, up-to-date blueprint for enhancing your health through self-care:
Step 1. Tap into the stream of healing energy regularly.
Your body is connected to a healing stream of energy (also known as chi, prana, light, Source, and God) that you can absorb at will. All you need to do is be aware of it and be open to receive it! This is the basis for the healing power of prayer.
My favorite prayer service is Silent Unity. Silent Unity has volunteers who will pray with you and then pray continuously for 30 days. Tell the volunteer your concerns by phone or email, any hour of the day or night, and they will pray with you.
Another particularly powerful way to absorb this healing energy is through Divine Love petitions as taught by Robert Fritchie, founder of www.worldserviceinstitute.org. Divine Love is the most powerful energy in the universe. You receive it into your body through your thymus gland, located just below your sternum.
To do a quick Divine Love petition for yourself, sit with arms and legs uncrossed. Now say the following petition out loud:
With my Spirit, and the angels help, I focus Divine Love throughout my system. I ask my Spirit to identify every situation and cause that separates me from the Creator. I release to the Creator all of these situations and causes. I ask that the Creator heal my system according to the Divine will.
Now, close your mouth, draw in your breath through your nose. Hold it for several seconds. And pulse it out through your nose like you’re blowing your nose. That releases the petition. Throughout the day stay connected to the Divine by saying “I accept Divine Love.” This practice – which is free to anyone- has been associated with many well-documented physical and emotional healings that conventional medicine cannot explain.
Step 2. Know that you are your own best mother.
Treat yourself like an ideal mother would by talking to yourself in a wonderful, nurturing way and providing for yourself that which you wish you had received from your own mother. For example, say to yourself, “Darling, I see that you’re tired. Why don’t you lie down and take a nice nap. When you get up, we’ll have a nice cup of hot tea” or “I see that you need a break. How about a nice hot bath and a good book.” You get the picture.
Step 3. Do something pleasurable each and every day.
Taking time for pleasure and fun decreases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, which, over time, are responsible for heart disease, cancer, and most chronic diseases such as arthritis and high blood pressure. Plus when you take time for enjoyment, you’ll be able to approach arduous tasks with more energy and a better outlook.
Step 4. Breathe deeply and fully on a regular basis.
Breathing in fully through your nose instantly engages the rest and restore parasympathetic nervous system and helps the body metabolize stress hormones. Put Post-it notes on your phone, your computer, and your bathroom mirror. Write BREATHE in beautiful letters that uplift and remind you to breathe fully.
Step 5. Get support for self-care.
Find a self-care buddy and agree that each of you will hold the other accountable for taking care of herself. Start with my suggestions and add your own ideas. Brag to each other about how well you’re doing and especially how well you are caring for yourself. Plan to call your friend whenever you start to slip into over-care of others.
Step 6. Use the incredible power of no.
When someone asks you to do something you don’t really want to do, say NO! This is especially important if saying “no” makes you feel guilty or unworthy. In most cases this means you’re letting the needs of others overshadow your own. Only you know how much you can handle without over-committing. Over time, you’ll strengthen your “no” muscle and also attract friends who support your need to set healthy boundaries. Remember, saying “no” to someone else usually means saying “yes” to yourself!
Step 7. Don’t wait for permission to start taking care of yourself.
Believe me, no one is going to give it to you, although I know how much you desperately want someone to do so! How well I remember being on call in the hospital watching the nurses give each other breaks. I yearned for one of my colleagues to give me permission to take a break after being up all night. But no one did because the culture of medicine (particularly a surgical specialty) is so macho. I ended up with a huge breast abscess that dissected into my chest wall while I was trying to nurse my first daughter and work full-time. I learned a huge lesson about self-care—and also destroyed my ability to nurse my second child from both breasts!
Taking care of yourself regularly takes courage in our society. Far too many women get sick because it’s the only socially acceptable way to get the self-care they require. I think we can do better, don’t you?
Prepare to be called “selfish” when you start taking better care of yourself. And when someone calls you that, celebrate! (Then call your self-care buddy to brag about it!) After all, taking care of yourself is prevention at the most fundamental level. And it sure beats getting sick. (For those of you who claim that you don’t have time to take care of yourself, think again. Do you really have time to get sick? And will dying prematurely really be the best way to take care of your loved ones?)
