“Heal yourself first, before you heal others.” – African Proverb
I remember vividly the day I told my Mom that I was pregnant with my first child. My Mom was overjoyed. This would be her very first grandchild and it meant the world to her. She congratulated me, and then she said something that stunned me. “Be prepared to give up at least 10 years of your life for this baby.” My first response was, “Sacrifice 10 Years?!! Um, how about me? How about my own life?”
Back then, I was approaching 30, loved my career, and had no intention of being a stay-at-home mom (although later on I did stay home for a few years and I would never trade anything for those years with my children). I know my Mom was simply telling her truth. That’s how she lives her life as a mother and wife. However, the concept of “sacrificing” ten or more years of my life was such a foreign idea to me that it shocked me, intellectually and emotionally. To me, this self-sacrifice parenting model sounds too “all or nothing.” Even as inexperienced as I was, I knew instinctively that it’s not good for my overall well-being. I remember thinking to myself, “Is this really the only way? Why can’t I have my baby, my career AND my life?”
If you know anything about Chinese culture, you know that “self-sacrifice” is highly admirable, even expected, especially for women. Men are also expected to self-sacrifice, but usually only for a higher cause, like family honor, the emperor, or their country. The bottom line is, most people avoid being perceived as selfish at all cost, and they put their own happiness and self-worth at the mercy of others. They think self-sacrifice is the way to show love and receive love from others, and to validate their self-worth.
After almost 20 years of living in the US, counseling and coaching countless people, I know that the Chinese are not the only group who think and behave in this way. The fact is, we are all more alike than different from each other.
Instead of looking outward for love, I invite you to practice Intensive Self-Care, which is an act of self-love. What is Intensive Self-Care? I define it as taking good care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It includes (but not limited to) beliefs and behaviors such as loving and accepting yourself unconditionally, respecting yourself, honoring your own needs, having regular “Me Time” for yourself doing the things you enjoy, eating a balanced diet, having enough sleep, exercising regularly, having annual physicals, enjoying quality relationships (family, friends, colleagues, life coach, mentors) that support you, managing your time according to your core values and priorities, knowing how to ask for what you want, asking for help when you need it, honoring and pursuing your dreams, knowing how to say “No,” and standing up for yourself, etc.
Intensive Self-Care is NOT being selfish and it’s NOT a luxury, but rather an essential practice for your survival and overall well-being. It’s especially critical if you are in a nurturing role, either in your personal or professional life. It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask FIRST before you help others put on theirs, when the plane hits turbulence in midair.
You wouldn’t be of much use to your loved ones, if you didn’t put on your own oxygen mask and passed out. Research has repeatedly shown that chronic stress is linked to a host of physical and emotional symptoms and many major diseases. As a Nurturer, if you do not make a point to renew and recharge yourself, you will most likely end up stressed out, burned out, or having a physical and/or emotional dis-ease. When you do, everyone you take care of will suffer with you.
Over the years, as a mom and having careers in nursing, counseling, coaching, education, nonprofit, small business, etc. I have found that learning to practice Intensive Self-Care was one of the most important keys to my personal and professional success, life balance, and happiness. This is why I chose to dedicate my coaching practice in helping Nurturers learn the Intensive Self-Care principles and incorporate the self-care practices in their daily lives.
So, how do you practice Intensive Self-Care? Take a few minutes to answer the questions below. They will help you gain clarity and take action to start nurturing yourself on a regular basis.
* Am I honoring my needs, values and priorities? If not, what action steps can I take to change my current situation? Write down 1-3 baby steps you are committed to take this week.
* In an ideal world, how would I like to nurture myself physically, emotionally and spiritually?
* In reality, what am I doing, on a regular basis, for my physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
* What are my non-negotiable self-care practices?
* What can I de-clutter (delete or delegate) from my schedule to make room for ME Time?
* What resources (time, money, people) do I have that could help me practice Intensive Self-Care?
* What support can I get from my family, friends, coworkers, life coach or other help professionals?