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Self Care is Not Selfish: Take Time for Self-Care Because You Can’t Give from an Empty Cup

I’ll start by clearing the air on self-care. While massages, facials, bubble baths, foot rubs, luxurious clothing, ultra soft bedding and that delicious piece of double whipped chocolate mousse ganache cake are certainly ways to treat yourself, these are just your gateways into deeper, more meaningful care for yourself. Taking time to be with your own thoughts and feelings, to spend a moment slowing down, to get outside or to move your body are all ways to reconnect with your own Self, giving you a break from the cacophony of the world around you or the long line of needs awaiting your attention. All that chatter will continue in perpetuity, and at some point, you need to remember to fill your own cup before you can keep giving to all those other demands. On a regular basis, the value of self-care comes from taking time to disconnect from the world around you, in order to reconnect and hear your own needs, thoughts and feelings more clearly, and to renew your emotional, mental and spiritual wells.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many epiphany moments while in the near-asleep stage of a great massage, especially when there are heated towels involved. Oh yes, that wonderful bliss moment! I’ve also had incredible self-awareness come up through yoga, walks in nature, listening to soul-stirring music, while exploring through guided meditations, and during sound baths. These have all been intentional, little gifts to myself, which I tend to practice daily, because they work for me. Being able to regularly find quiet in my mind and body has given me a new basis, a platform from which I can understand when I’m acting in alignment or if I’m off-axis. I value the time I dedicate to my practices, and for any practices you’re able to revisit regularly, I’m sure you derive tremendous value.

It often happens that self-care gets deprioritized. It’s easy to overrun your time with the many countless demands, work goals, cooking for your family, laundry, cleaning, helping friends or social engagements. We have infinite demands on our finite time, making time a precious resource. But if you keep giving your time and your energy to other people without taking space to replenish for yourself, you will hit a breaking point. And trust me, if you haven’t already hit one, it’s not pretty. In fact, it can be downright ugly, and for me, the worst breaking point was when I found myself questioning ‘why am I doing any of this? What difference does it make? Why does any of it matter? Who really notices or cares?’ This is the stuff of nervous breakdowns and existentialism. And while a good existential crisis can really help clear up your values and priorities in life, there are gentler, more productive ways to accomplish that.

I would love to talk with you if you’re looking for an intervention to curb your own disenfranchisement. That’s what I do, that’s why I coach, that’s why I support others on their journey for greater overall wellness. For this platform, though, I’d like to steer this to sharing about smaller, less obvious forms of self-care; practices which you can do in 20 seconds, under a minute, and as many times as you’d like (need) in your day. Or by pointing out the many unnoticeable ways you can prioritize yourself, just by making loving choices for yourself. Think of it like this, if you collected a drop of water every minute of your life, it wouldn’t take long until you had a pond, maybe even a lake or ocean. Building up your reservoir of energy and continuing to replenish it, frequently, makes you more resilient and more adaptable to shifting demands. You can’t create more time, but you can change your relationship with it.

How many breaths to you think you take in a day? The average adult takes roughly 960 breaths in an hour – that’s 12-20 breaths per minute. What if you could pause to think about your breath, for just 4 of those breaths? That would barely be 20 seconds of your day. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, pressured for time, uncertain, worried, frenzied, consider taking the next four breaths, and really noticing that you’re inhaling, and noticing that you’re exhaling. This happens automatically, trust me, you don’t need to think about breathing at all. But when you do, even for just those 20 seconds, you can give your body a needed break and reset your nervous system. You’ll find you can think more clearly, and you’ll be able to make a mindful decision, rather than a hasty one. This is just one micro-break you can create for yourself. In the time you take to consciously breathe, you are building more space in the brain for more efficient actions. This is how you can change your relationship by time and actually let time work for you. Breathing is always my go-to for a quick reset and remembering to take care of myself (aka: self-care).

There are also wonderfully unsuspecting ways you can build in self-care for yourself daily! And if you’re worried that taking a yoga class, getting your nails done, or taking 30 minutes to read feels selfish (because let’s be honest, sometimes the financial expense or that use of that time can feel like you’re doing it at the sacrifice of something else), here are some excellent ways to show yourself care and love, and no one will know the wiser!! Think of choosing a flavor-packed seltzer over that glass of wine or opt for a salad instead of fried chicken (prioritizing your health). Consider taking the scenic way home, maybe it only adds 5 minutes to your drive (bonus if you can jam out to music as loud as you want)! Walk to your mailbox to get the mail instead of picking it up when you pull in the driveway (prioritizing moving your body). Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to an invitation, without any need to justify it, because ‘No.’ is a full sentence (i.e.: period, end of thought, full stop, nothing further needed – and if you want to be polite, try ‘no, thank you’). Developing boundaries for yourself and what you are willing to tolerate, accept, continue or stop doing, is perhaps the most significant self-care you could ever choose; it puts you in control of yourself, and not feeling hostage to all those endless demands on your time and energy.

