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  • Writer's pictureKirsten Kyllingstad

In Order to Take Care of Others, Take Care of Yourself First

As we head in to September, schools are starting again in full swing. “First Day of School” pictures are starting to flood my feed. I am thinking about how this is the second time families are starting school in the times of Covid.

People are tapped out. Kids being home while parents tried to work and homeschool was extremely hard. Kids missed out on life experiences. Parents missed out on life experiences. Things have absolutely been turned on their head. Some parents are rejoicing kids going back to school, some parents are terrified to send their kids to school, and some parents are feeling both simultaneously. It is hard to know what is the right thing, the best thing, to do for our children.

Our heads are swimming. Our hearts are swimming. Then we read the news and it is hard to fathom what is happening in the world around us outside of Covid. There are so many hard things happening right now. Parents are giving and giving and giving of themselves to try and protect their children. They are working to try and do it all. Parents are burning the candles at both ends.

But parents aren’t the only ones either. All of us are working hard now to try and work back to normal. Trying to find a new normal. Trying to decide what we want our normal to be now that jobs have been lost and some of us are starting over from scratch. If you are taking care of kids, or aging parents, or patients, or someone else, you can’t take care of them fully until you take care of yourself first. You can’t share your resources with others if they are depleted.

It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it shouldn’t make you feel guilty to take care of yourself first. You absolutely must take care of yourself in order to take care of others. On the airplane we tell people to put on their oxygen mask first before helping others. This isn’t selfish. You must make sure you are safe before you can help others. We don’t tend to think about it this way in day-to-day life, but it is essential that we do.

Everyone’s needs will look different. So, make sure you take some time to think about what will help you. Doing something for you and only you should be a top priority. And just a few minutes will suffice!

Some things that you can do for your self-care can be simple things: brush your teeth, take a shower, put on clean clothes. New moms can tell you all about not remembering the last time they showered because they were in the thick of caring for a newborn. That shower, that 5 minutes of sheer “me” time, that feeling of not being gritty anymore can be mood altering. Or spend a half hour out for a walk or run in the fresh air. Or spend some time doing a meditation. Maybe you want to spend some time reading a book or pursuing a hobby of yours. What makes you feel refreshed and renewed? What can you do that is just for you? It doesn’t have to be huge or time consuming. But it should be something that makes you happy that you are doing for you. And no one else. When you take care of yourself, you will better be able to help care for others. You can’t drive on an empty tank. Make sure yours is filled.

Please ask for help if you need it. Whether that means your spouse/partner takes charge of the kids so you can get some “me” time or the neighbors watch the kiddos playing outside while you take a much-needed break. Maybe it means you need to reach out to a professional to have someone to talk to on a larger scale. Everyone needs some help from time to time. We simply can not do it all alone. I have gotten so much help from so many different people throughout my life. I truly would not be here without them. “It takes a village” is 100% something I have lived by.

Finally, take a quick moment everyday to say what you are grateful for. Out loud. If you want to say a bunch of things, fine. But if you can only say one thing, that is also fine! Some days are easier than others and some days are a struggle. Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with something amazing or to have some long list. Don’t worry if it was the same thing as yesterday. But take a moment to reflect and find something good. Gratitude is scientifically proven to improve your health. Barbara Field wrote in her article How Gratitude Makes You Happier, “Research over the years point to lower stress, reduced pain and improved immune systems as a result of being thankful. Even better blood pressure and positive effects on the heart have been linked to gratitude.” These are just a few of the benefits of a daily gratitude regime.

We have made it 18 months into this pandemic and I’m not sure how many more we will have. Particularly now, make sure you are taking time for yourself to take care of yourself. I hope you will be able to carve out some time every day (or week) just for you. Once we make it through the pandemic, continue to take time for yourself. You deserve it. You do so much for others and you are important. Don’t forget to take care of you while you are taking care of everyone else.

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