We often take better care of a friend than ourselves, says Maaike Helmer, founder of Stressed Out, a [Dutch-only] online magazine about stress-related topics. How can we change this? Here are some of her insights and tips.
What do you mean by ‘taking care of yourself’? What are important factors for you?
“That’s a nice question, because of that ‘for you’. We often assume that self-care is the same for everyone. But that’s not the case. Some things apply to everyone: eating well, sleeping enough and exercise are an important basis. Yet in addition to effort, you also need relaxation to be able to recharge. But what that last bit is, is different for everyone. For me, it means simply being alone. For a long time, I found that difficult to acknowledge, because many people relax with others. But give me a book and a sofa and I’m happy. I also thought for ages that long vacations were good. Until I found out that all it really took for me to recharge was a half-day away somewhere. Discovering what works for you is what’s important here. Just ignore what others regard as taking good care of themselves.”
What did you learn about this subject during your own burnout that you still apply today?
“That we often take better care of a friend than we do of ourselves, and I tackled that issue during my burnout. We can be tough on ourselves and I was, but you would never treat your best friend that way. It was quite a painful insight, which is why I am easier on myself now.”
So basically: Be nicer to yourself. But what are the biggest hurdles in achieving this?
“It is tempting to keep rushing around. Today’s society, with all its stimuli, challenges us to do so, too. But what if you wonder more often: Do I have to do this and do I have to do it now? That puts things in perspective. We often postpone taking good care of ourselves. ‘If I finish this, I can go on vacation.’ And that vacation must immediately make up for everything. That puts enormous pressure on it. If you ask yourself daily: ‘What do I need now?’, you will have many more individual self-care moments and you will be able to recharge more easily. Sometimes that will be in very simple things. At stressful moments during a day in the office, I always go to get a glass of water or to the toilet. Just to step out of the situation, to be alone. Be sure to regularly tune into yourself: ‘What will help me?’”
Three tips from Maaike to help you take better care of yourself:
- Provide a good basis
Sleeping, eating and (outdoor!) exercise: these are often the first things that we neglect when things get heavy or too much. But you are in fact making matters worse by neglecting these things, because you end up putting the wrong kind of fuel into your tank and you run the risk of burning out.
- Be aware of your pitfalls and learn to say no
It is often much easier to say yes. But if you say, “I want to think about it,” you get rid of that immediate expectation. You then give the other person the possibility that something may not happen, without the direct stress of disappointment. Don’t use excuses when saying no; it’s not necessary and can leave the option open to be persuaded otherwise.
- Ask yourself a little more often: ‘Do I have to do this now?’ You can do so in the following way:
Do I have to do this now? > Is it a must?
Do I have to do this now? > It is necessarily me that has to do it?
Do I have to do this now? > Or can it be something else?
Do I have to do this now? > Can it also be done at a different time?
Do I have to do this now? > Or maybe just leave it?
*More insights about mindfulness can be found in our special 19 Days of Mindfulness.
Interview Bente van de Wouw Photography Iz & Phil/Unsplash.com