Every time you make a decision that supports YOU, you are practicing self-care. Hey, you’re reading this article – congratulations for taking this time for yourself, to renew and refresh!! Self-care is about loving yourself enough to make choices which support you. There’s no need for criticism, judgment, rationalization nor justifications for honoring and acting on what you need. Know also, that if your decision tomorrow looks different than your decision today, that is also self-care, because you can only ever respond to what is happening in the present moment, which changes with every breath. By practicing self-care regularly, be it through noticing your breath and pausing for 20 seconds, by making a healthy food choice, by making an unhealthy food choice (depending on the situation), by finding 5 quiet minutes for yourself to check-in and self-assess, or by taking 2 minutes to walk outside, you consistently replenish your energy, making you more self-aware, more present, and more resilient to the ‘noise’ of life around you.

Hopefully you recognize the value of giving yourself time to pause and reconnect within, or to take a longer break by getting that massage or attending a restorative yoga class. It is essential to remember to fill your own cup! Simply trying a few of these self-care renewal practices for a couple days will make a difference! And when you remember to care for yourself, you have a greater capacity and willingness to care for others. It’s not selfish to notice that you need a break or that you need fresh air. Take the time! Everyone around you benefits when you show up as a more whole version of yourself. Over time, when practiced with intention, perhaps even dedicated time, these self-care practices can become preventative, and you’ll notice how full your reservoir of energy and time feels, everyday!

If you’re looking for more quick break self-care practices, here are a couple more quick breaks to help you reset your mind and become more present, more clear, more focused and alert, all ways you can fill your cup throughout the day:

More Self-Care Quick Breaks:

- Snap or tap your fingers. Making music with your body puts you into your innate rhythm, and for just a few seconds, it puts you back in control, and takes you out of the pace of everything around you.

- Pet an animal. Animals remind us to be in the present moment, and you’ll experience the feel-good vibes of oxytocin by sharing physical connection, if even for 10 seconds. Try to make it 11 seconds or more, that’s when the benefits of the oxytocin really kick in! If you don’t have a pet, try a hug with a family member or friend, ideally for at least 11 seconds.

- Take three deep mouth exhales. You don’t even need to focus on inhaling, the body will naturally do that for you. When you make a loud ‘HAH’ exhale, you burn off excess energy in your body, putting you back into regulation and out of chaos.

- Do a full body shake. This can literally happen in about 3 seconds. When you do this, you shake out pent up energy in your body which may be causing you to feel anxious, nervous or frenzied. When you shake out, it’s like opening a mini dam and letting the excess water loose.

- Hold a hand to your forehead. I love doing this one, because it can be a super sneaky move that looks like you’re concentrating. What you’re doing is bringing blood back to the pre-frontal cortex. When we’re stressed, the blood rushes away from the mammalian brain (pre-frontal cortex) and focuses on the reptilian brain (amygdala) because we think we need to run away from imminent danger. Stress has us living in fight or flight mode nearly 24/7. So, take a pause, hold your head, and maybe take those 4 concentrated breaths at the same time. Repeat often.

- Get up and move! Need to send a message to a colleague? Try walking a note to them instead of sending another email. Or go get another glass of water. Just moving the body helps oxygen, blood and lymph more easily cycle through, giving a boost to muscles, bones, joints and tendons, and supporting your body’s natural detoxification. Humans are meant to move! Hello, opposable thumbs…not originally designed for texting.

- Change your view. Literally. Staring at the same screen, same 6 feet of peripheral view, keeps you in a locked and fixed mindset – there’s no new stimuli. The brain needs new information, constantly! Try changing the direction you’re sitting, or if you can’t rearrange your seating, look out the window or at what’s behind you…and then count 5 new things you see. This puts you in a mindful presence, becoming aware of what is around you, and refreshing the brain synapses.

Remember that self-care starts with self-love. And when you love yourself, you have more grace, kindness, tenderness and compassion. The crux of self-care is to practice it for yourself, but everyone around you benefits when you take the time to be more present and refill your cup!

By Jennifer Rizza, Founder of Newtown Wellness Collective, Reiki Master, Yoga Teacher, Health & Wellness Lifestyle Coach, Lover of nature, animals, oxygen, adventure, rest, peace

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