7 unselfish ways to put yourself first
It’s February, also known as the month that is quintessentially cupid and all things red and pink.
And that generally means we’ll fall in one of three categories: We’re giddy about the romance and chocolates we’re set to receive, we’re a bit salty because we’re not anticipating anything, or we simply don’t care either way.
But here’s a novel concept we all just might agree on: Why don’t we become our own valentines by practicing self-care—in general—instead?
Okay, true: Self-care has been something of a buzzword recently. But it’s important, nonetheless, because it means taking care of yourself.
Not in a selfish “To heck with everyone; I’m only out for me”-kind-of-way; but rather in a “I realize that my own peacefulness and well-being is necessary so that I can be my best self”-kind-of-way.
And here are seven ways to do just that:
1. Eat a well-balanced diet
When we’re exhausted—and starving, it’s easy to resort to whatever is handy: snack foods loaded with sugar, and, worse yet, washing it down with soda or something else that’s equally sugary. Basically, the more tired or stressed we are, the more we tend to make unwise dietary decisions. And, of course, the problem is that we need high quality food to perform well—no matter what we’re doing. Paying attention to what we’re eating and consciously making better snack and meal choices sets our sails in the right direction. We’re not striving for perfection, here. Just progress.
2. Making a budget and planning for financial wellness
While it’s not always easy—or fun, for that matter, making a budget and following it are two extremely beneficial financial habits. Not only does creating a budget help keep our individual—or family’s—finances in order, but it also allows us to put cash away for rainy days and emergencies. And here’s a bonus: Budgeting also helps us save for special occasions such as Christmas or birthdays—occasions that arrive at the same time every year, yet many of us remain unprepared for.
3. Voicing discontent
Voicing discontent is just a fancy way of saying Speak up! One place where people often remain quiet but shouldn’t, particularly when something’s unsatisfactory, is in a restaurant. You deserve a pleasurable dining experience. Period. “A lot of customers don’t like to complain,” said Doug Brown, author of The Restaurant Manager’s Handbook: How to Set Up, Operate, and Manage a Financially Successful Food Service Operation, which is in its fourth printing and is currently available on Amazon. And Brown thinks that’s a shame. “A lot of people will just not come back [to a restaurant] and never say why.” Well-run restaurants welcome constructive complaints. And the best way to help them—and yourself, when you’re sitting there with the rockfish, but you ordered the salmon—is to speak up right away. Be kind and mind your manners, of course. The food industry has been hit especially hard of late, and the last thing a food server deserves is unnecessary rudeness.
4. Muting friends’ accounts on social media that trigger the comparison game
Now, actively choosing not to see a friend’s social media posts is something many of us are loathe to do, but it can bring surprising relief. And that’s because there is a likelihood that we won’t even miss said posts in their absence. We all have certain triggers that can cause our confidence to take a nosedive—and social media can be rife with them because people are constantly showcasing the best aspects of their lives. A beautiful (and costly!) wedding or a shiny new promotion are just two examples of post-worthy occasions. But would these same folks also post about their divorce or unemployment? It’s debatable. But if your friend did, it would provide a dose of reality…and reality is often what’s lost on social media. Muting is the easiest and most efficient way to cut through social media noise without severing social ties or ruffling any feathers.
5. Set boundaries
“Boundaries will set you free,” says Nedra Glover Tawwab, a licensed counselor and sought-after relationship expert whose book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace, was an instant New York Times bestseller. During her fourteen years of practice, Tawwab has learned that people don’t come to therapy realizing they have boundary issues. Rather, she says, their boundary issues are disguised as issues with self-care, conflicts with other people, trouble with time management, or concerns about how social media impacts their emotional state. However, says Tawwab, “Once they finish their tales of resentment, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed, and codependency, I say to them gently, ‘You have an issue with boundaries.’” We all know we should have boundaries. After all, we need them to achieve work/life balance, cope with toxic people, and enjoy rewarding relationships. Creating healthy boundaries leads to feeling safe, loved, calm, and respected because they dictate how we allow people to show up for us—and how we show up for others. But here’s the kicker: People don’t know what we want. It’s our job to make it clear. And expressing that clarity saves relationships.
6. Get real about the source of your guilt
Here’s the story of Kate, a 25-year-old graphic designer who lives three states over from her parents. During her parents’ last visit, Kate reached an epiphany: She had been trained to feel guilty. It all started when Kate decided she wasn’t going to grab coffee with her parents on the fifth morning of her parents’ stay. Says Kate, “Even though I’d spent every second of the past four days with them, I knew they would be upset if I didn’t go with them to this one outing. Even when I don’t do anything wrong, I’m worried my parents will be upset if I don’t do something exactly how they wanted it. But I don’t even know how not to feel that way.” Kate is not alone. The first step in this conundrum is defining guilt, and the second step is to determine which type of guilt is at play. The function of healthy guilt is to inform us of when we act in a way that’s not in accordance with our values. (Say, for example, you jokingly insult a friend, and it comes off as unusually sharp. You realize this—after the fact—and your guilt leads you to apologize and check your behavior.) But there’s another type of guilt, an unhealthy kind that is used as a tool of control—even when it has nothing to do with our values. That’s the one Kate is dealing with. In Kate’s case, many would likely agree that there’s nothing morally wrong with an adult who chooses to opt out of a coffee run with her parents—despite loving her parents and being genuinely happy to see them. Jenny Layton, a life coach and creator of The Happy Gal blog, believes that carrying around unnecessary guilt is the complete antithesis of self-care—and that putting down said guilt is but one pit-stop on the journey to our well-being. “You won’t resent things down the road. You’ll find happiness in the now, and peace in the years to come.”
7. Do what gives you joy
Maybe you work 10-hour days. Maybe you have work life and parenthood on your plate. Maybe you’re the primary caregiver of your aging parent or relative. And maybe you’re retired and don’t have any of the aforementioned obligations. Regardless of who you are or what you do, you deserve happiness. Taking a breather, as they say, avoids burnout and enables you to show up as the best version of yourself. Whether it’s taking 20 minutes out of your day to enjoy a walk, read a book, or turn off your phone and do absolutely nothing at all, do it. And do it regularly. Because, as the saying goes: You can’t pour from an empty cup.