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What I Remind Myself When Anxiety Tells Me Self-Care Is Selfish

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Helping other people is always one of my greatest priorities. It is what makes me feel most purposeful and diminishes the anxious voice inside my head that causes me to doubt my worth and competencies. When I can bring a smile to someone else’s face or make his or her worries lighter, I feel so grateful to have been given that opportunity to make a positive difference. This need of mine to be of helpful service to others relates to one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson, “If I can stop one heart from breaking.” It reads as follows:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

Oftentimes, I judge myself so harshly, thinking I never do enough. This poem helps me realize any act of kindness is meaningful and I should not measure my worth by the quantity of what I do, but rather by the quality of what I do. I will always remember what my counselor from college told me. She asked me to think about how I react when a family member or friend of mine is in need. I responded that I let that individual know I will unconditionally be there for him or her, and any way that I can be of help, I will be. Then, she asked me to think about when I am in need and how I react. Sadly, I replied I always mentally and emotionally beat myself up and wish I were stronger. After I acknowledged the discrepancy in the way I treat others and myself, she encouraged me to treat myself like I would a family member or friend. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see a young woman seeking understanding, guidance and reassurance, and I no longer neglect responding to those needs. I answer my needs with kindness.

In speaking to my present counselor, she has helped me recognize you provide others with a gift when you let them help you. You allow them to shine, nurturing their ability to positively influence a life. She told me to allow others to be there for me, just as I am there for them. This definitely was a pivotal moment in my anxiety journey, because I realized how many walls I had built around myself to hide my struggles out of shame. Now, I have slowly outreached to my family and close friends, letting them share my anxiety journey, because I know they accept me and care for my well-being.

I used to think attending to my own needs would leave me with less time to help others. I now acknowledge that self-care is essential to the quality of my health and my ability to give back, which makes me most happy. I ask myself: How can I be of service when my reserves are empty and I feel broken? How can I lift others up when I feel so down? Taking time out for yourself to recharge is an equally important part of your schedule. On some occasions, I have pushed myself too far, insisting that everything was OK when in actuality an invisible storm of nerves was raging inside me. In those moments, I would become so drained, and my body would ache from the pressure of concealing my anxiety. Now, I strive to listen to my body’s pleas for some respite, because in those messages, I hear my body saying: You are worth being cared for. You are worth being loved. Even when you feel broken, know you are complete. Know you are enough.

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Thinkstock photo via AnkDesign.

Originally published: July 28, 2017
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