Excelerated Self-Care™ — taking excellent care of yourself — is a self-full act. You must care for yourself if you are to be of service to others. You cannot give what you do not have.
Carol [*] felt like she was on the edge of a precipice where she might plunge over at any moment.
She was bone-tired. She climbed into bed exhausted every night. And she woke up exhausted every morning. It was all she could do to drag one foot, then the other, to plop on the floor.
On top of the chronic exhaustion, Carol never felt well. She had a dull, throbbing headache much of the time. Her mouth was dry, her skin was dry, her hair was lackluster and dull. Her stomach burned. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt really good.
Not only did Carol feel physically unwell, she was emotionally drained. A hair-trigger temper had replaced her normal easy-going, deal-with-it attitude. The smallest request from her family or her colleagues at work could cause her to erupt. She sometimes felt they were doing things just to piss her off. And they did.
All this added up to Carol feeling like a failure – as an employee, as a mom, as a wife, as a person. Whereas in other, better times, she had been able to deal with anything that came her way, now she just wanted to run, to escape and get away from it all, to get away from her life.
The Effects Of Stress
Carol is on the way to burnout. Like many Americans, she is feeling the effects of stress. Annual studies of stress by the American Psychological Association (APA) generally report that many of us suffer from one or more symptoms of stress. These include irritability and anger, fatigue, low motivation and energy, headaches and upset stomachs. [“The Impact Of stress”] [“Stress In America”]
To make matters worse, many of us resort to unhealthy behaviors to deal with the stress in our lives — smoking, skipping meals or overeating, and lying awake at night are some of the more common ways we attempt to handle stress. [“The Impact Of stress”] [“Stress In America”]
A Need For Self-Care
However, there are healthy ways to take care of ourselves and to mitigate the effects of stress. Stress in the modern day world is a given. But a good self-care plan can assist with stress management, improve your overall well-being, and help keep you healthy for the long term.
Self-full vs. selfish
Sometimes, we may be hesitant to take the time we need to care for ourselves. A person may feel like he or she is taking time away from loved ones or from work that must be done. But “you cannot serve from an empty vessel” (~ Eleanor Brownn). You can’t give what you don’t have.
It is important to understand the difference between being selfish and being self-full. To be selfish is to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of others. We think that the opposite of selfish is selfless – having no concern for ourselves, always putting the needs of others first.
But the less in self-less has a negative connotation. Instead, consider the word self-full. If we are self-full, we take care of ourselves as well as caring for those around us. [Chesworth] We take steps to keep our own resources filled, so that we can use those resources to serve others. We do this through self-care.
A New Model Of Self-Care
Positive Psychology has developed a new model for self-care, moving from the traditional treatment of stress-related symptoms to consistent renewal and prevention. Instead of a focus on treating the results of stress, the positive psychology model focuses on self-renewal, well-being and flourishing. Instead of treating burnout after the fact, positive psychology promotes conditions of self-growth, improvement and transformation. [Schiavone]
Of course, a stress-free existence is neither possible nor desirable. It is important to find the balance between too much stress, which leads to negative effects and eventual burnout, and the right amount of stress, which leads to positive gains. This “right amount” of stress is called u-hormesis: “an adaptive response of cells and organisms to a moderate (usually intermittent) stress.” [Mattson]
For example, exercise is an example of “hormesis—limited stress you put on your body to make yourself stronger. Like other examples of hormetic stressors such as caloric restriction, exercise stimulates autophagy, the recycling of old, worn-out cellular components . . .” [Gundry, p. 133]
Your objective, then, is not the complete elimination of stress. Instead, you want to use stress in a healthy way while taking steps to promote well-being and flourishing, thereby reducing the negative effects of stress.
First, PLEASE NOTE: I am neither a medical professional nor a licensed counselor. If you are experiencing burnout or other extreme effects of stress, I urge you to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.
Many practices from positive psychology research can help us deal with the normal build up of stress in our daily lives. These practices take a preventive approach rather than dealing with symptoms after they appear. Here are three to get you started on your self-care program.
Eat – Move – Sleep
Start with the fundamentals – eat / move / sleep. Of these three, which one makes the most difference in your well-being?
For me, it’s sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep, I am less likely to exercise and I have less control of my eating habits . . . I am apt to indulge in junk foods. I have set up routines to ensure I get 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night. Plus lately, I’ve been experimenting with taking a short nap in the afternoon.
For others, physical activity is the most helpful. For some, it may be eating healthful foods and avoiding sugar, or white flour, or wheat.
