I published this about a year ago and I felt that I needed to republish it now. This is such an important topic, and one that we miss all the time. Have you ever tried to fill your gas tank using an empty gas can? Of course not, that would be stupid. Why then do we continue to attempt to give of ourselves when we are that empty gas can? There’s nothing left, but yet we keep saying yes. We keep scheduling more. We keep taking on more responsibility. And we remain empty. What good do you think you’re doing? You are doing about as much good as that empty gas can is doing for your empty tank. In fact, this is a dangerous road that will lead to bitterness, resentment, and burnout. In a world all about “self” I want to be really careful with how I say this, but you have to develop a habit of self care. I am not talking about selfishness. Selfishness is never thinking about others, but basing your decisions and actions solely on your own desires. Self care is taking care of yourself to the point where your tank is overflowing and you have an abundance of energy and love to pour out into others. That is the opposite of selfishness. That is love. We cannot neglect ourselves and think that we will be of any good to others, and that includes our own family.
It’s not enough to schedule a bubble bath once a month and go get a pedicure once a year. That’s not self care. We have to make self care a daily habit. We have to continually fill our tanks so that we have what we need to pour out into others. You may be a busy career woman, a full-time mother, or in another season of life that keeps you from taking care of yourself. I’m telling you friends, teachers, nurses, mothers, ministry leaders…you have to put a priority of taking care of you. If you don’t, you’ll have nothing left to give your family or your job. Neglecting yourself is basically praying to fail in your calling. You can’t be a good wife, mother, business owner, employee, or leader if you’re exhausted and burned out.
There are 5 main area that we must be aware of. These are often called your “wellness meters” but I like to think of them as our “tanks”. We cannot neglect any of these tanks. Neglecting one will lead to the draining of another because each tank ties in with another. We must attend to each one as if the rest depend on it, because they do.
Our Physical tank is our personal health and wellness. If our body isn’t well, we’re not well. If we’re constantly sleep deprived, filling up with convenient junk food, and dehydrating ourselves with caffeine, then we’re going to wear out very quickly. I know it’s easier to grab something quick to eat when you don’t have time to cook. We don’t even think twice about staying up super late to clean one more thing, and then drain an energy drink to compensate the next morning. That isn’t a sustainable way to live. Self care starts with taking care of the physical body God gave us. This happens by practicing good dietary habits such as eating clean and drinking plenty of water. When we participate in physical exercising or engage in a fun physical activity we are strengthening our body. Seeing the doctor when we’re sick (and not just ignoring the problem hoping it goes away) or visiting with a chiropractor. Consider a good wholesome multi-vitamin or supplement for those areas we’re just not hitting with diet. Book a massage or pedicure to work out tight muscles in your back and feet. Practice deep breathing exercises. Do stretches at your desk to keep you from getting sore an stiff. Ask for a standing desk if that is an option for you . There are so many things we can do to care for our physical body, we just need to do them.
Our Spiritual tank is the most important tank to keep full, and the quickest to empty. It’s usually the one we neglect first and then wonder why we’re bitter and stressed all the time. How do we practice spiritual self care? We start by talking with the One who fills that tank. Prayer is one of the most powerful tools we have been given, yet the least utilized. We are told to pray about everything and without ceasing. This is talking about living a life of prayerfulness and a lifestyle of constant, consistent, communication with our Creator. In Psalms 23, David says “He refreshes my soul.” Having regular communication with our Savior refills our spiritual tank. We must be filled with His love to be able to pass it on to others. We cannot expect others to go where we do not lead.
Another way to fill our spiritual tanks is by reading His love letters to us (the Scriptures). I find that the Psalms are especially restorative. I encourage you to read a passage every morning. Even if it’s a short Psalm, having God’s Word start you day will make a difference in your spiritual tank. I also recommend finding a devotional book to add to the routine. Find one that encourages and challenges you in your daily walk with Christ.
Finally, we look to worship to help fill our spiritual tank. Worship is showing reverence and adoration for out God. Worship fills our hearts with thankfulness and puts us in His presence. We should certainly participating in weekly worship with our church family. God tells us not to forsake the gathering of ourselves together. Something amazing happens in our hearts as we gather together as God’s family and worship Him fully. Ways we can engage in daily worship include uplifting worship music, scripture journaling, and praise journaling.
