We seem to live in this society that puts a hell of a lot of pressure on doing things for other people.
As an INFJ, I enjoy helping others. I’m always there to listen and assist, and I like to do what I can to help those in need. Whether it’s donate a £10 on Just Giving to someone’s life saving treatment, or chat to a friend who’s struggling. I’ll be there.
But what has come to light recently is that despite doing things for others, the stuff that I’m doing for myself has dwindled. This has reduced to the point where I actually feel guilty for putting myself first when I need to. And that’s not OK.
Why Putting Yourself First Matters
It’s my firm belief that if you don’t put yourself first when you really need to, your mental health is going to suffer. I really don’t feel that there are two ways around this, and it may be a large reason why pretty much more than 50% of the people I know are on some form of antidepressant. The pressure we have today to be ‘seen’ somewhere on social media, or to drag ourselves to an event or gathering that we don’t physically and mentally feel ready for is, frankly, out of order.
But it’s not just others that make us feel guilty in this aspect. A large contribution of that guilt comes from inside ourselves. This is due to society and how putting yourself first, or taking care of your mental health, is seen as a taboo.
Answer me this: If you had an anxiety attack one morning, or felt depressed, would you feel comfortable calling work and saying you can’t come in because you are having trouble with your mental health? I imagine a large portion of you reading this will be saying no – and I’ll admit I’m one of those people. Would you be OK with calling whilst your head was over the toilet whilst you puke your guts up? I imagine some of you will still be saying no. But why?
If you have an illness of the mind or the body you should have the right TO PUT YOURSELF FIRST. And despite that guilt that eats at us for doing so, we need to do it.
Putting yourself first in small steps.
So you want to put yourself first, but you want to do it in small steps. I have recently started to undertake this process myself… and this is what I’ve been doing.
- Wake up earlier
Waking up earlier and pottering around makes me feel like I’m in control of my day. I’m not just getting up to go to work, work is simply a part of my routine, I’m getting up to sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and read magazines on Readly. Or scroll through social media. Or just sit there practicing mindfulness. It’s a small change, but it makes a massive difference. And it even makes me interact with others around me better during this time of the day because I’m not in such a grump.
- Eat what you want
I can’t emphasis how important it is to eat what you want. I’ve struggled with food in the past, I’m not ashamed to admit that, so for the past two years I’ve just eaten whatever the hell I want. Whenever the hell I want.
What you’ll find is that your cravings will reduce, you will have more energy, and sometimes you’ll actually choose the healthy option because you fancy it. Your body will balance itself out, and yes, you may gain weight. But you’ll stop at the size that’s right for your body. If you’re one of those people who can put on weight simply by looking at a chocolate muffin, it might be because you’re restricting too much and aren’t at the weight that your body is biologically designed to be. I was one of those people. And since changing my eating it doesn’t happen anymore. So please, for your own sanity, give it a go. Even if that includes eating everything you’ve been denying yourself in one go. You will stop. I promise.
- Do things that give you a sense of achievement
Somedays, I sit on my butt and do nothing. But the sense of unease I feel about doing that is sometimes hard to silence. If you’re struggling, try your hand at your hobby for a bit (for me it’s blogging or writing), even if it’s only half an hour, you’ll feel better and then be able to get on with your day of doing sod all.
- Say no to events if you’re mentally/physically not up to them
It’s hard to say no to something, and say you’re ill, if you don’t look ill on the outside. But what most people know (I hope) is that sometimes you can’t tell if someone isn’t well just by looking at them. Some people are good actors. Some people hide their feelings and illness behind smiles and laughter. You can’t always tell when someone’s drowning.
So the next time someone cancels on you, or bails on an event. Don’t make that person feel like a terrible human for putting themselves first. Perhaps just ask if they’re OK, and let them know you’re there if you need them. And maybe then, they’ll do the same for another. And one day it won’t be taboo to put yourself first. It’ll be common sense.
Now it’s over to you…
If you’re struggling right now, I hope you know that you’re not alone. I hope you know that you have a support network around you that would do anything for you. And I hope that you return the favour and enable others to put themselves first, because you only get one chance at life. One chance to look after yourself. Don’t screw it up for the sake of guilt.
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Bernard Baruch