I can still remember the night I bought my first car…a 1981 Datsun 210 sedan nicknamed “Sweet Pea”. I had borrowed the money from my grandparents who didn’t drive and had never owned a car of their own.(I still remember being shocked that my grandmother had 2000$ cash hidden away somewhere in her house!). I took that cash, stashed it in the bottom of my laced up winter boots and got on a bus to go pick it up. Being young and not really into cars, I didn’t have any experience in car maintenance (apparently the people I bought it from didn’t either). It turns out I was driving with way too little air in the tires and way too little oil in it! Fortunately, I had friends who could help me out until I figured out how to care for that precious vehicle on my own. That car took me on many adventures, allowed me to get myself to university every day and to my jobs on the weekends.
Now, if I had not put air in the tires or oil in it for the engine, what do you suppose might have happened? I likely would have had an accident from a tire blowing or I would have prematurely worn out the engine and been stranded on the side of the road, all due to a lack of care and attention.
Taking care of our bodies is absolutely as important as taking care of our vehicles or anything else we rely on. Sadly, however, most people actually take better care of their things than they do their own bodies.
I want you to start thinking of self care in the same way you would the periodic maintenance you need to keep your car running smoothly.
So what are some of the biggest barriers to self care?
In this article, we are going to look at the concept of what self care means. Then, over the coming months, we will explore the barriers to self care and strategies to improve on our “maintenance schedule” for our bodies.
We tend to focus our energy on running around, being busy, doing everything for everyone without taking breaks. We feel like we just need to keep going, keep doing, keep everyone happy, never considering how this frantic pace is taking a toll on our very being.
Ultimately, failing to have any kind of self care routine, leads to a breakdown. We are stranded, feeling helpless and hopeless, crying not knowing what we’re crying about. We’re short with people, easily irritated and frustrated at every turn.
The breakdown can be physical. It can be emotional. It can be relational. It can feel like all our systems are failing at once.
The “check engine” light is on and we don’t know what to do to fix it.
So, what can we do to get ourselves back on the road to recovery when we feel like we’re heading for a cliff?
Let’s start by defining what it means to practice self care.
It is simply the act of doing things for ourselves to maintain health and prevent illness.
It includes, but is not limited to:
Taking care of your body – using tools such as regular exercise, healthy eating and reducing or eliminating substance use. We know that exercise helps with our mood and our sleep. Healthy eating fuels our bodies and, just like a performance car runs inefficiently and poorly on regular fuel, your body is like a race car and doesn’t function the way you expect when it is fuelled with primarily ultra processed foods. Substances such as nicotine and alcohol have both short and long term consequences on our health and performance, so even if you don’t eliminate them, try to keep their use as low as possible.
Working through your emotions – we need to learn to ask for help. We have to accept the help available and find the resources we need when we have “uncomfortable” emotions that we need to learn to manage and move past. We all experience a wide variety of emotions on a day to day basis. The problem is that we are OK when those emotions are “comfortable” but we are not OK when they are “uncomfortable”. We want those uncomfortable feelings to go away. We try to medicate them. We try to stay busy as a way to distract ourselves from feeling them. We stuff them into a deep, dark little box only to have them come bursting to the surface at the most inappropriate times. Learning how to process our emotions and move forward is a skill and sometimes requires the aid of a “mechanic” in the form of a good therapist or counselor.
Developing healthy boundaries – many of us have things in our life that are “energy sucking” but we have never learned to set up appropriate boundaries to keep them from draining us on a day to day basis. Setting up boundaries and expecting others to respect them is not selfish. It is self care. It is respecting yourself enough to know what you can and cannot accept in your life and being able to stand firm when outside forces try to keep pushing and pushing the line.
Taking time to rest and heal – try not to wear your “busyness” as a badge of honor. All too often, it seems as though we are in a competition for who can do the most, who has their kids in the most activities, who volunteers the most. Here’s a challenge for you…try to get through an ENTIRE DAY without ever uttering the word “busy”…I think you will find that it’s harder than you might first think!
Downtime is not being lazy. Downtime is necessary for you to refill your cup, to engage in self reflection, to dream about the future, to let your body flip the switch from being constantly “ON” to “OFF” for a bit. Sometimes we need to disconnect from the constant bombardment of texts, calls, emails, meetings etc and hang up the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign, understanding that it’s OK to do this. It’s not something to feel guilty about…it’s something to celebrate because you have learned how to take care of yourself!
Self care is about creating habits that will ultimately lead you to a more sustainable life. In the next few articles, we are going to look at barriers to self care and how you can take care of your body and mind in a way that renews your energy, resolves emotional turmoil, helps you make progress in your personal life, helps you find joy and helps your relationship with others.
At MD Weight Loss, we know that losing weight is but one step on a journey to better health. Weight loss doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are challenges to overcome and we are here to help you navigate barriers on your way to a physically and mentally healthier version of yourself!