Managing Self-Care Needs

By Lisa Templeton, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist

(Excerpt from Letting It Be: Mindful lessons in acceptance - Dr. Lisa's book to be published next year)


     Last May’s newsletter reviewed a variety of human needs to aid you in identifying what your own needs are.  Once you have identified them, it’s time to take action and work on taking care of yourself.  An important piece is to work to satisfy your own needs for yourself if possible.  Only you can care for yourself – no one else can address your internal, emotional, physical and spiritual world except you.  We leave ourselves in a very vulnerable position if we are waiting for someone else to fill our needs.  We can’t change anybody but ourselves. 

     So let’s say that you find that your friends don’t give much and you have a need to be acknowledged more by friends or loved ones.  The only thing you have control over is to express your need.  Don’t hold your feelings about it inside – they will only build up with time and add more frustration to your life.

     Holding our emotions inside can lead to a lot of distress.  Once we understand what we are feeling, we can work to express it.  Again, nobody else can do this for you but yourself.  Repressed or denied emotions affect us overtime; hence, I like to use the metaphor of an invisible fisherman’s coat that we each wear everyday with many, many pockets.  Imagine if each feeling that we push away gets loaded into one of those pockets.  Overtime, the coat becomes heavy and it’s difficult to maneuver in life. It’s time to lose the coat entirely.  Yet, the act of cleaning out each coat pocket and feeling through and working with our feelings can be a difficult task.  It’s daunting, but if you take to task staying aware of your emotions and have intent to work with them differently, you will naturally begin to change.  It is worth it to bring about a sense of peace and calm in our lives that allows us to gravitate more toward surrender, and ultimately, to acceptance.

     Sharing our feelings can so often be riddled with our own expectations.  I am not going to tell them my need, they won’t change.  Does that seem a bit manipulative to you?  You will only share your feelings if they change?  Conversely, I hear people say, “If I tell this person my need, feeling or thought, they will change.”  When they share, they have the expectation for the change to happen and are upset and angry when nothing does. 

     If we share without expectations, we can allow our feelings to move through us and at least express our needs to others.  Perhaps they can help and/or support or perhaps not.  The least we can do is ask.  Be aware of your mind, body and thoughts relating to your need.  If you do have an expectation, be aware of it and be clear with yourself that sharing your feeling is for you, not for anyone else.

     Also, be specific and clear about what you really want.  If you share with a friend that you want them to acknowledge you more, what exactly does that mean?  They listen better, they say positive things about you, they call you more often?  If you ask your spouse to give you some time for yourself – when do you need it?  How much time do you need?  Be specific about what you want and then let it go.  When we share with others what we want without expecting them to fill the need and do this for us, we take responsibility for ourselves instead of giving that responsibility to someone else.  When we take back our responsibility, we take back our power.

     If the friend does make more of an effort to acknowledge you, that is a good friend.  If your spouse agrees to take the kids for 30 minutes, that is quite helpful.  Still, it is ultimately up to each person to change their mind so they can find peace within – the behavior of others is not what brings us peace, especially when you make your peace contingent on how others respond, which is not helpful or healthy.  Peace comes from our perspective and acceptance of all experiences.

     If your friend continues to not acknowledge you as you’ve asked, you can then make different choices about the people you are bringing into your life and why you have chosen this particular friend.  Alternatively, you might even change your perspective about your friend and accept them for what they can offer.  In this case, you must believe that those who are around you are already acknowledging and loving toward you.  Additionally, consider how much you are acknowledging your own friends.  Give what you want to receive in this world.  We are all here to support and learn from each other.  Use your social supports.

     Moving on to other needs, I hear so many people talking about how everything is moving so quickly and they have no time to slow down.  What I hear is that they have a need for harmony, well-being and stillness – how can one meet this need, especially when it doesn’t seem as though there are enough hours in the day as it is.  Harmony and stillness can only be sought in being, not doing.  When we practice being with many components of our experience (i.e., our thoughts, our body, engaging our observer, and our breath), harmony and stillness finds us.       

