Isn’t it interesting that as a society, we collectively lament that we “don’t have time” for all of our responsibilities, while simultaneously complaining that we need to change our habits and find time for self-care?
As a crisis counselor, interventionist and doctor, I am often on call for emergencies. I handle urgent problems like assault and suicide attempts. The people who reach out to me are in crisis; the last thing they need to consider are my needs, my busy schedule, or what I might be in the process of doing when they call. It is my responsibility to dial down the chaos. If I can’t remain calm in the eye of the storm, I should not be in a career where that’s required.
With practice, I have learned how to handle almost any situation without losing my head. It is often said that one cannot serve from an empty vessel. This is a universal truth that applies to those of us who work in the field of recovery and mental health care, as well as for any person in recovery. Simply stated, you have to take care of your own spirit first.
Awareness of what is realistic and important is absolutely necessary to maintain our sanity. Many of us in recovery are self-admitted “people pleasers” who feel immense guilt when we put ourselves first or when we have to say “no” to others. Our smart phones demand our attention. We feel guilty if we cannot or do not respond immediately to the incessant ringing, pinging and flashing.
We compromise peace in our own souls when we over-commit. It has almost become a badge of honor to complain about having so much to do and to beat ourselves up for being “behind.” This has become a constant conundrum. I repeatedly address this issue in my personal life, and I advise clients and people working for my company to do the same. I invite you to begin the process by thinking about how much you can realistically handle.
When I am overwhelmed, I first ask myself this question: Is it on fire? Is this situation, text, call or email something that cannot wait? I ask this question because in my line of work, some things are, figuratively, on fire. I may have a book deadline, a live radio show that I need to be present for, or a client in distress. Some fires can be put out easily or at least temporarily. Can I ask the publisher for a few more weeks? If I call my client and offer some helpful words, will that soothe their urgency? Does that friend of mine need me to text right now to reply to the picture of their child going down the slide? Can I lovingly say no?
The answer most of the time is no, it isn’t on fire and yes, the matter can wait. There is something to be said about allowing yourself to be in the moment and not pulled in all directions by the increasingly hectic, high-tech pace of our lives. Self-care means taking care of yourself.
Getting dragged into high drama or into the needs of every person who asks for your time is a recipe for disaster. For many of us in recovery, it is also a recipe for relapse. Not everyone and everything deserves a front row seat in our lives, and we need to respond and adjust thoughtfully and accordingly.
We cannot sustain a healthy existence if we are under too much stress and pressure, or are feeling rushed and chaotic. Therefore, we must learn to stand up for ourselves. Just how necessary is it to jump into the fray? Oftentimes, things will resolve themselves if we simply “stay in our own hula hoop.” Our own recovery comes first. Our own peace comes first. Our own families, our own healing, and our own livelihoods and lives, depend upon that reality.
We can commit to creating a more manageable life. We can set boundaries with the electronic devices we depend upon by using already-installed features to make them more amenable to a busy lifestyle, and by not allowing ourselves to be at their mercy all of the time. Our phones are not beepers; they only make noise if we have sounds turned on. There is a “do not disturb” feature so that only the most urgent calls ring through. You can even put individual texts on silent, and answer them later or not at all.
Seek professional counseling if you need support or assistance in creating a new structure in your life. This is a major life transition, and most of us need help to power through to the other side. Finding a balance that works for your individual needs is a great way to exercise that self-care muscle. Learning to say “no” to people who cause you stress or with whom you no longer enjoy common ground can be an opportunity to grow. Language is powerful, and looking at a list that you can’t possibly finish breeds negative self-talk. Break tasks into bite-sized, manageable chunks. It is difficult to handle a list like this: Exercise. Run all errands. Pay bills. Finish book. It’s easier to complete a measurable list: Take a 30-minute walk. Buy dog food. Pick up dry cleaning. Pay phone bill. Complete a chapter.
Designate a set time to work on something about which you have procrastinated, and work on it over the course of a few days. In doing so, that closet will actually get cleaned out, and you will no longer feel behind. One step at a time, and in our own time, we move ahead if we are taking steps forward.
Time is not our enemy, it simply is. We all have the same 24 hours in each day. More than ever, self-care must be part of our daily recovery. Time is non-refundable, and it is up to us to spend it wisely. An investment into the time and care of and for your Self is something you will never regret; it will reap endless dividends.