Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Being Selfish Can Be Good For Your Health

“You are being selfish” is normally a phrase meant as negative criticism, but I want to talk about selfishness as a positive trait today.

As a mom, and a massage therapist, I know what it is like to give of yourself: both physically and emotionally. It can be very rewarding, but also extremely draining – sometimes to the point that you begin to resent your situation, and break down on many levels.

And as a mom and a massage therapist, I have had to learn that when you get to this point there are two choices:

1. Opt for martyr status and push yourself through, continuing at a self-depleting pace, until you break down, either physically or mentally. This usually leaves you absolutely useless to everyone, and therefore not helping those that you worked so selflessly to help in the first place.

2. Take a break, be it an hour, a day, or a week, to take care of yourself, so that you can once again help others with the empathy and energy you pride yourself on.

I know for many of you, taking time for yourselves feels selfish, embarrassing to admit to, and just plain wrong, but I know every one of you has opted for choice number one before with dismal consequences.

I am not going to go into much description of the self depleting things we do, as it is different for everyone, and chances are you know what they are: working too many hours, not taking holidays, never leaving the kids with babysitters, caring for ailing parents, volunteering all of your spare time away.

Obviously these are extremely important activities, but is your child really going to grow up differently if you hire a babysitter for an hour a week so that you can go to yoga class? Well, they might, because that hour to yourself could just give you the balance and energy you need to be a more calm and patient parent!

If you feel great working 40 hours a week and volunteering another 20 hours a week; feel energized and ready to give each job 100% every day, then you are probably doing things right for you. If, however, you feel depleted at the end of the day, and have to drag yourself to work, or have feelings of bitterness toward your daily tasks, then you are not giving yourself enough to recharge with.

So how to recharge? You might need time off, or better nutrition, or more sleep, or even to find yourself a partner to share things with. What ever it is, listen to your inner voice telling you what you are lacking in, and be selfish and go get it!

Being selfish could be as easy as giving yourself 20 minutes of uninterrupted time every day to enjoy your lunch – no cell phones, no book work, just peace and quiet. It could be turning off the TV 30 minutes before bed to do some yoga or meditation. It could be taking a day off work once a month to spend more time with your kids, or leave them in daycare for the day and go for a three-hour hike with a friend, or get a massage, or even sit in your pajamas all day and read a good book. It could even be as drastic as changing jobs, or taking early retirement.

The bottom line is, if you are feeling that a certain situation is too much for you, either on a mental, physical or spiritual level, you owe it to yourself to do something about it.

Even a small change can help – obviously if you are a single mother of two with a full time job and an ailing parent at home, you are in a tough spot. But all too often in a situation like this you completely give up on yourself. Instead, make it a house rule that Friday night from 8 to 9 is your time to have a hot bath with no interruptions. Hire a sitter or call a friend in if you need to. If that goes well for a few weeks, then see if you can add another bit of “me” time in the week. If you don’t, and have a nervous breakdown, or heart attack (yes these things happen), then who will you be helping?

That’s why they tell parents on an airplane to put your mask on before your child’s. You won’t be much help to your child if you have already passed out on the floor. Think about that the next time you are putting someone else’s need in front of yours and risking your own health in the process.

Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can get your free subscription to her “simple health ideas” newsletter by going to