“Of course the world of work begins to become - threatens to become - our only world, to the exclusion of all else. The demands of the working world grow ever more total, grasping ever more completely the whole of human existence.” ― Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis Of Culture
If you are anything like me, you wish there were more hours in the day and fewer items on your to-do list. I find myself running from one task to the next and it’s only at the end of the day, when the sun is down, the baby is in bed, and the dishwasher is humming away that I take a moment to do an internal check on myself. It is at that point that I suddenly realize I am stressed, or sad, or frustrated at something that happened throughout my day.
Day-to-Day and Year-to-Year
As goes our day, so go our years. It is often true that if this is the general pattern of your day, it is probably the general pattern of your weeks, months, and years… It’s only on Friday night that you realize you haven’t had a moment to check in on yourself. It’s only at the end of the month that you realize the Self-Care-To-Do has been completely neglected. It’s only at the end of the year when you are making your New Year’s Resolution that you decide to refocus on improving some aspect of yourself and your life.
The Danger In This
In the moment it seems as though there are bigger fish to fry. Your focus and attention are needed elsewhere. And it is part of the job of life and love to make sacrifices for others. We strive to be less self-centered and this is good. The danger comes 5, 10, 20 years from now, when habitually putting yourself on the back burner, day to day, year to year, means you’ve slowly set fire to your kitchen.
5, 10, 20…
It’s easy to think “I’ll take care of [fill in the blank] tomorrow…" But tomorrow usually becomes next week, and next week becomes next month, and next year. I know I'm prone to thinking this way, especially when I’m overwhelmed. But I think if I polled my friends and family who are older than me and asked them if they wished they had focused on their mental health and invested in themselves just a little more, 5, 10, 20 years earlier, I think they would all vehemently say “Yes! I wish I had started taking care of myself earlier.” Well, for us that moment is now.
“If we don’t take time…”
Feeling overwhelmed and pushing personal investments aside to take care of others reminds me of a story about Mother Teresa. She was being interviewed by reporters about the amazing amount of work she was doing, overseeing almost 4,000 sisters serving thousands upon thousands of the poorest of the poor. One reporter asked her how she and the other missionaries were able to accomplish all of the good they were doing when they allotted hours every day to pray as a part of their rule of life. She responded: “If we don’t take time to pray, we could not do this work.”
Here are the two key points from all of this:
It’s a slow creep of weeks, months, and years that robs you of taking care of yourself.
It’s a lie that “I must take care of others before I take time to take care of myself."
In Case You Need More Reasons:
Sometimes in order to make the choice to change a pattern, we need a solid set of reasons. Here is a list of 5 reasons for you to make mental health one of your New Year’s Resolutions this year:
It’s easier to fix a problem early on.
A month of going off budget and then deciding to get back on track is the work of an hour. Years of throwing caution to the wind and never budgeting, and rarely looking at your bank account is going to take years and lots of financial experts to dig you out of the hole. This principle can be applied to just about any complication in your life: marriage, organization, friendships, etc. It is especially true of mental health.
Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
If you are struggling internally, it’s probably showing up somewhere else in your life. Maybe you see it in your relationship with your partner: you feel a slow distancing. Maybe you see it in your relationship with your children: you have less and less patience. It can show up at work: you just don’t have the same drive as before. Don’t fall for the lie that it’s only hurting you.
It’s sky code:
On an airplane part of the safety demonstration includes putting on your own oxygen mask before anyone else's, even children. We can’t help others, if we don’t make sure our basic needs are taken care of first. The same is true of our mental health. Just like on the airplane, eventually you will feel like you are passing out from lack of oxygen. It’s sky code, take care of yourself.
It’s not selfish to invest in yourself.
Even Mother Teresa, who served thousands, often as they were dying, understood the value of self care first. This is literally coming from a Saint. You can’t do all of the work needed unless you're investing in yourself from time to time.
You’re worth it.
At the end of the day, many of the above reasons have to do with removing complications or making it easier for you to care of others. These are all valid reasons. And we need to acknowledge that you deserve to live a life of freedom and joy. This is the only reason you truly need.