Self-care needs to be right at the top of your to-do list. Self-care is super important, and you absolutely cannot afford to neglect it. Got that? Good. Let’s move on.
Why is self-care important? To answer that one, I’m going to whizz myself back to my sociology A-level class, circa 1995.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
You’ve maybe come across it before, but if not, don’t worry, it’s just a picture to help me explain just why I think self-care is so important.
I learned this in sociology A-level, was reminded of it in a psychology module I took at uni, and then it popped up again during my teacher training. It applies to everyone, everywhere, and it’s a really good way to illustrate the need for a good, solid self-care routine.
The basic premise is that the lower down the pyramid something is, the more important it is to our survival.
The bottom tier contains basic physiological needs, and it looks like this:
You can’t get much more basic than that.
By the time you reach the top of the pyramid, you’re looking at the more nebulous idea of:
- Self-actualisation: achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities.
If you’re reading this, then the chances are you’ve got a way to go before you attain that lofty goal. Don’t worry, me too.
What Does Maslow Have To Do With Self Care?
If I point you back to that bottom tier again, you’ll probably tell me that you’ve got all that sorted.
On the surface, you’re probably right. You’re reading this on your phone, computer, or some other device. You most likely live in a house that has clean water piped right into at least a couple of rooms, and it’s available any time you need it.
That bottom tier conjures images of people in Third World countries, travelling miles to fetch water for their families and struggling to scratch out a living.
Maybe that’s not you, but there’s still plenty to be learned from examining your relationship to that bottom tier of basic human needs.
In my first year of teaching, my mentor explained to me that a significant percentage of the students in my classes were nowhere near having that bottom level filled in. Here was I, trying to teach them to memorise enough poetry quotes to drag them through a GCSE, when some of them hadn’t eaten that day, and might not be getting dinner that evening either.
None of us can function properly when there are gaps in the bottom level of the pyramid.
Think about the difference in your parenting after a full night’s sleep, as opposed to one where you were woken four or five times before finally deciding to just get up at 4 am. When someone’s drawn all over the living room wall in Sharpie, sleep-deprived mama will probably have far less of a sense of humour about it than well-rested mama.
Self Care Is About Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
You’ve heard the advice that you should put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help anyone else. You know that it applies to life outside of aeroplane emergencies. I’m willing to bet you don’t do it though.
I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer to that question. It’s advice that I hand out pretty regularly, but I’m not always great at following it myself.
The needs and desires of children tend to be louder, more urgent than our own.
When you’re itching to read another few chapters of your latest library book, but your preschooler’s desperate to play another game of Tummy Ache, which is most likely to win out? My money’s on the preschooler – mine is definitely louder than any book!
It isn’t sustainable, though, to keep dismissing your own needs and desires in the service of someone else. No matter how cute
Self-care makes us all better able to deal with the stuff life throws at us. Self-care helps us be better parents, better versions of ourselves.
That’s why self-care is so important.
If you’re struggling with feelings of overwhelm, burnout, or depression, then self-care should be the first thing you try to fix.
The trouble is, people don’t always recognise what they’re dealing with. If your brain is stuck in a loop of negative programming then that overwhelm is just as likely to show itself as a little voice whispering that you’re a failure, telling you that you just need to get your act together.
Ugh. It’s hard work fixing anything if there’s someone standing over you telling you you can’t do it.
Self-care makes that easier.
Where Should You Start With Self-Care
That bottom level of the pyramid is a great place to start.
Really look at how you’re fuelling your body, and take some time to figure out whether the food you’re eating feels truly nourishing and healthy to you.
That’s something that will look different to everyone, and it’s definitely not in my remit to start telling you what you should and shouldn’t eat.
I will share, though, that I’ve slowly learned that my brain and body function far better if I avoid wheat, minimise sugar, and stick to a pretty low-carb diet for the most part. Do I always do that? Nope. (Hello Easter eggs, I enjoyed you, but I’m glad you’re gone now).
You need to pay attention to yourself.
If you’re shovelling in toddler leftovers so as not to waste them, or regularly forgetting to eat dinner at all, then maybe your bottom tier isn’t as solid as you thought?
I’d love you to give some time to that now.
When you think about food, water, warmth, and rest, are you getting what you need to thrive rather than simply surviving?
Using a journal, a piece of paper, or just your brain, consider the bottom tier of the hierarchy of needs as it applies to your life. Try to find one thing to improve over the coming week.
Some examples of changes you might consider:
- Use a hydration tracking bottle to help you focus on making it a habit to drink more water.
- Try meal planning to help you be more intentional about the food you fuel your body with.
- Schedule some rest time into your week – maybe with a promise to get yourself to bed straight after your baby settles on at least one night, or perhaps with a designated ‘day off’ where you do only the bare minimum of housework, and try to rest as much as possible.
