According to a recent KFF/CNN survey, nearly one-third of U.S. adults reported feelings of anxiety and depression in February 2023. And 90% of U.S. adults believe that the country is facing a mental health crisis.
Now more than ever we are encouraged to take care of our mental health and well-being. We are given the tools — exercise, meditate, connect, take breaks, etc. — but we aren’t given the resources to implement them into our lives.
When left to our own devices to create and commit to a self-care regime, why do we feel like it’s constantly being sabotaged? Like there’s never enough time or your budget doesn’t allow for another expense. Or maybe it’s the guilt and shame that surfaces when you consider taking time “just for you,” worried that someone will think you’re selfish or not a committed team player, parent or partner.
If you wonder what happens to your “best laid plans” to work out more, find someone to talk to and commit to a 14-day meditation challenge, you’re not the only one.
There are countless things sabotaging your desire to take more time for yourself to protect your mental health and well-being. Here are the top three.
Contracted awareness: We are so focused on the problem, we can’t see the solution. Contracted awareness is tunnel vision. We see only why we can’t and what’s in our way. We are trained to identify issues and obstacles to keep us safe. It’s a primitive survival skill that is also utilized in many modern day professions (attorneys, accountants, etc.).
As Albert Einstein said, “No problem can ever be solved at the same level of awareness at which it was created.”
If your inability to practice self care is created in contracted awareness, you need to expand your awareness to find the solution.
In this new level of awareness, the circumstances haven’t changed. You have the same amount of time and money. But how you think about it — your mindset — has changed.
Your focus shifts from problems to possibilities, from obstacles to opportunities. “This will never happen” becomes “How can I make this happen? How can this be possible?”
You likely use this skill already when other “emergencies” arise and become your top priority. Your thinking becomes creative and you reschedule, delegate and budget your time and money in a way that frees up resources for the sudden or unexpected need.
Extinguish this saboteur by expanding your awareness beyond being paralyzed by the problem toward creative ways to make your self-care practices a possibility.
Self-worth: When people are asked why they don’t practice more self care, the number one reason is time. “I just don’t have the time.”
Much of life is about allocating resources — time and money.
We all have a limited amount and make choices on how to allocate them everyday. You decide what’s “worth it” and you spend accordingly.
This means your biggest self-care saboteur isn’t time or money, it’s believing you are worth investing these resources in yourself.
Self-care is an act of self-love. The belief that you are worth it comes from a very deep and vulnerable place. Tap into that and you’ll extinguish the second saboteur.
Present bias: It’s clear to see how our lives and reality are affected by big decisions. It’s the small, seemingly insignificant choices we make — almost mindlessly — every day, that we discount. We sabotage our tomorrow for the pleasure we seek and the discomfort we avoid today.
We don’t appreciate how small choices made consistently compound over time into big, significant changes. It’s called hyperbolic discounting. Also known as “present bias” and also known as “why we make terrible choices!”
You would think seeking comfort now would include self-care, because it feels good. But most of us are taught to sacrifice our own needs for others and seek external validation through people-pleasing.
When faced with the choice of taking care of yourself or someone else, you likely choose someone else because it feels better now.
This is fine 95% of the time. It’s the other 5% you need to commit to. When someone asks for your 5%, this is that seemingly small, insignificant decision that changes everything. This is the fork in the road when you either keep your promise to yourself or abandon yourself.
Our reality today is based on what we did yesterday and the day before that. And our tomorrow is created by what we do today. Discredit the discounting of your actions today and dismantle this saboteur in the process.
There are numerous benefits here:
- The obvious mental and physical benefits of self-care. You feel more calm and energized, less anxious and exhausted. Your thoughts are more curious and compassionate, less judgmental and critical. You show up for others more present and grateful, less distracted and resentful. You show up at work with more enthusiasm and creativity resulting in more productivity and efficiency.
- You are nurturing the relationship you have with yourself. When you commit to yourself consistently, it builds self-confidence and trust and rebuilds your sense of personal power and control.
Consider your child, partner or client. If you say to them, “We are going to do this together on Monday, then this on Wednesday and this on Friday,” all in an effort to build and nurture your relationship. And then you cancel each commitment one after another. How does that other person feel about you and the relationship come Saturday? Not very good! You have sent a clear message that they are not your priority, you can’t be relied upon and you don’t value the relationship.
This is what we do to the relationship we have with ourselves. If we can’t be trusted to take care of ourselves, then we don’t feel safe in our skin. This contributes to feelings of anxiety and depression and even fuels addictions.
The promises you make to yourself are the most important promises you’ll ever keep and the most impactful on your well-being.
- Your impact on the world — you touch so many lives in a day, it’s imperative you prioritize the impact you’re having on them. Taking care of yourself more doesn’t mean taking care of others less, it means taking care of them better. They will see and feel the difference.
- You are modeling for others — your kids, the people who work for you, your peers and friends. When you prioritize your self care, you give those people in your world permission to do the same. So many are looking around for some sign that it’s ok to take care of themselves. I’m inviting you to do this not just for yourself, but for all those relying on and watching you.
Wendy Tamis Robbins is an anxiety expert, bestselling author of “The Box: An Invitation to Freedom From Anxiety” and founder of CAVE Club, a wellness community exclusively for professional women. She works globally as a mental health and wellness coach, speaker and advocate.