Self-care – most crave it; most want its much-discussed benefits yet in between the demands of everyday life, we find ourselves often striking it off our to-do lists.
As aptly put by Betterup.com, “…self-care practices are intentional steps to take care of yourself. Self-care practices put deposits into your wellness ‘bank account’. Consistent deposits give you more internal resources to draw upon during stressful times.”
Countless research has been published on how practising regular self-care leaves us energetic and emotionally sound, with some room to extend a helping hand to others. As the New Age hashtag goes, #SelfishIsTheNewSelfLove. Being busy should not stand in the way of you indulging in one or two self-care routines daily. Remember: There aren’t enough hours in a day as it is, and you may never have free “me-time” waiting for you to claim it.
Below, three women share heartwarming anecdotes of how they learnt (the hard way) that pouring from an empty cup wasn’t sustainable — and that if anything, it leads to physical and mental exhaustion.
“It took a hysterectomy for me to realise that I was kind, giving and generous to everyone but myself!”
In 2020 I started having dizzy spells, heavy monthly periods and recurring nosebleeds but paid them no heed. Over and above the pandemic-induced anxiety, I didn’t need the additional stress of a body desperately crying out for attention. A visit to my gynae in 2021 revealed that I had a rare condition that required an urgent hysterectomy. Postponing indefinitely would lead to my health being compromised. One thing anyone who knows me will vouch for is that I live for my sons, my miracle babies.
Leading up to the op, I’d quell my anxiety by reminding myself that postponing wouldn’t only cut my life short, but also rob my sons of the opportunity to grow old with me. So, I forged ahead – fear in tow. Exhausted and drowning in my thoughts one morning post-op, it suddenly dawned on me that I either didn’t love myself or had no idea what self-love looked like. In hindsight, being diagnosed with anaemia, low blood pressure, the hysterectomy and getting Covid – all in one year – were a wake-up call. I started wondering what treating myself kindly, healthwise, would look like.
A good place to start, I decided, would be to implement the lifestyle changes I’d been long meaning to make. I now follow a vegetarian diet, I’ve parted ways with booze and take long walks in the morning – I can’t run yet due to the hysterectomy. These changes, though small, have done wonders for my energy levels. I consider them a secret pact between my body and soul. Now six months into my Put-Lally-First journey, self-love is constantly reminding the nurturer in me to take a chill pill because I’m prioritising myself.
“Scheduling play time has been really big for me; it makes me feel like I’m prioritising myself.”
I come from a family that has always been big on self-development. My mother, a Fourth Way healer (a behavioural and spiritual type of well-being practice) introduced me to alternative forms of healing quite early on. Growing up in India, I did a lot of meditation and started transactional analysis at a young age. I vividly remember being ill as a child and starting to practice Reiki (an energy-correcting practice that promotes relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety through gentle touch) because meds were just not helping my condition.
I also struggled a bit as a child so, I was in therapy by age 14. It was around this same age that I started attracting friends who needed the kind of support that was way beyond what my teenage brain could offer. And I stuck around because I’d made their well-being my responsibility. I’d assigned myself, though totally unintentionally, the role of “rescuer” in my relationships.
As a result, being taken advantage of became a recurring theme in my life as I got older, one that started popping up in work, romantic and familial relationships. After my father’s passing, I spent a big part of my inheritance in a romantic relationship where I was treated really badly. I still feel a lot of shame for being in the situation, but this incident was the big wake-up call that made me closely examine my “rescuer” default. I’d started noticing that I had a lot of pent-up anger, resentment and that I almost didn’t wish people well in those situations where I felt taken advantage of. These new traits were totally out of character for me.
Time and lots of reflection have taught me that I kept attracting situations where I felt “used and depleted” because, at my core, I wanted to be needed, validated and not feel abandoned. With a few adjustments to my beliefs, I’m slowly realising that I’m resourceful enough to meet these needs myself. For instance, my morning routine is sacred. I now give myself an hour of consistent quiet time. When I don’t, I find that everything gets heightened – I become cranky, my workload feels unmanageable and my interactions with people aren’t as fulfilling. At some point, I tried out pole dancing and signed up with a vocal coach. Seeking out new ways to better understand myself has been revolutionary on my self-care journey.
“During the worst phase of my adult life, veganism served as my life raft. It made me realise that I was worthy of life despite a niggly voice whispering, ‘Your body failed you from a very young age.’”
I was raised by a single mother, in a small town. My mother was a teacher and our home a hive of activity. We always had learners come in and out of our house for all sorts of help. And I quickly internalised that being in service to others determined one’s worth. My, was I wrong! It was only later that I discovered that self-love was not a frivolous marketing concept aimed at persuading consumers to keep buying more stuff. When my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast and lymph cancer in 2010, she came to stay with me at the height of my freelance career in publishing, advertising and reality TV. I had just resigned from a toxic permanent job in magazines.
In between full-time caregiving, I worked Monday right through to Sunday. It never occurred to me that my own well-being mattered, despite my slew of past and present chronic health issues. I had Perthes Disease as a child and was wheelchair-bound; I was always undergoing one op or another. I’ve had a limp, chronic body pain and anxiety disorder all my life. When my mother survived chemo and her cancer, I thought I’d have a moment to catch my breath. I’d been operating in survival mode for so long that trying to return to the groove of just living was impossible. However, losing myself in caregiving and my freelance gigs turned out to be my lifeline. Had I not, I wouldn’t have noticed the urgency of the lifestyle changes I owed myself. Going vegan was what ultimately flung open the doors of self-worth for me.
As a nurturer and giver, traits I inherited from my mother, redirecting my compassion to learning about cruelty to animals and really caring for the environment made me feel good. My journey to better self-care (and it has been loooong!) has taught me that, sometimes, prioritising myself will come in the form of taking a step back – even if it means regressing. I’m grateful for the many bold steps that I took along the way because I’m currently in a career that aligns perfectly with my values and personality. I’ve also learnt that I can’t help others before helping myself (basic, I know!) During this journey, I also allowed myself to cry more, something I have come to understand is an essential part of healing.
Easy Daily Self-Care Practises To Adopt
- Practise guided meditation
- Do some breathwork throughout the day
- Dress up (please do, even with nowhere to go)
- Incorporate one fun activity on your to-do list
- Declutter your space (even if it’s just one room per day)
- Read a book
- Eat a balanced diet
- Give yourself a break in between meetings (where you don’t feel guilty about doing absolutely nothing. Stare into space if you must!)
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Take a walk
- Listen to music that uplifts you
- Exercise regularly
- Take a social media break
- Plan a holiday (even though you can’t afford one at the moment)
- Do at least one thing that contributes to a bigger goal
- Treat yourself to an at-home spa day
- Work from a new spot or coffee shop
- Do a random act of kindness
- Switch off your phone an hour or two before bedtime
- Sleep earlier