Identify the one fundamental that is most important for you to be your best. Set up a routine to make it easy to implement and then go for small, incremental gains to maximize the benefits.
Learn A Loving-Kindness Meditation
In a study of the effects of regular meditation, Barbara Fredrickson discovered that meditation provides a variety of benefits to “broaden and build” in one’s life. [Fredrickson, p. 89] One of the most promising findings from the research, is that meditation, specifically a form of meditation called LovingKindness meditation, can outpace the “hedonic treadmill” – the tendency for positivity boosting experiences to wear off quickly. [Fredrickson and Cohn, p. 1060]
Here is a version of the LovingKindness meditation.
o Get into a quiet state by deep breathing and quieting the mind.
o Image and deeply feel each of these statements.
- May I be filled with lovingkindness.
- May I be safe from inner and outer danger.
- May I be well in body and mind.
- May I be at ease and happy.
- May _ (insert name) be filled with lovingkindness.
- May _ be safe from inner and outer danger.
- May _ be well in body and mind.
- May _ be at ease and happy.
- May all beings be filled with lovingkindness.
- May all beings be safe from inner and outer danger.
- May all beings be well in body and mind.
- May all beings be at ease and happy.
Research shows that this type of meditation improves other positivity practices, such as savoring, mindfulness, acceptance, trust, finding positive meaning, life satisfaction, self-compassion, and curiosity. At the same time, practitioners report fewer aches and pains, colds and flu, and less depression. [Fredrickson, p. 197]
The ability to savor is one of the most important ingredients of happiness. You can savor the past by reminiscing about past pleasurable experiences. You can savor the present by being mindful of and wholly in the present moment. And you can savor the future by anticipating and visualizing upcoming events.
Here are a few strategies to foster savoring, adapted from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How Of Happiness. [Lyubomirsky]
Relish ordinary experiences. Consider your daily routine activities. Instead of dashing through them, resolve to linger over the pleasurable experiences. For example:
• Linger over your morning or afternoon snack; absorb its aroma, feel the textures, enjoy the taste.
• Bask in the feeling of accomplishment when you complete a task at work or at home.
• Luxuriate in a long, hot shower after a brisk walk.
Savor and reminisce with family and friends. It is often easier to savor when you share a positive experience with someone else. Research has found that reminiscing – sharing memories of a mutual experience – is accompanied by abundant positive emotions.
Transport yourself. Make a list of happy memories and mementos (photographs, souvenirs). Choose one memory to reflect upon. Sit, take a deep breath, relax, close your eyes, and think about the memory. Allow images of the memory to come into your mind. Let your mind wander freely through the remembered event as you imagine the memory.
Replay happy days. Pick one of your happiest days and replay it in your mind, as though you were replaying a video tape or DVD. Think about the event or day and remember what happened in as much detail as you can. Don’t analyze the event or day, just revel in it.
Celebrate good news. When your spouse or a friend wins an honor, congratulate him or her and celebrate! Do the same for yourself: pat yourself on the back, acknowledge how much effort you put into the accomplishment.
When you are caught up the rush of modern living, it is difficult to remember to stop and enjoy life. Make an effort to slow down several times throughout the day to savor and enjoy the experience of being here on this amazing world at this amazing time.
For most of us, becoming self-full takes time and practice. We may have years of indoctrination (from ourselves and others) to not be selfish, to give rather than receive. But as we have seen, you cannot give what you don’t have. I encourage you to replace the thoughts of being selfish with being self-full . . . caring for yourself and filling your own vessel so you can better serve others. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated Self-Care™ — taking excellent care of yourself — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
[*] “Carol” is a fictitious person, whose condition is taken from a number of people.
Chesworth, David. “Self-Full.” February 17, 2013, September 7, 2019
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, Michael A. Cohn, et al, “Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources,” 3 June 2008, 2 July 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156028/
Gundry, MD, Steven R. The Longevity Paradox: How To Die Young At A Ripe Old Age. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2019.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penquin Books, 2007
Mattson, Mark. “Hormesis Defined.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, December 5, 2007, September 8, 2019
Schiavone, Linda. “Self-Care, The Positive Psychology Way.” PositivePsychologyNews.com May 7, 2018, September 4, 2019
“Stress in America: The State of Our Nation.” Stress in America™ Press Room. American Psychological Association, November 1, 2017. September 3, 2019. PDF file.
“The Impact of Stress.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, . Web. September 3, 2019.