How I learned the importance of self-care

One of the many pieces of advice I failed to listen to for most of my life was that if we are to live happy & successful lives at home & at work, we have to look after ourselves & improve ourselves not just mentally or spiritually but physically as well. But then I was a product of the baby boomer generation, a woman (not to mention a single mum) & had chronically low self-esteem. Put the three together, & you have a recipe for massive self-neglect.

With industrialization came longer and longer working hours.  By the end of the last century, it had become a badge of honour to work the longest hours, to have the least personal life, to obsess to the point of collapse with your work.  .  I was brought up on all those sayings “Hard work never killed anyone”, “There’s no substitute for hard work”, “Hard work beats talent”.   So not surprisingly when I got my own business, I believed the way to success was to live and breathe it, 7 days a week, 352 a year, every waking hour.

I was sleep deprived for years. Sleep deprivation is now proven to impact on every area of health, increasing stress and creating cravings for all the wrong foods, as well as decreasing the effectiveness of the immune system.  The brain actually releases healing chemicals when we sleep that helps us improve our capabilities.  Yet I existed on around 4-5 hours’ sleep for nearly twenty years, one of a generation of sleep-short zombies.

Stress too was almost something to boast of, representing that overwork.  We now know the effects on the body can be catastrophic.   In my 30’s I was having major health issues and by my late 50’s I was collapsing, the typical, overweight, chain smoking executive heading for a major coronary.

Single parenthood contributed to self-neglect and lack of sleep.  Not that I regret a minute of that.  Many women are still programmed from girlhood to put our own needs last, primed and ready to put husbands and children before us.  Women even fed themselves last till comparatively recently.  The moment we have children, the maternal instinct kicks in and tells us that they come first, that they matter the most.  Parents talk about being willing to give up their life for their children, but many do so daily in a slow and less obvious way, depriving and damaging themselves.   It is not a good message to pass on down the generations but often, as with myself, there is no time between children and business, nor the money to do a much for ourselves.

People with low self-esteem find it difficult to care for themselves properly. They see it as not mattering.   In my case, I was very happy to take the stance that it would be selfish to take any of my own needs into the equation, thus enabling me to remain in my comfort zone of being non-deserving.  Small surprise I was ill a lot.   The word disease comes from the Old French word “desaise”, meaning lack of ease, inconvenience, discomfort, distress, trouble and sickness, and before modern medicine, this thinking was at the heart of medical analysis.  The East has been treating the two together for centuries.   As Western medicine is now coming to accept that the split of body and mind in medical terms is an over simplification, and there is actually no scientific proof of it, so it becomes easy to see how undealt with self-esteem issues can impact on the physical.

It is now more accepted that when our energy is low or negative, we attract more negative energy, resulting in more negative outcomes in a downward spiral.  Without a clearing of energy, we remain in jobs we hate or relationships that make us unhappy, because we are cut off from our true purpose and energy, and our concentration is poor, our thinking foggy and we fail to take action.  We all too easily become convinced that happiness is something that comes from outside rather than through our own alignment and we fail to address the real problems.  This was all too true in my case.  Even after the children left home, I remained in a negative fog for a long time, doing a job I hated, in a swirl of negative energy.

At long last, attitudes are changing.   Proper self-care as a way of life is nothing new.  The ancient Greeks believed overwork was a vice and every individual had a duty to self-care, to make them more democratic and honest individuals.  The boomers are learning from the millennials, who are known to be better at self-care than previous generations.  For me, it took my mental and physical health being damaged to bring me to a point where I have up my then business, slept for weeks and totally re-assessed my life in every area.  I now write, my true passion, and work with other women, encouraging them in business but making sure none of them neglect themselves in the way that I did.

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