Self-care vs Selflessness

We are constantly told to be selfless (putting others needs before our own) which can lead to a disconnection from our bodies.

I was at a children’s rights conference 2 years ago eager to learn about the status of children’s rights. I felt inspired just being there, as I thought that the lecture theatre was filled with people like me who were passionate and wanting to make positive changes in children’s lives.

When break time came, I was so eager to mingle and got to speak to many inspiring people including some of those who presented the papers. However, one encounter has remained vivid to this day.

I saw a young woman sitting quietly at my table, so I decided to say hello. She must have been in her mid twenties. Her skin looked so pale as if she had been ill for a long time and hair looked like it was not brushed. She told me she was working as a youth worker and immediately started sharing how difficult her job was. She worked in a youth offending team and confronted extremely challenging behaviours from young people she worked with. Her speech was weak and slightly inaudible from lack of energy. She poured her frustrations as if she wanted me to save her from whatever she was going through. Her eyes welled up with tears and looked so depleted, she was exhausted.

I thought to myself  “why is she still working?”

I also thought this was the perfect example of selflessness – someone who was giving all to help the children and young people she was working with. Despite her commitment and possibly a very caring person, I questioned how healthy her interactions would be with the young people she worked with when she was in desperate need of self-care herself. With the end of the coffee break we both went back to the conference.

We are constantly told to be selfless (putting others needs before ours) which leads to disconnecting from our bodies. This youth worker’s body was screaming for her to attend to the pain, frustrations and anxieties; but she was at this conference to gain yet more cognitive knowledge and focus.

Law of Energy conservation

The law of energy conservation states that a closed system has a fixed amount of energy. Energy can only be transformed from one form to another, however, cannot be created or destroyed. The amount of energy you have is what you have. Most importantly the amount of time you have is 24 hours in a day.

There is an unspoken rule in workplaces that we should be working harder, putting more of ourselves into something, is always better. I question this idea of ‘more is better’.

So, if you give 100% to your job all day, say yes to everyone and take on extra projects, showing up early and finishing late, you simply have less energy to give to your family and certainly yourself.

So, with our energy levels if we saw the cost to one’s health relative to output. I bet if you give 80% of your energy must still seem as though you are giving 100%, then you can take that 20% of energy that you conserved for activities that bring you love, fun and pleasure to recharge your energy; for example, attending a yoga class, taking a walk in the park, spending time with your friends and family and so on. This is not a permission to slack and let people who are relying on you down. This is a reminder to you that your time and energy are precious.

How do you conserve your energy? 

While you are making your own list, you are welcome to borrow some of mine that may resonate with you.

1. Start eating healthily

Your body has infinite capacity for change and renewal, therefore if you start eating more vegetables and fruit and less refined sugar; the energy that was previously used for digestion and getting rid of toxins is reallocated. You might notice that you have more energy during the day and don’t need to pass out on the couch by 7pm.
When you overwork your body, your immune system weakens. A visit to your GP and getting your blood tested for iron, Vitamin B and vitamin D levels are important.

2. Invest in things in alignment with your body

We are so disconnected from our bodies that we ignore signals from our body. If you are getting headaches and colds more frequently, it is a sign from your body screaming for a change. We choose jobs that might not be completely attuned with our skills. For instance, you might be a creative person, so going into an administrative job that does not require innovation might bore you and start making you feel that you are worthless. Ask yourself the question “What am I good at?” Think of a time when you were doing something that excited you. Allow yourself to feel that excitement, then research the types of jobs that will allow you to experience that feeling. We are all emotional beings so what feels good will energise us.

3. Bring your focus back to you

Research shows that burnout can result form lack of skills utilisation, participation, co-workers support and of professional worth. Just because you want the best for others does not mean they want the best for you.

Protect yourself – To be responsible and caring, for yourself first, ask yourself, “What do I need to put in place to protect me in this job, relationship, situation etc?” “What new boundary do I need to establish this week?”

Take back your power – Instead of being in admiration of someone else’s greatness, see how you can nourish yourself and demonstrate the unique qualities you have.

Say no when you want to say no – Remember that you are not doing anybody any favours by saying “yes” when you really want to say “no”, because then you are riddled with resentment. Use your authentic voice and heal yourself.

4. Start a morning routine

I started using techniques suggested by Hal Elrod in his book ‘Miracle mornings’.

Start your day with a glass of water to hydrate your body after your sleep. My mornings start with meditation. Meditation has proven to increase productivity and creativity. There are many free resources on the Internet you can access that can guide you to learn how to meditate. You can start with 5 minutes a day and increase it.

5. Include periods of unfocused time in your day

A Harvard Psychotherapist, Dr Srini Pillay, shows that un-focusing your mind is important to your productivity. Our culture has been driven by trying to focus. In his book “Think less, Learn More” he advices to take regular breaks at work and engage in activities that help you un-focus, for example, listening to music, taking a walk etc.

Put your attention towards “life lifters”