Caring for Ourselves

On the heels of Sharon Thacker’s piece “When the Warrior is Tired” about taking care of yourself while you’re trying to help others, our friends at Psychological Health Roanoke (who provide Employee Assistance Benefits for our employees) have this to share about Caring for Ourselves.

Have you ever been on a diet, but found yourself unable to resist a slice of pizza? If you choose to eat that slice of pizza, do you beat yourself up about ruining your diet? Or do you decide that eating the slice of pizza was worth it?

There are many situations in which we might find it difficult to regulate ourselves or to find the willpower to resist when we need to. One of the reasons that willpower doesn’t always work is because we make incorrect assumptions about what we think will make us feel better, like eating that slice of pizza. Our tendency is to focus on the short-term gains and making ourselves feel better in the moment. However, when we focus too much on the moment, we put aside our long-term goals, which may ultimately make us feel worse.

Dr. Timothy Pychyl, in his recent Psychology Today article about self-regulation, encourages us to reflect on our efforts to self-regulate in the moment and to think through eating that slice of pizza. Even though we might think we will feel better if we eat that pizza, the reality is we won’t feel better. By shifting from our emotional experiences to an action step, we allow ourselves to be able to consider the long-term consequences and choose to eat a salad instead. He suggests that the important thing is not the strength of our willpower, but our ability to take a minute and think about what decision is really better. By practicing this instead of being caught up in self-criticism, disappointment or resentment, we will be able to build a stronger sense of pride and self-esteem. If we can work to not criticize ourselves for being weak-willed, we can better focus on our long-term goals.

An important part of taking care of ourselves is being able to recognize how our moods and perspectives influence how we interact with others and what we think of ourselves. In another article in Psychology Today, Dr. Robert Wicks discusses the importance of being aware of our expectations and emotions and how they influence our perspectives. He highlights that providing a respectful listening space for both ourselves and others can have a profound influence.

The importance of self-care can be summarized by the idea that we can’t give of ourselves when we don’t have anything left to give. Dr. Wicks suggests that there are aspects of our lives that we can manage to help us care for ourselves so that we can take care of others, including:

  • Working to be compassionate towards others to help broaden our focus. If we are always self-indulgent or self-involved, our world becomes narrow and less happy.
  • Teaching ourselves to be as compassionate to ourselves as we are to others. Nobody is perfect.
  • Recognizing when the negativity of others begins to weigh on us. Working to distance ourselves from the sad and angry behavior of others does not mean that we cannot still be supportive. It means that we recognize that the negativity of others does have a cost and we need to take a break once in a while.
  • Spending time with family and friends who can support and challenge us. Knowing who to talk to when we need advice or when we need to be heard can be a wonderful way to restore our compassion.

By working to take care of ourselves, we can set a good example for those that may be struggling to find a balance. When we are rested and well-fed, both literally and figuratively, we are much more able to listen and collaborate when others are needing our help. It can also benefit us to be able to focus on seeing some of the good in the world and not become overwhelmed by negativity.

For Help:  

If you or someone you know might be struggling, utilize EAP benefits to seek services from highly qualified, licensed professionals.

If someone you know is experiencing difficulty, let them know they are not alone and you are willing to assist them with finding the help they need.  Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone is powerful in helping others seek the help they need.

If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health assistance, you can access a local crisis program, such as Carilion’s CONNECT (540-981-8181), go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. Remember, it’s better to get help for yourself or someone else if needed.  Getting help is better than the alternative.

Family Service of Roanoke Valley and Psychological Health Roanoke have qualified and experienced clinicians available to help you and your family.