The Perils of Putting Everyone Else First
My typical client is a woman who is a master juggler: work, kids, pets, friends, partner, shopping, cooking, cleaning, planning, caring for aging parents, and now more than ever, adult children. It’s a wonder she can keep all the balls in the air. She doesn’t get enough rest, is bone-tired, and yet she can’t sleep at night.
She has trouble saying NO — who’s going to make everything happen? It also happens that this woman has an autoimmune condition or two, typically Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, IBS, RA, lupus, and/or MS. By the time she comes to me, some balls have started to drop and she is sick and tired of being sick and tired. She is finally ready to do something about her health but where to start?
Tough Love Needed
So what’s the problem? Is it her diet? Toxin overload? Hidden infections? Too much stress? The answer is likely “All of the above”. Each issue must be addressed, but often this client first needs me to give her permission to take care of herself before taking care of other responsibilities.
She says she’s desperate for a good night’s sleep, but she can’t wear earplugs — what if someone calls in the middle of the night? — And she doesn’t think it’s possible to keep the dog off the bed (that’s where Fluffy sleeps!).
That’s when I use the metaphor of putting her own oxygen mask on first, as flight attendants always advise, so she can in fact be better able to help others. She gets it intellectually. But then she’ll say something like, “But they depend on me to [help with homework, take them to doctor appointments, manage the team, do the shopping, cooking, etc.], and I just don’t have time or energy left to do things for myself.”
So I offer some tough love: Of course everyone depends on you — you have shown everyone that you will take care of everything. But look at what this is costing you in stress, sleeplessness, and your health!
I Can Relate
I know a bit about this profile. I’m married, used to run a sales team, sat on boards, founded a non-profit, and at one point had both parents in hospital beds an hour’s plane flight away. Did I mention that I had MS, and stress often exacerbated or lead to new symptoms?
I knew I had to deal with my stress or suffer the consequences of MS flare-ups, so I pursued simple stress reduction solutions. I found a life-changing course called, “Love Yourself: For Everyone Else’s Sake.” I remember sitting in a circle with about 8 women and ‘fessing up that my first sentence (as the precocious daughter of a fighter pilot) was, “I can do it.” I had lived into that declaration my whole life, and I remember feeling understood as every head nodded in recognition.
Fill Yourself Up First
We were guided by Mark Abramson, DDS, founder of Stanford’s Mindfulness Meditation Stress Reduction program. Mark knows the costs of the do-it-all-yourself personality type, and sees the effects daily in his practice. He specializes in addressing TMJ – the clenched jaw disorder — and sleep apnea.
Mark drew graphic pictures of what happened to our bodies during the stress response. We learned that chronic and unrelenting stress leads to systemic inflammation and disease. We imagined what might happen to us if we continued down this path. And if something happened to us, who would care for us and everyone else?
Mark showed us how to practice mindfulness to counter our habitual stress responses. He led us through guided meditations, breathing practices and movement exercises. He gave us permission to fill our minds, bodies and souls up before attending to others.
Self-Care is Not Selfish
Women often resist taking care of ourselves first because we think it’s “selfish”. But prioritizing our wellbeing actually gives us more energy for our caregiver roles and other activities. Caring for others and ourselves are not mutually exclusive.
Since the end of the course, I’ve been wearing earplugs, an eye mask, and mouth tape every night, and I’ll tell you that the greatly increased quality and quantity of my sleep has had a big impact on my ability to function better in all of my roles. And, not surprisingly, I’m much happier and well-rested than when I feel depleted, stressed out, and resentful.
How Will You Fill Yourself Up?
It depends on what brings you joy. Everyone is different. For me, getting out on a hiking trail, soaking in a hot bath, losing myself in a good book, or connecting with friends even by phone all nourish me. Imagine what you would do if you had an hour or an afternoon to yourself.
Write a list of things that fill you up and decide to do one thing a day. It’s not decadent; it’s essential to your sanity and your health.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Seven Self-Care Strategies Backed By Science
Once we understand the perils of not putting our own oxygen mask on first, we can embrace opportunities to love ourselves more, which has a profound ripple effect.
What’s your experience? Are you giving yourself permission to put your own oxygen mask on first? If not, what are you waiting for? You might want to consider what waiting is costing you.
P.S. Want my personal help? If you live in the continental U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom. I collaborate with skilled naturopathic doctors who are expert in resolving root causes like gut disorders, chronic infections and toxic burdens which are almost always part of the autoimmune puzzle. Together we provide comprehensive, customized treatment plans, and collaborative, caring support. If you are ready to beat autoimmune and reclaim your best life please book a 30–minute consultation with me to gain clarity, confidence, and explore the possibility of working together. You can do it. We can help.
photo by Jackson David