Giving yourself Away

How many roles do you fulfil every day? How many times do you feel that you are so busy tending to others’ needs that you don’t have time for your own? How often do you take the time to do the things that you WANT to do, rather than simply the things you SHOULD do?

I see a lot of burn out in my practice. I see moms whose “me-time” is work, because they feel guilty being away from their kids. I see parents who work 12 hour days, even though they’re contracted for 8-10 hours of work a day. (Think of it like this: at work you trade your time for money. If you get R800 a day for working an 8 hour day, that’s R100 an hour. If you habitually work 16 hour days you’re now earning R50 an hour – you have halved your own hourly income). So often there is a sense that YOU are not allowed to be happy or take care of yourself until EVERYONE ELSE is happy first. Except that you don’t have the power to make everyone happy. They will NEVER all be happy. And so, by that logic, neither will you.

For giving to feel sustainable, meet your needs first. Then, once your needs have been met, THEN you can comfortably offer yourself to others. Not the other way round. Is your time valuable? Because if you don’t value your own time, no one else will. The world will always demand too much. The boundaries need to come from you.

And brains need contrast: we need times of work and times of rest, and if you’re on the work treadmill all day it’s easy to come home and continue to sprint along, project-managing your home life too – homework, bath time, dinner time, bed time. Then you wake up and start again.

We all need to build in times of rest. Here are a few ways to derail the production line of life:

  • Take at least 15 minutes for yourself between work and home. Gift yourself 15 minutes of rest, sitting still, drinking a cup of tea or a cold water, to allow your mind to shift gears. You can sit at a coffee shop, or the office pause area, or in your garden, or even your car. The trick is that for those few minutes you are inaccessible. Breathe, relax, unwind.
  • Take lunch at the office. Even if you can’t do the full hour, at least 15 minutes will break up the day into 2 parts – it’s the difference between reading a page full of edge-to-edge writing, and reading paragraphs. Eat away from your desk and computer, and focus on the taste and texture of your food. Your body needs nourishment and your brain needs rest.
  • Revisit hobbies or activities YOU have enjoyed in the past, or try some new ones. You are allowed times of enjoyment. If you’re constantly giving energy out without taking in anything nourishing, you begin to feel like an overdrawn bank account. You need to start investing time and energy in yourself. You wouldn’t drive a car with no petrol! If you yourself never feel nourished, you WILL begin to feel resentful – you can’t help it, and that’s a horrible emotional reality to sit with!
  • Watch your self talk. If you’re constantly putting yourself down or calling yourself names, others will pick up on your subtle self denigration and they will mirror your treatment of yourself. On this note, AVOID DISCLAIMERS: if you preface a statement with “this may sound stupid”, for example, I’ll expect stupid. If you just claim your space and make your statement as if you had a right to, I will respect your right, even if I disagree with you. It’s MY job to voice my disagreement, not YOUR job to pre-empt it.
  • Deliberately acknowledge your successes. So often we expect 100 percent of ourselves, and yet when we achieve it we simply raise the bar. This is in stark contrast with how we react when we make a mistake: we obsess, or beat ourselves up, even when the mistake is small. We will ALL make mistakes: with “human” comes “fallible”. Forgive and move on, but RECOGNISE your own successes, in whichever way works best for you. Be your own best friend.
  • Work on ways to say no. Saying yes to everything is exhausting; give yourself permission to put yourself first sometimes. This is so difficult to learn in a society that teaches “it is better to give than to receive”. In fact, both need to be in balance. You cannot expect to give endlessly if you put nothing back. It’s like the oxygen masks in an airplane: put yours on first . Then help the people around you.
  • Move your body, even if it’s just to go for a brief walk. Go outside, get out in some sunshine. Go somewhere new; life on a treadmill of Duty is boring, and you need newness and exploration as well as routine.

First and foremost in all things is your relationship with YOU. Nourish it as you would nourish your connection with a loved one. You’re not allowed to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend!

©Psych in a Box

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