When you do those things, ask yourself the question “Would I treat my daughter, sister or best friend this way?” If the answer is no, change gears and treat yourself the way you treat those you love.
For example, when I make a mistake, I tend to stew about it for days, replaying it in my mind and generally berating myself for being so stupid. But when others make mistakes, I tend to let it go – and I definitely don’t call them “stupid!”
• Invest in your marriage. One of the greatest pleasures of life is to enjoy a long and happy marriage. And one of the greatest sorrows is to simply co-exist with someone we once loved, but now barely know.
So give yourself the gift of a happy marriage by investing time, energy, and love in it. If your marriage is strong, keep investing in it; never assume it can coast while you focus on other things.
If your marriage is struggling, consider taking the first step (and perhaps the second and the third) to turn it around. That may require putting aside disagreements, frustration and maybe even anger to reach out with love. And if your marriage is in serious trouble, consider seeking professional help. The time and effort you invest in your marriage now is a gift that will pay you back many times over, for the rest of your married life.
• Know and respect your limits and become comfortable saying “no.” Many women don’t know (or don’t respect) the limits of their time and energy. As a result, they agree to do too much – and create a lot of stress in their lives. So give yourself the gift of not doing that. Instead, figure out your limits, develop respect for them, and speak up for them.
And recognize that they won’t be the same as other women’s limits – so don’t compare yourself to others. I know a woman who has figured out that she needs a lot of sleep and a lot of “alone time” to be able to function well. So in order to do her job well, care for her marriage and family well, and maintain her physical and mental health, she says “no” to many things that others want her to do.
In other words, she knows her limits and respects them, and really doesn’t care what other people do or think. In doing so, she is giving herself a valuable gift.
• Do something you want to do. Most women spend all day, every day doing things for other people. Sometimes we’re taking care of others’ needs (food, clothing, education), and sometime we’re taking care of others’ wants (activities, sports, social events). But what about our own wants?
Most women take very little time to do things they want to do. If that’s the case with you, give yourself the gift doing something you will really enjoy. It could a one-time activity (a pedicure, shopping with a friend, browsing in a bookstore) or an ongoing one (carving out time to exercise by yourself, taking a class, pursuing a hobby).
• Take care of your body. If you read this blog regularly, you knew that I couldn’t talk about gifts for ourselves without talking about healthy eating, exercise and sleep! Why? Because those things are crucial to our physical and mental health, but many women don’t make space for them in their lives.
Instead they exist on a diet of fast food as they run from one activity to another, skip exercise for weeks or months at a time, or sleep just a few hours a night. Some avoid going to the doctor, even when sick, and may skip preventive medical appointments altogether.
If you see yourself in any of those descriptions, stop for a moment and evaluate. Why aren’t you caring for yourself in very basic ways? Is your life so hectic that you can’t eat healthy foods, take a brisk walk and sleep 7 or 8 hours on most days of the week? If so, is the situation temporary (e.g., you have a newborn or one of your children just had surgery) or systemic (e.g., you’re running from one activity to another all day, every day)?
If it’s temporary, do the best you can and call in the reserves – every resource available to you – in order to take reasonable care of yourself. If it’s systemic, prioritize at least one aspect of caring for your body (e.g.,take a 30 minute walk every day or sleep 7 hours every night) and figure out a way to make it happen.
You may have to put some activities on the back burner for a while. Once you’ve established that way of taking care of yourself as a habit, pick a second one and prioritize it. Continue that pattern until taking care of your body is part of your regular routine.
You may think that you don’t have the time – or energy – to give yourself these five gifts. But I want to encourage you to make the time – and find the energy – to add at least one of them to your life now, and at least one more in the near future. You deserve to care for your body, mind and spirit in these ways. And if caring for yourself makes you feel guilty (it shouldn’t!), remember that caring for yourself makes you better able to care for your family.
Do you find it easy or hard to give yourself these kinds of gifts? Please share your thought in the Comments – I would love to hear from you.