I’m a much nicer person when I’m taking care of myself.
Let’s use food as the example. Hanger? The struggle is real. I tend towards the hypoglycemic side of the blood sugar spectrum, and often I learn that I’m hungry before I actually feel my stomach grumbling because I start to notice the cloudy thinking, low energy, shakiness, and complete loss of patience.
This was huge problem for me when I had an eating disorder, and it manifested as treating the people around me pretty badly, pretty often. I regret this for sure, but I suppose I can look back on those seasons and have some grace on myself, knowing that my attitudes were influenced by my eating disorder. (That’s all not even taking into account the stress of chronic dieting/a disordered relationship with food.) However, I can clearly see the effect of not eating enough on my life, today. From getting snippy with my husband, to road rage, to having greater symptoms of anxiety, lacking in the area of self-care when it comes to food directly translates into the other areas of my life.
The same is true when I’m not getting enough sleep, when my schedule is too full, when I am overworking myself, or skimping on rest. My mood, attitudes, and anxiety levels all suffer, sometimes intensifying to the point of depression or physical illness. But it doesn’t stop there—skimping on self-care directly translates into the way I relate to God and others.
The COVID quarantine was a rough time for me, and my stress levels (like so many others) were pushing their max. I found myself feeling critical and negative in my attitudes, including those towards other people. If someone wronged me or made a mistake, I tended to jump to a negative conclusion, blaming it on a character flaw or discounting the person/company/situation completely because of a single less-than-perfect interaction. In reality, most negative interactions reflect difficulties in another person’s life rather than who they are as a person, and I find myself a much greater sense of peace in my one life when I can afford empathy and grace to others. In general, I like to think I’m pretty okay at doing this. That is, except for when I’m not taking care of my own self.
Self-care sometimes gets a bad reputation of being selfish. But at the end of the day, it’s not just about us and our own experiences. It’s also very much about others. When I’m taking care of myself, I not only am more gracious and forgiving, but I have the emotional bandwidth to take on the burdens of others and be a good family member, friend, and neighbor. When I’m stressed, hungry, running low on sleep, or feeling badly about my sense of self, I breeze past those passing by. But when I’m taking care of myself and at a personally healthy place, I’m so much more likely to smile at a stranger or stop and introduce myself, to chat with the cashier, or to wave at an acquaintance rather than averting their gaze and hoping they don’t recognize me. This sense of friendliness and neighborliness is part of our calling in Christ to love people.
At the core of my faith, I truly believe that each person matters—that every life is valuable. But it’s a lack of self-care that turns me inward and makes me selfish, too distracted and burdened by my own life’s imbalances to see the people around me and actually care about them. Self-care is important in this way: it’s not only about us. It’s also about our families, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers. It’s about cultivating margin in the comings and goings of life to have room for others…to encourage them, care for them, and be a light in their lives.