By Dr. Paula Bloom
Some days, finding balance seems so elusive. As a mom, wife and professional it is rare when I feel like I’m managing the juggling act. Too much work makes me feel not present enough for my kids. Too much playing with my kids can make me question my commitment to my career. At night, when my husband and I find the time to connect and catch up about our days it feels like there are a million other things that need to get done. If life is a see-saw it seems that rarely the see-saw is perfectly horizontal. Sometimes the weight of one side falls slowly. Other times, it drops with a thump.
Like many women, one of the issues I struggle with is distinguishing between self-centeredness and self-care. It is a topic that seems to come up in most of the therapy sessions with clients. It is easy to advise a girlfriend who is burning the candle at both ends “You need to take some time for you. You are doing too much.” But, how many times are you able to follow your own advice?
A big challenge to allowing yourself to put yourself on the to-do list is acknowledging that you are just like everyone else. You are not a superwoman. And guess what, that is okay.
I like to explain to clients that we all have an emotional bank account with a limited amount of emotional “capital.” (Oh, and there isn’t much overdraft protection.) There are things that withdraw from the account. For some people this includes dealing with difficult personalities, chores, saying “yes” when you really should say “no”, taking care of children, not sleeping enough, not making healthy food choices. Then there are things that deposit such as spending time with good friends, exercise, eating well, sleeping enough, hot baths, having fun, etc. It is important for each of us to figure out what are our own deposits and withdrawals. I have a friend who finds ironing to be energy giving. I recently found three irons in our house because, apparently, the one time a year I iron I can’t find it so we go out and buy another one. Ironing would not be in the “deposit” column on my ledger.
For me, professional manicures and pedicures deposit in my mental health bank account. Sometimes, though, it is hard for me to justify spending the time and money when I am able to do my own. So each Spring, when sandal weather comes around, I ask myself the question: Do I go spend the money and get a pedicure or do I do it myself? Is it about the polished toes or is it about allowing myself to sit back and let someone else take care of me for an hour? Shouldn’t I spend that money on a charity? Do I deserve this or is it a frivolous indulgence?
I began the season (Yes, I’m in Atlanta and we have had several days of sandal weather already) by doing my own pedicure. Footsmart gave me a pedicure kit to try out (and to be clear, they gave me the kit for free. Any shoes I talk about on this blog I buy myself, at a discount, but I buy them.) It made shaping my nails, buffing them and removing callouses very easy. When I’m short on time and need to do my feet at home this kit is great. But, I have to say, something was missing. It was easy, my feet looked good but the being taken care of, the surrendering to someone else, just wasn’t there.
So, I finally went and got a professional pedicure. Sitting there and not being in charge of anything but picking out a nail polish color was great. As I left the salon in my toe separating sandals (I don’t like waiting around for my nails to dry) I realized that it wasn’t so much the professional pedicure that was so wonderful. Allowing myself the opportunity to do something that was just for me was what mattered. To me, self-care is about depositing in the bank account so that when you need to withdraw or loan capital to someone else you can. Ultimately, self-care makes us better caretakers of others. It is hard to give what you yourself don’t have. And for me, looking at my pretty toes is a good reminder that there is nothing frivolous about enjoying being taken care of. Taking care of my soles is good for my soul.
How do you feel about self-care? What have you learned about balancing your needs and everyone else’s? I’d love to hear from you!