Concentrate on trying to build a really solid foundation by making sure that you take responsibility for meeting these needs in yourself, not just in your children.
The Upper Levels of the Pyramid
As we saw earlier, the further up the pyramid you go, the more you enter nice-to-have territory. These are still needs though, they’re just a step above the bare essentials we’ve talked about so far.
By strengthening the foundations, you build a practice of saying yes to yourself, of meeting your own needs. That’s really life-changingly, earth-shatteringly important. Truly.
We all want to raise strong, resilient children who are confident in their own self worth.
Guess how we do that? By becoming excellent role models. By demonstrating the qualities we’d like them to have.
So, once you’ve built that strong foundation of basics, it’s time to start layering in the rest of the good stuff.
The Three Categories Of Needs.
I’m popping that picture back in here because it’s a long way to scroll back up again to look.
You’ll see that the pyramid is divided into three broad categories of needs:
- Basic Needs – that’s the physiological stuff we’ve been talking about so far, along with safety and security.
- Psychological Needs – that’s things like friendships and relationships, and a feeling of accomplishment and importance in your life.
- Self Actualisation – this is the holy grail stuff, the feeling of achieving your full potential. That’s where we’re all headed, right?
Meeting Your Psychological Needs
We’ve probably never met. I’ve got no idea how many friends you have, how active your social life is, or whether you have a loving and supportive partner.
Even if we had met, I’m certain I’m not the right person to be making recommendations about any of those things.
I’m crap at the social stuff, quite frankly.
I have to force myself to go out, even with close friends who I really enjoy spending time with.
I know, though, that it’s one of those situations where the more you do it, the more you want to do it. When I’ve had a spell of not seeing many people for a while, which happens sometimes when everyone in the family takes turns to be ill for a few weeks, I find it harder to get back into the swing of things.
Maybe that’s you too? Maybe not.
Dig out that journal again, and take some time to reflect on your friendships and other relationships. I think this is a good use for a brain dump approach. Just let it all out, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t try to organise it. Don’t try to fix it. Just write.
Now look back at what you’ve written, maybe with a highlighter in your hand, and see what you can learn.
- Is there someone in your life who’s just toxic? Someone who really brings nothing positive to your life?
- Are there friends that you wish you could spend more time with?
- Is there any relationship where you could make a positive change this week without too much effort?
This stuff probably doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with self-care, but it truly does. Maslow’s hierarchy casts light across the most important areas of your life. It gives you a framework for taking an honest look at your needs.
Lists of self-care ideas are all well and good, but a cookie-cutter approach to self-care isn’t really enough. It’s better than nothing, but to get the greatest benefit from self-care you need to be honest with yourself about your needs, and how best to fulfil them.
Why is Maslow’s work important? Because it shows us where our needs are not being met.
Why is self-care important? Because it’s a way to reflect on our needs and to take action to meet those needs.
Self-care is about taking responsibility for ourselves and our own happiness. Accepting that responsibility empowers us, and the effects go way beyond those of an early night and a bar of chocolate.
*Insert choir of angels here*. Self-actualisation is where we all want to be. It’s right at the top of the pyramid, the pinnacle of human existence. It’s about growing as an individual to a point where we’re meeting our full potential. Maslow didn’t actually believe that many people would actually attain self-actualisation, but I don’t think we should let that stop us from trying.
What is Self-Actualisation Anyway?
In Maslow’s own words, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”
This is the stuff you barely even dare to dream about.
These are the things that whisper to your soul, calling you. They’re the dreams you don’t have time to indulge.
You’re a mother. You’ve got other people to think about besides yourself.
I get it.
Once you fill in the bottom tiers of that pyramid, though, those whisperings will become a little louder, and seem a little more possible.
It’s daydreaming time.
Grab your journal. A glass of wine and a chunk of undisturbed time would be helpful too.
- What would you do if there was only you to think about?
- How would you spend your time if money was no object and you had all the time in the world?
- Can you remember your 14-year-old self? What plans did she have for her future, and have you achieved any of them?
- Are there hobbies you used to enjoy, but that you haven’t had time for in ages?
- Or something you’ve always wanted to try?
It can be good to come back to this a few times, because you’re probably out of practice at daydreaming like this.
Try to come up with at least three small steps you could take towards one of the things you’ve written about.
Why Self-Care Is Important … And What You Need To Do About It
This has already run on for longer than I intended it to. So, I shall keep this bit short.
Self-care is important because it gives you what you need to be the best version of yourself.
It helps you become more resilient, better able to weather life’s storms.
If you skipped over all the journaling exercises, that’s okay. I usually do too. It’s worth going back though and giving yourself some time to at least think about this stuff.
If you’re in the habit of suppressing your needs, pushing them aside because you’re too busy, then it’s time to stop. I want you to make a commitment to just change one thing this week. Do something to fill in one of the gaps in your pyramid.