Is Self-Care Selfish?

We are reminded each time we fly that in the event of an emergency we must first put on our own oxygen masks before assisting others. The lesson that underlies this instruction is plain to see: we cannot take care of others unless we take care of ourselves first. However, as self-evident as this lesson is, many of us seem to forget it as soon as we disembark.

As New Yorkers we live in what many consider to be one of the most stress-filled places in the world. In a city that is always-on-the-go we are all too often over-worked and overwhelmed. Unsurprisingly, ‘feeling stressed’ is a common complaint voiced by new patients. When I ask my patients what they have done recently to take care of themselves, many of them struggle to recall an example. Many of us are not comfortable with the idea of self-care; we think self-care is selfish, unproductive, or simply a luxury we cannot afford.

Self-care is anything but selfish: self-care revolves around taking care of oneself so that you have the energy and the clarity of mind to take care of others. In order to make our parents proud, care for our partners and children, or make a real difference with colleagues and clients we need to set ourselves up to function at our best.

Our health and well-being consists not only of physical, but also includes psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual. You cannot always control the circumstances of your life, but you do have control over how you take care of yourself. Self-care is not synonymous with an expense. The options for self-care activities are practically limitless and can be chosen to best suit you and your life. Consider experiences that have an affect on multiple aspects of your overall health: taking a run in the park, picking up a game on the court, going to a yoga class, treating yourself to a manicure, sitting for few minutes at your local coffee shop for that delicious cappuccino and people watching, journaling, dining with a friend, enjoying a moment of a stunning sunset, attending a concert, hearing the hymns at church/synagogue, or processing the week at your therapy session.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, parental self-care is analogized with self-care for generals in the military. This article illustrates that, if the commander stumbles, the rest of the troops would be in jeopardy. Those leaders making critical decisions need to be at their best and so do you. Taking care of yourself—body, mind, and soul—will help you to better manage your stress and give the great care you wish to others. Whether single, working, dating, and trying to manage everyday changes or married with children and attempting to sustain being social and active, you are the leader of you life and the only one making the critical decision for your own self-care.

Is Self-Care Selfish?