Are You Looking After Yourself?

Why self care is so essential

Yesterday, a four-year-old girl I know surprised me by showing me how she closed her eyes and took three deep breaths whenever she had feelings. What sort of feelings? I asked. Like being sad or upset, she told me. Or tired. Clearly someone has been teaching her well.

It is never too soon (or too late) to start looking after yourself. Someone I know who is significantly older than four has just discovered some much-needed relief from the busy-ness inside her head by starting to meditate for ten minutes a day. Finally she has been able to take a step back and begin to claim her own perspective. It is a privilege to be able to watch her.

Some of us grew up hearing “If you don’t love yourself, how can anyone else love you?” But perhaps it is more like this: if you don’t look after yourself, who else is around to set a good example? Take the broken windows theory – it says that if one broken window is left unfixed, soon there will be graffiti, more broken windows; in fact, continuous and escalating acts of unchecked petty vandalism. But if the window is fixed straight away – tada!

Everything is as good as new. Look after yourself, fix your broken window. Take little steps – the repercussions might be bigger than you imagine. Self-care starts off when we let ourselves realise we are already doing our best. Whatever we feel we have got wrong, or should have done better, or should have known better: we did the best we could with what we had at the time. In fact, we couldn’t have done any better. And self-care also means recognising when we need help, and being first in line to give it to ourselves (see above on setting a good example).

There are lots of ways to look after yourself; some of them involve doing less. For example, when I was pulling out my hair with two children under two and a sleep deficit the size of Canada, a woman I know gave me my favourite, most golden piece of advice ever – she told me not to worry about housework. It was the best piece of self-care advice I have had to date. And when a friend of mine asked me how I had coped – and by extension, how she was going to cope – I gave her the same advice; I told her she could keep sane and look after herself by simply lowering her standards (she wrote about it later here). We ask a lot of ourselves, all the time. Sometimes the best way to look after ourselves is to stop being so demanding.

No one needs everything to be perfect – every meal perfectly balanced, every piece of laundry folded and ironed, every task we are given done to the highest, most perfect standards. The people around you (and that includes you yourself) need you first and foremost. Be kind to yourself – you are doing your best.

Natalie Shaw is a writer and poet. Follow her @redbaronski