‘Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind’

  • Mother helping son who is drawing

I am currently writing a book on women’s mental health and wellbeing, so the topic is constantly on my mind. And I live and work in a regional town in South Australia. This article explores women and self-care, as we can struggle to prioritise our mental health and wellbeing. This is particularly important for women living in rural areas, who are often ‘holding’ a lot – family, property, job and more.

The 2018 Australian National Health Survey of Women found that ‘women are trying to do too much or they think they’re expected to do so much’. Where does this come from? Women learn to nurture their family and, oftentimes, the needs of the family come first. However, putting others first and ignoring our own needs often goes way beyond this.

There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, women are influenced by their family and the society in which they grew up and live; they are often trained to look after everyone else first. This can result in a sense of wanting to please others most of the time and to be of service.

People pleasing can also arise out of our response to the many demands on us, or experiences of trauma and the stress response that results. This is why we often struggle to say no to demands. What can then result is taking on too many tasks and becoming exhausted, and it can mean not including enough time-out.

Additionally, we are human and, as a result, naturally compare ourselves to others. Comparison and a sense of lack (we are somehow lacking in beauty, body perfection or something else in life) is fostered by media and advertising. Social media commonly focuses on ‘the perfect woman’, and this mystical creature leads to unrealistic ideals for women.

At the centre of women not prioritising ourselves can be a sense of having less importance than, or being inferior to, others. Humans make sense of the world by creating stories in our minds. Unfortunately, a ‘not being enough’ story can develop as we go through life.

Prioritising self-care is part of the answer. This approach is not selfish, as is often suggested by society. It is necessary! We need to take the much-needed time and steps to look after ourselves. Then we will see the benefits for ourselves as well as for our loved ones.

Any small steps to address this issue are useful and we must consider our personal situations to identify what might help. Here are some ideas to contemplate:

  • We only have so much time and energy in life, so we need to focus our efforts in areas that are most valued.
  • Any small steps towards self-care are helpful.
  • Learn to have more boundaries and to say no more often.
  • We might need to teach others that we practice self-care and won’t always be available to care for their needs.
  • Disconnect from phones, tablets or laptops regularly. Our brain needs time away from being stimulated by technology.
  • Our brain needs quiet time too. So, pause and do nothing for a while and breathe.
  • Be mindful in everyday activities and perhaps try some meditation.
  • Get out into nature regularly (such as walking barefoot on the beach).
  • Be grateful for the good things that happen in life and laugh often.
  • Celebrate any small steps to self-care!

We may also need to work on changing our story to one of ‘being enough’ and deserving of self-care, by gradually changing our thinking. Our mental health and wellbeing need to become a priority in our lives and we need to begin to take more steps towards this.

Remember: Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind (Doldinsky).

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