Over the past month, I’ve gotten a little refresher course on the importance of self-care. My younger sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy at the beginning of the year, and as a first-time auntie, I wanted to be as involved as possible, despite the 1,000 mile distance between my home in Los Angeles and my sister’s home in Denver.
A couple of weeks after my nephew was born, I flew out to Denver to meet my newest family member and to help my sister and her husband adjust to their new lives as parents. My plan was to cook and clean and take care of the baby during the day while my sister napped. I assumed I’d spend my down time keeping up with my schoolwork for my wellness coaching certification program and writing blog articles. Hell, I even thought I might be able to get a backlog of posts scheduled! Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The birth of a new child is absolutely life altering and the first few weeks and months constitute one of the biggest life adjustments that anyone who decides to have kids will ever experience in their entire life. When I arrived, my sister and her husband, despite handling the transition exceptionally well, were under a lot of physical and emotional stress. Even as someone who was only making a guest appearance for a week and a half, the experience was overwhelming and I’d be lying if I said the idea of caring for my new nephew on my own didn’t send me into a bout of panic on the first night of my stay.
I went into overdrive trying to learn everything that I would need to know to be able to take care of this incredibly vulnerable, tiny human being and very quickly lost track of what I needed to be doing to take care of my own wellbeing. I was not eating at regular intervals and when I was eating, it was quick food that wasn’t particularly nourishing. I was trying to keep up with my sister and her husband’s minimal sleep schedule, and the sleep that I was getting wasn’t restful. Meditation, spending time outside, and exercise weren’t even considerations. Basically, I let every one of the practices that have become the foundation of my health and happiness fall completely to the wayside, and the effects were not pretty. It is not an exaggeration to say that, by the third night of my stay, I was a complete wreck. It was so clear that I was falling apart both physically and emotionally that my sister, very lovingly, let me know that she would completely understand if I needed to go home early.
The idea of leaving after only three days didn’t sit well with me on a number of levels. I really wanted to be able to help my sister during this transition and to be able to spend some quality bonding time with my new nephew during this special time that only happens once. I also have a really hard time admitting defeat, and that’s what it felt like going home early would be doing. So, we decided to make a plan.
First, I needed to get clear on what my basic needs were and what I needed to do to make sure those needs were met. I decided that a minimum of 8 hours of sleep every 24 hours and regular, nourishing meals were non-negotiables. My sister and her husband and I worked out a sleep schedule that allowed me to log my necessary sleep time without worrying that I was leaving them stranded and then I trekked off to the grocery store to stock up on fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains as well as some herbal tea and immune system-supporting supplements (since I knew my body would still be under strain).
While I can’t say that the following week was easy, setting those basic boundaries around my own self-care dramatically improved the way I felt and my ability to navigate what I could actually do to help without losing myself in the process. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup, as the saying goes.
I always try to find the opportunity for learning and growth in any challenging experience, and what I took from this experience was greater clarity around the importance of taking care of myself first, a much deeper appreciation for the very powerful tool kit of wellness practices that I have developed over the past handful of years, and an awareness of just how quickly my emotional and physical balance can get thrown out of whack when I neglect my own needs. I know we’ve all heard it a millions times, but you really do have to love yourself first. And that’s really what supporting your own wellness is, isn’t it? Taking loving actions towards your own mind, body, and spirit. So go ahead, make the choices that feed your own vibrance. It’s not selfish. On the contrary, it’s the only way you’ll be able to show up in this world with anything to give.