     If you find that you just can’t slow down and shut your mind down - listen to it, observe what it is saying, track it and change your perspective.    Distract it – say a mantra to yourself over and over, “may I be happy, may I be peaceful at ease, may I be safe.”  You could clean out a drawer, sing a song, take a hot bath, a cold shower or have a cup of tea.  There are many behaviors we can engage in to calm ourselves.  You need to stay aware of what behaviors feel calming to you and then find time to do it. 


     In our busy culture, we must take the time for ourselves.  This is not something we wait for to be given to us.  We must communicate, ask our loved ones, and work to find support within ourselves and others around us.  You cannot expect your spouse to announce you have the night off if she/he doesn’t even know you need it.  Doesn’t everybody need it every now and again?  Stay assertive and loving when asking for help in fulfilling your need.  Do your best to state your need and do what makes you feel alive, stimulated and blissful.  If you are struggling to ask for help, inquire within to find out why.  You are the expert on yourself – no one else.

     Staying mindful of our mind and our body, we must use it or we will surely lose it.  Exercise both your mind and your body daily if you can – really move around and really sit still.  They are a beautiful balance with each other.  There can be a negative connotation with the word “exercise” relating to going to the gym, doing standard movements, etc.  There can also be a negative connotation with the word “meditation” perhaps relating to thinking that one needs to “clear the mind entirely” to succeed.  Neither exercise needs to be perfect, nor practiced for a very long period of time.  Each day, working the mind for 10 minutes and the body for 20-30 minutes can have wonderful nurturing effects.  Even just 5 minutes or taking several 30 second breaks throughout your day can be helpful.   Just as you may meditate the mind, exercise the body and vice versa.  Take a dose of natural hormones to help release emotions and gain perspective.

     As many of you might know, I am a musician.  Music has provided a foundation for my personal and spiritual journey that has been absolutely priceless.  I was not always a musician though – not until I was 25 years old did I even pick up a guitar.  I played some keyboard as a teenager, but never thought to really put form to any of my practices.  Once I picked up the guitar, the songs started to come.  These were composed of many poems I had written over my teenage years expressing thoughts, emotions, and my perceptions of life.  This was incredibly beneficial for me both personally and professionally.  I used my words and songs to express myself.  That was a huge need I had that I didn’t even realize I had at the time – it just felt really good (and still does).  Working through difficult aspects of my life, music was there to support me.  I do hope that my music will continue to support me and provide nurturance to others as I continue to write.

     The point is to find forms of release that provide guidance and creative expression for our brain.  Perhaps you might find painting, poetry, and/or pottery helpful to you – even if you’ve never tried it before.  Identify your releases and the way to express yourself.  Maybe it’s cooking or clothing design or interior design.  To release is to create and we are most powerful when we are creating for ourselves in our life.

     Some people really struggle to find what they love.  I feel blessed to know what I love and use these tools as an aid to me while I work on myself and whittle my ego down so I can feel more connected with God and the energy of the universe.  If you struggle to know what you love, your only choice really is to dabble in lots of things and push yourself to try new things in the attempts of finding your passion.  You need to experience different activities to see what sparks your attention.  Ultimately, you must explore yourself and learn who you are and be free enough to remind yourself that you deserve it, as we all do.

     One thing that throws off our need for capability (to feel competent) is comparing ourselves to others.  We cannot afford how that affects our self-esteem. When comparing yourself to someone else, do you ever come out on top?  Even if you do, this is only the other side of the insecurity coin where you are arrogant and judgmental of others.  Comparing never leads to peace and strips us of our need to feel competent, worthy and harmonious with others.  We are all unique in our own way and there is enough room for all of us in the garden to bloom.

     Be sure to pamper yourself when you can.  Take a bath, sit and watch your favorite tv show, drink a glass of wine, take a walk, draw a picture, get a massage or a manicure/pedicure.  Do what makes you happy and remember to do it in moderation.  If I take a bath every night, the pleasure of it may not be as stimulating for me.  Change up the ways that you pamper yourself.  If your spouse brought you flowers every day, they would not have the same significance as it would if it was sudden and spontaneous.  Work to develop your list of pampering behaviors and “give yourself flowers” so to speak (or even literally!). 

     When you are addressing your own needs and loving yourself in a way that nurtures and cares for yourself, you are providing yourself with a foundation and tools to do better at managing your life.  You are worth it!