Make Self-Care Your Top Priority
Therapist, Julie Hanks, says the pressure women feel to “do it all” is often intensified by Utah’s unique culture. If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted Julie says self-care is the solution. Follow her expert advice and put yourself at the top of your “to-do” list.
When compared other states, Utah has some unique characteristics that bring particular challenges when it comes to self-care. Utahns experience high stress, report high religiosity, get married young, have more children, and have more of women working outside of the home than the national average. Taking all of these factors into account, difficult to figure out where self-care fits into our lives?
1) High Stress
Residents of Utah report high levels of stress ranking 4th in a national Gallup survey. (Source). While the source of Utah’s stress is a complex issue, one factor that I have seen many women struggle with in my clinical practice in Utah is perfectionism or the need to look and act perfect, hide flaws and struggles and maintain a façade that “everything is fine.”
One client who was always comparing herself to her neighbors who in her estimation had clean houses, well-behaved children, and we always “put together.” I helped my client see that her perception was her perception, and wasn’t reality. I encouraged her to embrace her strengths and her struggles, and as she developed more trusting, authentic relationships with neighbors that she be more willing to share her real life with others. What she found was that nobody’s life is flawless!
Self-Care Tip: Get real! Share the highs and lows of life with others. There’s no such thing as a perfect woman, perfect couple, or perfect family.
2) Highly Religious
Utah is known for being highly religious and is considered the 2nd most religious state (Source). Additionally, Provo/Orem ranks as the most religious metro area in country with 77% of its residents being “highly religious” (Source).
While religiosity is often associated with positive health benefits and increased social networks, it can also be a source of additional commitments, expectations and activities.
I recall working a female client, who was a member of the LDS church and felt burdened by the relentless needs of caring for her young family while dealing with marital crisis, and the responsibilities of an involved church calling. I encouraged her to identify her feelings and her needs at this time. She talked with her church leader and let him know more of the details of her situation and they decided to change her church responsibilities. She identified that she wanted more support from her husband and children with household duties, and requiring her family to take on more household responsibilities. She and her husband also began couples counseling.
Self-Care Tip: Identify your feelings and needs and ask for support. It’s ok that I can’t “do it all”
3) Marry Young
Utah tops the list for youngest average age of first-time marriage with grooms marrying at 26 and brides average age of 23 (Source). A particular self-care challenge is that early marriage generally means that individuals have had less time to develop a solid identity and sense of self. Developmentally, a sense of identity precedes the ability to maintain healthy intimacy.
Several years ago I worked with a newly married couple in crisis. They were young, and emotionally ill equipped to handle the financial, emotional, and social challenges of marriage. In therapy we worked together to help them to balance caring for their own needs and goals, while working on relating to one another in a healthier way.
Self-Care Tip: Continue to develop personal talents, gain self-awareness, and pursue goals after marriage. The foundation of a healthy relationship is a healthy sense of self.
4) Most Children
Utah has the highest average number of children (Source). About 5 percent of Utah families include seven or more members compared to only 2 percent nationally. Caring for children is both rewarding and draining. The more children you have, the less time and energy you may have for self-care. It’s easy to say, “I don’t have time to take care of me!” but the great the family responsibilities the higher the urgency for self-care.
I once worked with a mother of 3 very active young children, one with special needs, who would wake up early to do a few yoga stretches and meditation and prayer. Her 5-10 minutes of daily self-care helped her remain calm when her children were difficult.
Self-Care Tip: Do one small thing daily that’s just for you. You won’t find the time for self-care. You have to take the time!
5) Many Working Women/Moms
In Utah, a higher percentage of women work outside the home than the national average (Source). Utah women are trying to balance many aspects of life simultaneously that self-care is often neglected.
Professional race cars are maintained by team of people who quickly and efficiently change tires, gas up, and do what is necessary to maintain the car’s optimal functioning during each race. Likewise, we need a team of people who will support and nurture us so we can fulfill our responsibilities as we travel a lot of ground in our own lives. Consider identifying and assembling a team of people to support you in the race of your life.
Self-Care Tip: Assemble your own personal “pit crew.” Self-neglect is never a good long-term strategy for nurturing others.
5 Aspects of Self-Care
(from The Burnout Cure book)
1. Physical—eat well, exercise, manage your stress, and take care of your body.
2. Spiritual—pray, meditate; connect with God or a higher power, have a greater life purpose.
3. Emotional—feel your feelings, make sense of your feelings, manage your emotions, let go of resentment, reflect on experiences, feel satisfied in life.
4. Relational—be a friend, be a wife, be a mother to your children, resolve your relationship distresses, apologize for your mistakes or missteps, express your love.
5. Intellectual—study things out in your mind, learn your life lessons, think your thoughts, increase your knowledge, get your education.
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.