Radical Self Care

By Elizabeth West Krause, Ph.D.

Do you have too many one-sided relationships where people take more than they give?  Do you break promises to yourself?  Do you rarely ask for help even when you’re overwhelmed?   

If so, it’s time to make a radical shift in your Self Care Habits.   As with any healthy behavior change, bringing self care into your life takes commitment and practice.  Self Care involves surrounding yourself with people who are interested in two-way relationships, not making any commitments out of guilt , and developing healthy habits that promote your emotional, physical, and spiritual health.  

Being healthy is about self care.  Make a commitment that when you need help, ask for it! You should know that the fight-or-flight response, especially in women, is accompanied by a rush of oxytocin, often referred to as the “friend and befriend” hormone.  The urge to support and comfort others when we are stressed, releases internally produced chemicals, called endogenous opiods, which hormonally reinforce our over-doing response in the short-term, but leads to over-extending ourselves and resentment in the long-run.    Over-extending ourselves in the short-term to get a short term burst of stress reduction is not a long-term solution.

Instead of exhaustion and resentment from giving too much in relationships that are one sided, focus instead on giving yourself much needed support.  Any nurturing we direct toward our self, especially involving physical touch, triggers the same hormonal surge of oxytocin.  Therapeutic massage has a solid biological basis of delivering hormones that reduce stress, both in the short and long term. 

Sometimes we end up spending so much time and energy worrying about and doing for others, that we do not have time, energy, and resources left for our own dreams and lives.  If your life is suspended or on hold, claim your life back.   Consider taking some time off from assisting others that are capable of doing for themselves and spend that time working on the things that are important to you. 

There’s a big difference in giving help and in giving support.  If you are spending too much time helping or “saving” others, it’s time to figure out a way to serve others by not doing things you resent, which is a sure sign of over helping.  This is often referred to as loving more by caring less, or mastering the art of disappointing others with grace.  By being mindful of your boundaries and own needs for self care, you will have more energy and resources.  Take some steps to nurture yourself and support others without assuming full responsibility for them.  In other words, start saying “no” to those things that zap your energy and leave you feeling frustrated and resentful and start saying “yes” to your self care.

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