Contributed by therapist Trisha Broihahn, LMSW
It’s something I ask my clients almost every session. “What do you do to take care of yourself?” To many, taking care of themselves is an unfamiliar concept. We’re always giving of ourselves to others. We like to put other’s needs before our own. We think about how we affect people before we think about how it affects ourselves. I see this all the time with my clients. “Did you really want to pick up the extra hours at work?” “No, but I didn’t want to make anyone upset.” We rarely take time to stop and explore how we are really feeling; tired, overwhelmed, burnt-out, foggy, drained, depressed. We push ourselves to meet the expectations of others.
So why is this a problem? Why is putting yourself second a big deal? One way to think about it is like a bucket full of water. We each have a bucket and when we constantly give to others, our water slowly lowers. We give, give, give, and in return, do nothing to replenish our buckets of water. If we are not being filled at the same time, eventually our water will run out. We will be drained. Being drained of emotional and physical energy presents itself in various ways; irritability, exhaustion, mental fog, depression, lack of focus, emotional reactivity. Anything sound familiar? Yes, it’s important and sometimes necessary to take care of others, but it is also just as important to take care of ourselves.
So, what do you do? How do you start to focus on yourself when you have put others first for as long as you remember? Here are some steps…
Taking a nap, taking a bath, journaling, listening to relaxing music, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, taking a walk or going for a run, exercising, art, getting your nails done, sitting outside, reading, dancing, getting a massage, writing a letter, going to the movies, watching funny videos, taking a mental health day, taking a vacation or small trip, going to therapy, joining a support group, relaxing in the sun, doing a hobby, visiting a friend, playing with an animal, setting boundaries, saying no. Anything to refill your bucket. You cannot fill up other’s buckets if yours is empty. You are just as important.