The Mighty Logo

How to Make Self-Care a Priority Without Feeling Guilty

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Self-care doesn’t have to make you feel guilty or selfish.

When you put yourself last for the sake of others, resentment always follows.

Relationships become an obligation instead of a joy and that creates problems.

For instance, do you skimp on sleep because you’re doing way too much? Or, you don’t have time to yourself because other people’s needs override yours? Maybe you get kudos for being helpful, but secretly you’re getting tired and want your needs to count.

Recognizing you may be neglecting what you need is the first step in tackling self-care. Nothing changes until you know it’s a problem. If you don’t prioritize self-care, who will?

A simple tool that works.

A simple tool for improving self-care is called HALT. That stands for Don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.

HALT comes from 12-step programs like AA that encourage self-reflection. When you’re experiencing HALT your mood intensifies and causes you to overreact.

How many times have you come home from work feeling tired and hungry only to snap at your partner? That’s because your stress level is too high. No one operates well on four hours of sleep or after skipping a meal. HALT gives you a quick way to spot-check your self-care. When one of these is lacking, you’ll feel off center.

You only get one body so treat it right.

It’s easy to take your health for granted. Self-care requires continued effort. Doing what you can to stay healthy today enhances self-care tomorrow.

Since you only get one body, why not treat it right? Getting an extra hour of sleep and eating a healthy breakfast increases productivity. Taking a brisk walk during lunch lowers stress. These are simple things that make a big difference. The endorphin rush associated with exercise boosts mood better than a cocktail or eating sugar, and without the guilt.

With healthier habits, emotions become more manageable. Alcohol is a known depressant and a “sugar crash” after eating too much sugar causes anxiety and irritability. Overindulging leads to addictive patterns over time. Listen to your body. It will tell you what isn’t working.

Life shouldn’t be a mountain of obligations.

If you aren’t enjoying life, something’s wrong. Life isn’t meant to be a drag. Think about what makes you happy. Is it working out, or cooking, or getting out in nature? Leisure activities provide a healthy respite needed to rejuvenate. All work and no play leads to a stressful pile of obligations. Who wants a life of that?

Now, if you’re thinking, “I can’t do that. I’m too busy,” or “I don’t have the money,” challenge yourself. When you’re willing to move past these limitations, self-care becomes a priority. This is when the little things matter. Get a pet. Take an exercise class to meet new people. Reconnect with an old friend. Find ways to bring happiness closer to you. This is the ultimate in self-care: creating your own happiness.

Managing emotions makes life sweeter.

Identifying how you feel is an important guidepost for self-care. Feelings help you identify what you need in the moment. Be present and let the feelings come. You may think they’ll last forever, but when emotions are expressed, they resolve themselves faster than when you stuff them.

If you were raised in a family where emotions weren’t openly discussed or encouraged, you may not know how to deal with them.

Here are some tips for handling emotions more effectively.

1. Identify different emotions without judging them.

2. Catch your stress by rating it from 1-10.

3. Use journal writing to vent upsetting feelings.

4. Talk out problems with trusted family and friends.

5. Notice what bodily sensations accompany emotions.

6. Get regular exercise to release anger or frustration.

Why self-care pays off.

When self-care isn’t a priority, you suffer the consequences. Emotions are harder to control and stress increases because you’re running on empty. You’re not as productive at work. Even relationships can feel like a burden. But you have the power to change that.

Consistent self-care sets the stage for everything else. It gives you more energy. Reactions are more manageable when you’ve had a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast. You can enjoy the little things because you aren’t overwhelmed. You give yourself the time you need to decompress.

Putting your needs first isn’t selfish.

Ironically, once your needs are met, you are happier to give more. You want to contribute because you have the freedom of choice rather than running on empty and resenting it. Imagine how much happier your life would be when you are the priority.

Click here to get my free five day email course on anger that walks you through how to catch anger before it hurts the ones you love.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Originally published: October 25, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home