Why, as women, do we feel guilt when we take care of ourselves? Why, as mothers, do we feel the need to keep giving, even when we have nothing left to give? Why do we overwork our bodies and keep going without giving ourselves the rest we need? These are the questions I have been asking myself and women around me for years with no real answer. As women, we are natural caregivers and have the maternal urge to take care of our own. This is a beautiful characteristic we have been gifted with, but when is it our turn? I believe my generation, the “millennials” as we are known, is starting to question this status quo. With hashtags such as “#selfcaresunday” and “#treatyoself” we are finding ways to put an end to over burdening ourselves and finally highlighting the importance of self care.
My whole life, I have watched how others live to work. As admirable as this work ethic has been, we act like working ourselves into the ground and over stimulating ourselves is like a badge of honor that we wear proudly for all to see. We have been taught that we must go to school to find a job to afford life. While this is partially true, we were never taught to work on ourselves as well. Women have always been taught to care and love for their families. We’ve been talked to death about how years ago women worked on in their home, cooking, cleaning, and being a homemaker. Their lives were only their families. Over the decades as it has become more and more common for women to work outside of their homes as their second job, their first job was still the same, to take care of the home and children. Between their two jobs, my mom and her generation lost any chance for self care, and surely were not taught that this is crucial to a healthy life.
Now, as we near the end of 2017, times are changing and families are taking on more even jobs in the home. Although there is still a stigma on sharing home responsibilities, society is becoming more open and accepting shared partnerships, in and outside the home. Women, on the other hand, still feel the pressure to do both jobs and have little time for themselves. We almost feel guilty, even if we do not have children or families to keep moving, keep working, and keep overstimulating. This is the status quo that I wish to dismantle.
Just as we do not expect a glass to still have water in it even after we’ve drunk all of it up, we should not expect ourselves to keep giving even when our cup is dry. When we keep giving, it leads to not only emotional damage such as stress, anxiety, and depression, but physical ailments all over our body. Time magazine suggests that stress and overwork affects our brain, gut, back, nose, and for women, reproductive organs. Stress and overstimulation actually affects how a woman’s body functions more than a male’s body! So instead of feeling guilty for taking a bath or saying no to a request, we can say I need this. This is my time I refuse to give up because I love myself.
Self care can differ from one to another, but what has given me the peace to realize that self care is self love is creative mindfulness. As I went through high school and college, I started realizing the importance of time alone with my mind just to be and to breathe. My favorite form of this is called Mindfulness Meditation, which I only realized I was doing within the last year or two. The practice of focusing only on my breath and emptying my mind did not become my answer for peace, but a way for my mind to have the ability to slow down enough to listen for that answer. Studies have shown that practicing this type of mindful breathing allows for stronger thinking, reduction of stress, less ADHD, and even lowers the rate of heart attack or stroke. My mind not only feels the difference between stress and calm, but my entire body.
I ended up finding out that while my mind could stay in the present moment, my hands wanted to move. As I have practiced my own form of creation and art therapy, I have not only been able to practice Mindfulness, but practice patience and a love for myself that I would not have otherwise found. As an artist and teacher, I have found a great confidence in myself and students I teach when we create. Taking an image from your mind and actually making it tangible is an incredible feeling that can make you feel both creative and intelligent. As a photographer, I use my eyes and mind to compose a shot even before I put up the camera. I imagine what I want in my mind and then try my best to make that happen and capture that moment. Creating more tangible items such as home decor and jewelry are a bit different.
When I started making wall hangings, it started as a creative meditation for myself. Once I realized others enjoyed my creations and I could personalize these creations to fit the needs of others and myself, it became so much more. Although it is not always peaceful creating when a wire breaks ten thousand times or a small detail requires intense focus, I have been learning to hone my skill of patience and intuition, which has helped me immensely, not only with my mindfulness but in day to day life. I never create when angry or upset and always try to create in a peaceful state of mind. This can sometimes be very difficult, but it has forced me to learn about myself. To learn what it feels like when my blood pressure is going up and to know when to walk away. To listen to my hands and mindlessly find my work flow instead of listening to my mind. This practice has not been easy and I surely am not where I wish to be, but once a finished product is in front of me and I can say, “wow, did I just make that?”, it all falls into place.
I do not expect everyone to find the same self care as I have found, but I do wish for everyone to find the same self love. As I tell my elementary school students every day before art class, give yourself a big hug and say I love myself. Once you learn how to love yourself, you will then learn how to love others. Then you will find how much easier life can be.