When I was young and I went outside to play with my friends instead of hanging around the house to listen to another screaming match between my parents, they called me "selfish." Now, as an adult, when I go upstairs for much-needed alone time, my kids think I'm self-centered because I don't want to chitchat in the living room. I have been accused, in slightly resentful tones, of having "great boundaries" and knowing what I want.
Over 30 years as a healer, I've learned that self-care is not optional for those in the helping professions. It is a necessity.
When I was first practicing as a psychotherapist and psychological astrologer, I would overextend myself. Buoyed by my belief that I was needed and that I was helping, it was hard to know when to back off and take rest. I would often end up sick or collapsed out of fatigue and would be super grumpy and impatient with those closest to me. I had nothing left to give. Basically, I was a savior by day and a martyr by night. I found out the hard way that regulating my mind, spirit, and body was not a whim or a luxury but a disciplined and dedicated practice necessary to doing my work well.
If we are not in great shape mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, the help we dispense comes from a place of lack—our unconscious need to be needed—instead of from a place of fullness. Healing is not a doing profession; it is a being profession.
I have known far too many "healers" who are not practicing what they preach. Serving others is a privilege and an honor. You wouldn't want to serve others out of a broken or tainted cup. If you truly want to be an effective and inspiring practitioner of any educative or healing art, master these six essentials of self-care:
1. Get to sleep at a regular and reasonable time every night you are working.
It is best to go to sleep at the same time every night; work your schedule around it. A regular sleep cycle is one of the most important self-care steps a person can take.
2. Feed yourself with fresh foods and beverages that make your body sing instead of ache.
At a certain point in my own burned-out past, I had to realize that everything I ate and drank affected my clarity and energy. It took me a few years to work out a way of eating that I could maintain for the rest of my life without feeling deprived or overly strict.
This particular nutritional balance fits my energy levels and keeps sustaining me throughout the day: I start the day with protein and vegetables or fruit and eat that way at each meal, avoiding refined sugars and grains. I remind myself to drink water as much as possible. I love my one cup of coffee in the morning and one small glass of wine each night. When I veer off from this simple and easy-to-follow regimen, I suffer, and then I recommit to it.
3. Participate only in conversations and leisure activities that highlight service, creativity, equanimity, and love.
Leave the drama to the reality shows. Let others binge-watch those, but refrain from all TV poison. TV eats up our time but does not actually help us. Reading inspirational books and making time for creative outlets actually soothes us and nurtures our higher vibrations. Take time away from others to be quiet and create a form of artistic expression. Writing is a great form of self-inquiry, and any type of reflective practice like qigong or meditation fills us with renewed faith and equanimity.
4. Get physical!
Exercise is to the body what the harp is to angels. For me, it's swimming in the ocean that keeps me humming. But even when I cannot do that, I do not let a day go without a long walk or hike. And sometimes, it's just a 30-minute cardio dance freakout in my living room!
5. Begin and end each day with gratitude.
You have done nothing without the help of many known friends and the kindness of strangers. It's easy to start and end each day with a wish for happiness and peace for every person you can think of. "May _________be happy and peaceful." This naturally puts you in a grateful mindset. It is a practice that helps us review the kindnesses and contributions of others and lifts us out of our tendencies to think too much about ourselves. It is great to end each gratitude session with "May I be happy and peaceful and spread that joy to others." Refine and repeat this cycle daily.
You are the holy instrument of the service you provide. How and who you are is more important than anything you teach or profess. Serve from the highest of yourself, and your help will be poured from the divine.