Relational Self-Care and YouSeptember 6, 2023
Relational Self-Care and You: If I were to ask you, “When was the last time you did something nice for yourself?” What would be your answer? If you had any hesitation in answering, I’m guessing it’s been too long. You’re not the only one. In having a career of helping people with their health and weight, my demographic tends to be way better at doing things for others than for themselves.
What experience has taught me is that people who struggle with their health typically have a history of taking care of others at the expense of themselves. A major component that I’ve woven into our pre- and post-surgery education is the emphasis of making oneself a priority going forward. Our folks cannot sustain their health in the long run without it. And for some people, this can be a very counter-intuitive thing to establish, and even harder thing to maintain.
Curious as to how others define self-care, my research yielded a variety of findings. There are “pillars” of self-care, there are “15 ways” to practice self-care, there are “eight areas” of self-care, self-care checklists, myths of self-care, etc. There was way more than I expected. To make things clearer and easy going forward I’d like to propose a basic definition. Self-care is anything you engage in to stay physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and mentally healthy.
Personally, I often think of self-care as anything that feeds my soul in those areas. So, whatever speaks to you, inspires you, helps you be the best version of yourself, it is likely those are behaviors of self-care.
“How Do You Know If I Need Self-Care?”
If you’re reading this article and are curious about the topic itself, I’m guessing you probably need to implement some form of self-care. If you’re skeptical, I’ll do my best to give you some compelling evidence to remove all doubt.
Over the past 18 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview thousands of people about their health and weight struggles. The overriding theme I’ve heard from them is that their behaviors often involve self-neglect, not self-care. Skipping meals, being self-critical, under-valuing who they are, putting everyone else’s needs before their own, internalizing their feelings, and being hesitant about expressing their own needs and emotions are some of these behaviors.
It is my belief that the continued practice of these things leads people to experience detrimental effects physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and mentally. People have taught me that we are different creatures when we practice self-care versus when we practice self-neglect.
The benefits of self-care, even the smallest behaviors, can be life transforming. I’ve heard from people who have a history with not drinking water that they feel better once they practice hydration. People who have a sporadic history with physical activity report feeling better physically and mentally once they begin exercising consistently. Time and time again, people report feeling more empowered once they start using their voice and set boundaries with those around them. These are just a couple of examples of self-care and the potential benefits.
My friends and family will let me know when I’m not active in my physical activity, guitar playing, or eating the way I should because I’m a compromised version of myself. I’m probably not the most likable person to be around. In fact, I’ll admit that I’m grumpy and probably “hangry.” But, being consistently active in those things makes me a better husband, father, friend, and clinician.
Implementing & Sustaining Self-Care
The most important aspect of self-care is to start doing it. Pick one behavior you can start doing and focus on getting consistent. It’s probably important to remind you that it’s going to be easier to start with one item at a time. Historically, when we take on too much at a time (this is for you “all or nothing” folks!), it is usually not sustained. This is an opportunity for you to keep it simple. Simple means sustainable.
Sometimes our past behaviors serve as a starting point as to what not to do. Someone once said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” So, choose anything that is a deviation from your norm in a good way. A simple search on “self-care” will bring up a ton of suggestions. Pick one that is personal to you, and that you’d like to make a priority.
Depending on your history, you may have never had people in your life who you can trust. Your experience may have taught you that people are not safe. This experience has led you to become reluctant in expressing how you feel, and instead you internalize or stuff your emotions. If this is you, you may have become cautious in friendship and maybe even guarded. What does this have to do with self-care? Everything.
In my opinion, a paramount aspect for anyone who is serious about sustaining their health is to establish nurturing relationships. No doubt, you have nurtured those along your life’s journey. How amazing would it be for you to have others who did the same for you? Imagine that. Being part of a relationship that wasn’t a “one-way street.” A relationship that involved give and take, supporting, encouraging, and reciprocal in good, healthy things. Where can you find people who are safe, people who relate to you?
Relational Self-Care and the WLS Community
It may feel a bit vulnerable in seeking this out. Understandable. The advantage you have in getting plugged in to the weight loss surgery community is that you automatically have peers. You are now part of a group who can identify with your experiences and you with theirs. And, probably more than what you would predict. Empathy goes a long way in bonding and understanding. And mutual empathy helps connect people. Connection feels safe.
Once you establish these relationships, it puts you in a better position to start setting boundaries with those in your life who aren’t necessarily healthy, or even toxic. Remember, old relationship dynamics trigger old coping responses. And, if it’s true “if nothing changes, nothing changes,” then relationship dynamics must change in your new approach to life. Having a safety-net of supportive relationships will help you negotiate the relationships that need addressing. You may find that there are some people who are not compatible with your lifestyle of self-care.
I believe that no one should go about their journey alone. Getting plugged in helps you establish other forms of self-care because you now have a support network of people who are trying to do the same thing. You get to learn from others and, in turn, will help others as well. You now have support, accountability, and safety.
Remember, self-care is NOT selfish. Having your needs met are just as important as everyone else’s. Most importantly, your needs aren’t temporary, so self-care shouldn’t be either.
ABOUT THE AUTHORDr. Steven Reyes offers expertise on the psychological adjustments associated with weight loss surgery. Dr. Reyes is best known for his compassionate coaching and therapeutic approach in helping others with their psychological and physical well-being. Dr. Reyes' research includes a phenomenological study of the post-surgical adjustment issues with weight loss surgery patients between 1 and 2 years post-op. Read more articles from Steven Reyes!