Our emotional tank is the next one to fill. Our emotional tank has a constant drain on it, especially if our spiritual tank is not full. Between the stress of life, anxiety, responsibilities, and our packed full schedules, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel emotionally drained. Our emotional and mental tanks feed in to one another. As one drains, so does the other. Our emotional health can be a hard one to regulate if we are not intentional about keeping it in check. Our culture experiences emotional highs and lows on a constant basis, and we’re not the best at keeping ourselves in balance. We feed those highs with entertainment and indulgence, and we dwell in pity when we hit the lows and often end up with a victim complex. We have to learn to control our emotions, and to fill our emotional health tank. The first way to do this is to go to sleep. We cannot be rational running on no sleep. If you need postpone a difficult conversation or task until you’ve had some sleep, do it. For your own sake, but also those around you. Maintain a daily practice of gratitude. Gratitude has been proven over and over again to elevate your mood and make you a happier, less stressed, person. Practice being thankful for the things you have and the people in your life. Know that it’s ok to ask for alone time. It’s ok to spend some alone time each day. Sometimes, all you need to feel refreshed is 15 minutes to yourself. Be careful not to use this one as an excuse to retreat from your responsibilities or your family, but if you need to take 15 alone for an emotional recharge, ask for it. Make sure your emotional tank stays full so that you are able to invest in others.
Our mental tank needs just as much attention as the others. Check in on yourself daily. Make a habit to stop and ask yourself “how am I doing?” Are you battling depression? Are you catching your mind going to dark places? Do you fantasize about running away from it all and starting over? These are good indications that your mental tank is running on empty. This must be tended to immediately. If you’ve reached a point where you cannot fill your mental tank on your own, I encourage you to see a doctor or counselor. It’s never weak to ask for help, that is strength. Before you get to that point, there are some things to do on a daily basis that will help keep your mental tank full and healthy! Start with filling your spiritual tank. All healing and renewal starts by falling on our face before a Holy God and asking for His guidance. Next, consider taking inventory of your social media accounts. We live in a dreadful age of comparison. If there’s an account you follow that constantly stirs up anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, get rid of it. Why would you constantly want to dredge those feelings up inside of you? Get rid of the account, and then go to the One who tells you that you’re worthy, loved, and precious. Psalms 139: 13-18 (Please keep in mind that there is a huge difference between something that stirs up inadequacy and something that inspires us to be better.)
Mental health is a lot more than our emotional response and stress level. Mental health is also the choices we make to better yourself. Choices we make to numb our mind, or to stimulate it. One of the best things to stimulate our mind is to read a book. Yes, a paper book that you physically hold and turn pages. Make a goal to read a set number of books per year and then instead of picking up your phone at bedtime to mindlessly scroll through the same media feed you scrolled through an hour ago, use that time to read. Find a stimulating podcast that will teach you new things. Learn to play a musical instrument or a new craft such as crocheting or embroidery. Get a word-a-day calendar in another language. Put your mind into a constant state of curiosity and learning to stay full. Practice gratitude as a lifestyle and keep a contentment journal.
Your social wellness is our final tank to look at. Friendships are crucial. The older we get the less time we seem to have, so we must be intentional about our relationships. The very first relationship you should pour into is your spouse. They deserve the best of you, not the leftovers. Go on a weekly date or have a “date” at home if you can’t get away. Take time to invest in your marriage with intentional conversation, genuine interest, and a constant state of learning your spouse. There is no better friend you should have than the person you married. If your spouse isn’t your best friend it’s time to take a step back and start heavily investing in them, re-cultivating that friendship, until they are.
All relationships take work. Having friends is work. They take investment, but they are worth it. We were not created to be alone. We were created for connection. Even if you are an introvert your social tank has to be full. Running on fumes in this department will lead to isolation and loneliness which will drain your mental and emotional tanks. (I told you they are all tied together.) Cultivate a habit of calling a friend, texting to check in on someone, writing a card, going to coffee, or hosting a game night. Have a friend that you can depend on and go to for advise and encouragement. With the abundance of social media, we live very unconnected lives. We retreat back into ourselves and think we’re doing good because we see our friends on social media. That’s not investing in your relationships, that is hiding from your relationships. Most of us are busy working professionals, wives, and mothers. While we might not always have time to get coffee on a weekly basis, we should be intentional about being presently active with the group of people God put into our lives. Whether it’s a ladies Bible study, a small group, or a girls night out. We should make some time to invest in these crucial relationships and keep our social wellness tank full.
So friends, is self-care selfishness? Absolutely not. In fact, self-care is quite the opposite. Self-care is saying “I love the people in my life too much to give them my leftovers, so I’m going to make sure I’m the best me I can be for them”. You are not disposable and you are not replaceable. You were made to be recharged and useful. But you have to take the time to recharge yourself because no one else can do it for you. Stop abusing your body, stop acting like a martyr, and stop giving away what you do not have. Take the time and invest in yourself. If you find yourself saying “I just don’t have the time for self-care” then it’s time to take a long hard look at your calendar because there are some things that need to go.
“I love the people in my life too much to give them my leftovers, so I’m going to make sure I’m the best me I can be for them“