By LISA OWENS, LPC
Why taking care of yourself is not unspiritual
As a counselor and mental health therapist, I often see the effects of unrealistic expectations that have been placed upon women. Our perception of how others see us impacts our self-image. We find ourselves wanting to be respected, appreciated and valued, but at times struggle with doubts and insecurities.
This is complicated by the rules of our human tribe. Our lifestyle often puts us at odds with others who disapprove or don’t understand. This is true regardless of where we are on the political spectrum. For those who embrace faith, we encounter a myriad of perspectives on what is respected, admired or expected.
Because of the pandemic upending our normal routine, this might be a good time for women to work on their mental health. With women who are married or parents, I often find that “mom guilt” and/or concern about “marital health” is a priority concern. Career pressures can add to an already full plate of responsibilities.
Another area that commonly affects our mental health is financial stress. This often shows up in feeling the pressure to maintain a lifestyle in keeping with our social circle but beyond our means.
Self-awareness is extremely important. That is simply being aware of what you’re thinking and feeling, and being sure you’re not ignoring signs of instability, shame, guilt, exhaustion, anxiety, depression or mental confusion. Brain fog often comes in seasons of prolonged stress.
Many people don’t realize that physical health and mental health are linked. It’s important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself: going to the doctor, exercising, eating right, getting enough sleep, and not using destructive escape mechanisms. These mechanisms might include overeating, emotional eating, restricting food, overindulging with alcohol or other substances, isolating or never being alone, over-exercising, overcompensating in various ways, passive aggressiveness, being overly dramatic, being obsessive compulsive, and a multitude of other out-of-balance behaviors.
Social interactions affect our well-being. It’s important to be cognizant of our personal and social interactions and make sure we have good communication, healthy interactions and healthy thoughts. We’re often influenced consciously and unconsciously by the company we keep. Toxic relationships can cause insecurity, anxiety and depression.
We’re still learning about the mental impact of social media, good and bad. We know social media at times can cause us to become quickly triggered or depressed. It’s important to monitor how much we look at other people’s lives and not our own. Comparison can and often will cause envy, frustration and discontentment.
Women are required to constantly juggle roles, responsibilities and emotions. We’re presented with a myriad of choices daily, and it can feel overwhelming. If a woman has a career, is married, has children, or has other time- and energy-consuming commitments, then tasks such as dishes, laundry, cleaning the house, etc., can become frustrating, irritating or overwhelming. Husbands often don’t realize that a woman’s perspective, feelings and needs are often different than his. In marriage counseling, this is one of the first areas to consider.
Ideally, a woman can sort through many areas of her life and maintain a balance that works for her. Because unexpected or unanticipated events present themselves daily, it’s difficult to have a simple, orderly schedule. To have a healthy outlook, it’s important to prioritize and evaluate what should or shouldn’t, or can or can’t, be done in a healthy way.
At times, a chat with a friend, spouse or significant other can help. Sometimes it’s helpful to seek counseling or other professional help. Gaining a new perspective can make a difference. It’s also helpful to recognize what is important, as opposed to something that seems urgent but actually is insignificant.
Prayer and spiritual guidance can bring wisdom and peace. This can help us to regain perspective, put things in context and understand the bigger picture.
Everyone experiences emotional ups and downs in normal life. However, out of those ups and downs, mental health problems can develop. To recognize the need for support and help is not a personal failure. It might take humility and courage to reach out for help, but this shows we’re wise enough to recognize our need for self-care.
For those guided by a moral and spiritual compass, remember that the biblical pattern for our lives includes like-minded people and mentors. We’re not created to go it alone. Self-reliance is not spiritual. Taking care of yourself is not unspiritual. A person who lives a well-balanced, mentally healthy spiritual life is an example to follow. Take care of yourself!
Lisa Owens is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with Cornerstone Counseling in Jackson, has a master’s in marriage and family counseling, and is national board-certified in telemental health (BC-TMH) and clinical mental health (CCMHC). She has been married 47 years, and has two grown daughters and six grandchildren.