But I Love My Me Time: How to Have Balanced Self-Care

We’ve all heard the phrase, “put your oxygen mask on before helping others.” It’s such a common metaphor for self-care these days, I couldn’t find the source of who first took it out of the plane instructions and into daily life. When the concept came about, it was a new pop-psychology idea, as people had been sacrificing themselves for their families, marriages, places of work and religions. This past month I’ve been wondering, have we swung too far in the self-care direction?

Since he was a teenager Matthew’s whole world—money, friends, time—was centered on feeding his addiction. In his early forties he’d hit rock bottom, spent time in rehab, repaid his debts, started to repair his relationships, and created a solid, normal life (job, apartment, girlfriend, gym). He came in to see me because his girlfriend was getting frustrated with him. “She says all I do is talk about me.” “Well, what does your life look like?” I asked. Matthew went on to talk about his Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups, friends and sponsees, recovery books he’s reading, and recovery podcasts he’s listening to. We spent some time reflecting on how early in his sobriety his NA world and recovery literature/podcasts meant the difference between life and death. “You’ve been sober for a few years now,” I pointed out, “I wonder if it’s time to decrease some of your recovery activities and increase your family time?” “That’s exactly what she’s been asking, but I didn’t know if I could do that. What if I start using again?” Matthew admits.

Matilda started a new job recently, and came in frustrated because she no longer had time for self-care. “I might need to quit my job,” she explained. “I think I’m on the edge of a nervous breakdown.” I asked her to give me an idea of her weekly schedule, before and during her employment. “Well, weekly I used to do 4 yoga classes, 1 massage, 1 mani/pedi, 2 pilates classes, 2 afternoons a week riding horses, 1 cooking class and monthly bookclub, super club and 5K race.” “Wow,” was all I could think to say. “And now?” “Now I work 40 hours a week and I can barely get in 2 weekly yoga classes, 1 pilates, and monthly massage, mani/pedi and horse-back riding. It’s horrible. I’m depressed and anxious all of the time.” “Why did you go back to work?” I gently asked. “I need the money. My husband is recently disabled and I’m the sole breadwinner for our family.”

Matthew’s self-care recovery activities and Matilda’s self-care mental health activities brought many positive qualities: sobriety, peace, lower levels of depression and anxiety, improved physical health, meaning and purpose. However, they started to interfere with their relationships, income and daily life. In the big picture Matthew and Matilda both needed to put other’s needs before their own in order to live a full, balanced life. Where do you need to focus less on yourself and more on your loved ones?