Published in Womeninc, October 2005
by Diana Gabriel
By this time of year, most of us have slid back into our post-summer mode of operation. We’ve moved into “busy,” believing that we must leave that more laid back routine of the summer behind us. But what if we continued to embrace the spirit of summer, and practiced self care throughout the holidays and into the New Year? How might our enjoyment of the holiday season be different than in the past? Is it even possible?
I believe we can change our daily practices (habits) by making a commitment to ourselves. Developing a practice of self care that is aligned with your values and life purpose prior to the holidays allows you to build up your reserves. Consequently, you will be able to respond to the stressors and demands of the season with more resilience.
As women, we tend to forgo or dismiss our wants and needs in order to give priority to caring for family, friends and work, not realizing that in doing so we lose bits and pieces of ourselves in the process. This leaves us feeling overwhelmed, isolated and frustrated. There is just too much to attend to – too many demands, obligations, responsibilities and information (papers, bills, cards, e-mails) all screaming for our attention. If we believe that meeting the world’s needs rests on our shoulders, we feel isolated. We have no time for self care or connecting with others and we become frustrated and trapped by obligations that don’t feel like our own. Ultimately, we end up feeling inadequate or guilty for not being able to do it all.
Part of why we end up here is that it can be a struggle to differentiate between a should, a need, or a want. Shoulds are those things you think you ought to want. They are based on shame and on duty, and are externally prompted (i.e. by our ego, spouse, boss, society.) Needs are requirements, like food, water, clothing, shelter, honesty, recognition. Needs are not optional. Wants are those things that are important and fulfilling to you, which you crave or desire. Wants support your values and who you are, and create a quality of life. They are natural. They provide gratification. For example, you don’t need to exercise, but you want to be in alignment with your commitment to exercise in order to improve your health. Likewise, you don’t need to straighten your home, but you want to be in alignment with your commitment to having order in your life. Learning to differentiate between the three and to act upon your wants allows you the possibility of creating healthy habits of restorative self care.
Practicing self care takes courage. It means putting integrity above promises or obligations. Being true to yourself guarantees you will have internal balance. In Change Your Life in 30 Days (Dutton Press, 2004), Rhonda Britten writes: “As you live a life that you create, you will feel more powerful and courageous. Therefore, you will start to feel that your life is your own… Your life will be fulfilled with more self-love. Your choices will be aligned with your values. Decisions will be easier to make. Life will naturally include more peace of mind and personal satisfaction. You will effortlessly be more true to yourself.”
Through a commitment to self care we can create a sustainable, healthy existence that is not dependent on day-to-day circumstances. By bringing the best of our summertime mode of operating into the rest of the year, we can change the experience of the holidays – and our destiny – and live a life aligned with our values and purpose.