Sometimes it feels like the more work you take on, the more people expect of you. You offer to help with something once and suddenly it becomes your responsibility forever. You spend all day every day taking care of other people and then they get angry when you try to take care of yourself. There’s not even time for you to do the basics, like cleaning up or running errands. It’s the perfect situation to grow resentment on both sides.
It might feel like you can’t stop, but sometimes you have to. Exhaustion takes its toll on your body – especially your immune system – and can make you more vulnerable to all sorts of ailments. I hardly ever get sick and typically bounce back quickly, but it’s always when I’m overextended that I’m floored by the virus that’s going around. I’m the queen of psychosomatic illnesses – when I’m under too much stress for too long I end up with stomach issues, headaches, and aches with no discernible cause. That’s a clear signal that, no matter how busy I feel, I’d better do something different.
When I say that I don’t have time to do something, I’m really saying that I’m opting not to make that something a priority in my life. When I start getting tension headaches and stress-induced stomach aches, I know I’d better re-prioritize things. Self-care isn’t optional. It’s not like the Spanish classes that seem like a cool idea, but never quite make it onto the list. Our biological needs – the things required for survival – go beyond eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. They include the things that we need to do to remain functioning people. Sure, making collages doesn’t seem like something I need to do, but what I’m actually doing is an activity that helps me sort through my emotions, express my identity, and find some peace.
We all have those little activities that help us find balance. As a loving caregiver, all the ‘extra’ activities drop off the priority list. For me, self-care means figuring out what activities aren’t really ‘extra.’