A common issue with basic self-care is that it seems selfish. It can feel like spending any time or focus on taking care of ourselves takes away from what we owe to others. Our mates, kids, family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and random strangers on the street somehow seem more deserving of our attention than the source of that attention. This source of attention is, of course, a self. A single individual heart. We are each like candles, our inner light illuminating those around us. When we let that candle burn too low, the light begins to fade and gutter, until finally it is snuffed out. The better we are at tending this little flare, the brighter it can burn and the farther into the darkness that light can shine.
Hangry. Why is this a word? It’s a portmanteau of “hungry” and “angry.” Like “adulting,” it’s a concept readily understood across society. It’s a part of modern life. Why would we do this to ourselves, though? By the time we reach adulthood, surely we’re aware that going too long between meals makes us grumpy, irritable, distracted, clumsy, thin-skinned, and hard to be around. The first question is why we would do this to ourselves. The second question is why we would do it to others! Why would we inflict our hangry, snappy selves on others around us? It’s like voluntarily turning into the Incredible Hulk, except with no villains to crush. A friend of mine named her irritable alternate persona “Snarla.” Maybe we can’t bring ourselves to eat a proper breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack for our own sakes. Don’t we owe a bit more consideration to the people around us, though? If we know we have this tendency to let ourselves down, deprive ourselves of basic nutrition, and perform poorly all day, don’t we then have a responsibility to plan around that?
Another area where almost everyone collapses under the burden of modern life is that of getting enough sleep. Sleep procrastination is a real problem. The more tired we are, the less likely we are to want to go to bed early enough to get a good night’s rest. The key factor behind this is the desire for High Quality Leisure Time. We’re looking for an uninterrupted block of a specific amount of time so that we can unwind. If we’re partway into our HQLT, and it’s interrupted, the clock starts over. Especially for parents, getting that critical time block feels almost impossible. We’ll stay up hours later than we should in the quest for peace of mind. The cost is that we’re perpetually an hour or more deprived of sleep each day. This is a lot like cashing out your retirement to buy scratch-off lottery tickets. It robs the future to pay for a temporary burst of hope that never really pays off.
When we’re chronically exhausted and burned out, we have nothing left for anyone else. We wind up with barely enough energy to vent about things that are bothering us. We can’t reach the threshold where we feel capable of taking action to change anything negative in our lives. That might be a terrible job, a wretched commute, an energy vampire, a bad pattern of communication with a specific person, a health issue, or financial problems, among other things. Not only do we wind up going through life feeling like positive change is impossible, we feel defeated and unhappy. That means it probably doesn’t cross our minds that we also don’t have the energy to pay close attention to the people in our lives. How can we listen deeply and be emotionally present when we’re exhausted and annoyed by life? Can we even realize and take in the fact that others are doing their very best to be there for us? Are we receiving support and affection graciously?
Another area where most of us impact others around us without realizing it is in organization and time management. When we’re burned out and overextended, we also tend to drop details. We rush from commitment to commitment, sometimes late for every single engagement for years on end. (Guilty as charged, Your Honor). We can’t manage to fit in time to organize our belongings, so we’re constantly searching for things we’ve lost. That can be a major root cause of chronic lateness, too. We may have personal possessions spread across every room of the home, we may lose track of important documents and files at work, we may miss recording appointments, and our attention may be spread so thin that we can’t even remember where we parked our vehicles. Guilt and shame are not helpful here, assuming they are ever helpful anywhere. What does help is to see better organization and time management as gifts that keep on giving. When we take care of the details of life, we can be present and fulfill commitments. We can show up prepared and ready to engage. We can stop causing concern, distraction, or frustration to others. The fact that we can also stop annoying ourselves is just an extra bonus.
Being well nourished and well rested creates a place of stillness in the room. Others who interact with us can feel the difference. We’re relaxed, responsive, and able to be attentive listeners. Our peace of mind can spread and soothe others, who may be under stress we can’t begin to imagine. Being organized and a few minutes early allows others to go through their day and complete their work without any interference from us. If everyone did it, how easy everything would seem! We can give so much more to others when we take care of ourselves first. We can be fully present. Sometimes, we can even be leaders and role models, inspiring others to take better care of themselves as well.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.