Your Body, Your Temple
As you may know by now, you are a Soul. You are not your body. But you do have a body. And it is your job to take care of that body until you leave it. The same way you take care of your house or your car. This is your responsibility—it doesn’t belong to your doctor, your spouse, or your mother. It’s that simple.
Taking care of your body means, first and foremost, having a healthy belief system about what’s possible physically—especially as you move through time. And, you must engage in the physical activities necessary to maintain your physical self.
6 More Ways to Care for Yourself
- Change your beliefs. Optimal care of your body begins with your beliefs. Every thought you think is accompanied by biochemical signals that move throughout your body. Serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine are neurotransmitters that affect all areas of your body, and their production is based on what you think and feel. Stressful thoughts filled with anger, fear, or sadness increase stress-hormone levels in your body, which ultimately leads to cellular inflammation—the root cause of osteoporosis, depression, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. But this isn’t the only way your thoughts affect your health. They can literally determine which genes get expressed! It’s important to know and believe that your body was designed for health, vitality, and well-being for your entire life.
- Treat yourself like a precious child. Self care is something that our society does not reward us for. In fact, it is often looked down on when someone, especially a woman, takes care of herself. I was reminded of this recently when I was watching my granddaughter, Penelope. I was cleaning up the living room and realized that she was hungry. So of course I stopped to take care of her — I would never starve my granddaughter. Yet, I have certainly done this to myself! Learning to treat ourselves the way we would a precious child connects us with our Divinity. You can practice this by doing simple things such as using the rest room when you have the urge, or eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. It also helps to set out a meal for yourself on a plate and actually sit down and enjoy it versus eating on the run while in your car or standing at the kitchen counter.
- See your body as a temple for your soul. We are beings of light. Our bodies are the densest, darkest matter. When you see your body as a temple for your soul and treat it with love, and kindness and respect, you are bringing light into the darkest area.
- Make gravity work for you. Sitting for more than six hours a day increases your risk of disease including heart attack, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. In fact, even if you exercise regularly, prolonged sitting cancels out a lot of the good effects. Standing all day is not the answer. The answer is moving your body through the gravitational field of the earth. Every time you move your body through gravity your body goes through thousands of minute physiologic changes in blood pressure, fluid exchange, hormone secretion, and stresses on bones and joints that help ensure health. So, if you sit at a desk, get up at least six times per hour. But if you can, it’s always best to add in something more such as stretching, knee bends or even squats. And remember, since the soul knows no timeline, it’s never too late to try some activity you have always wanted to do – dance, ride horses, ski, hike – whatever will keep you moving.
- Take Care of Your Fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that runs throughout your body. It connects skin to muscle and muscle to bone and every organ in the body. Our fascial network is a secondary nervous system. It can become dense, scarred, and thickened as a result of physical, emotional, or mental stress. Working your fascia regularly through body work, resistance flexibility, yoga, and other exercises can help you release old patterns that are stored there.
- Feel Your Human Emotions. Being a spiritual being on a human journey requires that we feel human emotions. But, with spiritual practices becoming very popular, so too is the practice of taking a “spiritual bypass” to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs. A spiritual bypass looks something like this: “It’s all good.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Spiritual people don’t cry or have negative feelings.” “If you feel sad, you’re not spiritual enough.” While this may seem better than using alcohol or drugs, it has the same effect. Being a human being on a spiritual path requires that you are present in each moment for all of your feelings without letting those feelings define you. Now, this does not mean that you want to stay in a perpetual state of anger, victimhood, grief or sadness. These emotions lower your vibration. It simply means you allow your emotions to surface and embrace them fully without judgment, and then allow full expression of those emotions safely. That is the only way to deal with them successfully. Your soul actually learns from this process of deep awareness and release. (Every other approach — drugs, alcohol, spiritual bypass — just digs them in deeper.)
Permission for Self-Care: Doctor’s Orders
Although I told you that no one was going to give you permission to take care of yourself, I stand corrected.
With the power vested in me as a medical authority, let me end my self-care plan by giving you permission to care for yourself. Imagine that you have a prescription in front of you with your name, my signature, and the following words on it:
Rest when you are tired.
Go the bathroom when you have to go.
Do something that is fun and pleasurable every day.
Breathe deeply and fully.
Enjoy your life.
Absorb the healing stream that comes from God.
Remember that you are meant to live your life fully and joyfully.
Mother yourself well.