Sick and Tired
My typical client is a 48-year-old professional woman, a mother of teens, and a caregiver who manages her parents’ health from afar. She doesn’t get enough rest, doesn’t exercise, is bone-tired… and yet she can’t sleep at night.
She has trouble saying no — who’s going to make things happen? It also happens that this woman has an autoimmune condition or two, typically Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac, lupus and/or multiple sclerosis (MS). By the time she comes to me, she is sick and tired of being sick and tired. She is often resigned that this is the way her life will be, forever.
So what’s the problem? Is it her diet? Toxin overload? Hidden infections? Too much stress? The answer is likely “All of the above”. Each issue must be addressed, but often this client first needs me to give her permission to take care of herself before taking care of other responsibilities.
She says she’s desperate for a good night’s sleep, but she can’t wear earplugs — what if her mother calls in the middle of the night? — And she doesn’t think it’s possible to keep the dog off the bed (that’s where Fluffy sleeps!).
That’s when I use the metaphor of putting her own oxygen mask on first, as flight attendants always advise, so she can in fact be better able to help others. She gets the analogy immediately. But then she’ll say something like, “But they depend on me to [help with homework, take them to doctor appointments, manage the team, do the shopping and the cooking, etc.], and I just don’t have time or energy left to do things for myself.”
So I offer some tough love: Of course everyone depends on you — you have shown everyone that you will take care of everything. But look at what this is costing you in stress, sleeplessness, and your health!
I Can Relate
I know a bit about this profile. I’m married, used to run a sales team, sit on boards, founded a non-profit, and at one point had both parents in hospital beds an hour’s plane flight away. Did I mention that I had MS, and stress often exacerbated my symptoms?
I knew I had to manage my stress or suffer the consequences of MS flare-ups, so I pursued simple stress management solutions. I found a life-changing course called, “Love Yourself: For Everyone Else’s Sake.” I remember sitting in a circle with about 8 women and ‘fessing up that my first sentence (as the precocious daughter of a fighter pilot) was, “I can do it.” I had lived into that declaration my whole life, and I remember feeling understood as every head nodded in recognition.
For Everyone’s Sake
We were guided by Mark Abramson, DDS, founder of Stanford’s Mindfulness Meditation Stress Reduction program. Mark knows the costs of the do-it-all-yourself personality type, and sees the effects daily in his practice. He specializes in addressing TMJ – the clenched jaw disorder — and sleep apnea.
Mark drew graphic pictures of what happened to our bodies during the stress response. We learned that chronic and unrelenting stress leads to systemic inflammation and disease. We imagined what might happen to us if we continued down this path. And if something happened to us, who would care for us and everyone else?
Mark showed us how to practice mindfulness to counter our habitual stress responses. He led us through guided meditations, breathing practices and movement exercises. He gave us permission to fill our minds, bodies and souls up before attending to others.
Self-Care is Not Selfish
Women often resist taking care of ourselves first because we think it’s “selfish”. But prioritizing our wellbeing actually gives us more energy for our caregiver roles and other activities. Caring for others and ourselves are not mutually exclusive.
Since the end of the course, I’ve been wearing earplugs and an eye mask every night, and I’ll tell you that the greatly increased quality and quantity of my sleep has had a big impact on my ability to function better in all of my roles. And, not surprisingly, I’m much happier (and well-rested) than when I feel depleted.
So what can you do to fill yourself up? That depends on what brings you joy. Everyone is different. For me, getting out on a hiking trail, soaking in a hot bath, losing myself in a good book, or connecting with friends all nourish me. Imagine what you would do if you had an hour or an afternoon to yourself. Write a list of things that fill you up and decide to do one thing a week – even better, one thing a day. It’s not decadent; it’s vital to your sanity and your health!
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
7 Ways to Love Yourself More Backed By Science
Once we understand the perils of not putting our own oxygen mask on first, we can embrace opportunities to love ourselves more, which has a profound ripple effect.
What’s your experience? Are you giving yourself permission to put your own oxygen mask on first? If not, I hereby grant you permission until you take the reins. What are you waiting for? And, what is it costing you?
Take good care!