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Caring for ourselves is never selfish

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Self-care is a priority for the British Medical Association (BMA) says Amanda Cool, Chair of its Patient liaison groupAs Self-Care Week gets underway, she explains why caring for ourselves is not selfish.

Amanda Cool - head and shoulders portrait
Amanda Cool: 'If we don’t take time to take care of ourselves, we will eventually stop functioning - physically, mentally and emotionally.'

It is a huge understatement to say we live in a stressful world. The day-to-day struggles we see and experience often feel never-ending and out of our control. But, one thing we can control is how we treat ourselves….

Recently, I read Wayne Dyer’s “Orange Story” - it really made me stop and think...

One time when giving a talk, Dyer took an orange out on stage and started a conversation with a young boy who was sitting in the front row.

“If I were to squeeze this orange as hard as I could, what would come out?” he asked him.

The boy looked at him like he was a little crazy and said, “Juice, of course.”

“Do you think apple juice could come out of it?”

“No!” he laughed.

“What about grapefruit juice?”


“What would come out of it?”

“Orange juice, of course.”

“Why? Why when you squeeze an orange does orange juice come out?”

“Well, it’s an orange and that’s what’s inside.”

Poster advertising Self Care Week 2018Dyer nodded. “Let’s assume that this orange isn’t an orange, but it’s you. And someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, says something you don’t like, or offends you. And out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, fear.

Why? The answer, as our young friend has told us, is because that’s what’s inside.”

“It’s one of the great lessons of life,” says Dyer. “What comes out when life squeezes you? When someone hurts or offends you? If anger, pain, and fear come out of you, it’s because that’s what’s inside. And what’s inside is up to you. It’s your choice.”

So what does Dyer’s orange story have to do with self-care?

Just like orange juice comes out of an orange, what’s inside of us comes out when life puts us under pressure.

If we don’t take time to take care of ourselves, we will eventually stop functioning - physically, mentally and emotionally. Thinking that caring for yourself is as simple as having a shower, eating healthy food or getting regular exercise is a good start. But real self-care isn’t always fun and it’s definitely not easy.

One of the biggest problems for people who feel like they don’t have enough time for self-care is that they have so many other people to take care of. Children, parents, spouses, friends- there are a lot of people that could be looking for help on a daily basis.

Self-care can become an example to others, a reminder for them to practice self-care. If you tell people why you take time out of life to care for yourself, they may start to realise that they need to look after themselves.

This is why self-care isn’t selfish. It helps us to be at our best for the people around us. We can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t have enough energy, strength and health of our own to do it.

The theme this year is ‘Choosing self-care for life’ – to be truly effective, self-care must be an ongoing lifestyle choice. Most of us are already practicing it to some degree by maintaining good personal hygiene, eating regularly and taking breaks, but there is always scope for improvement.

For those of us living in England, NHS Choices provides reliable information which can help us make the best choices about our health. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own official NHS webpages.

There isn’t a one size fits all prescription for self-care. It’s like starting a job or new exercise routine. You have to want to do it, think hard about doing it and keep doing it.

But, if you take just a few minutes every now and then, it can easily become part of your daily or weekly routine, and it won’t feel like hard work at all.

Whatever you decide to do, however you decide to do it, make sure when life squeezes you it’s the good stuff that comes out!

Self-Care Week runs from 12-18 November 2018

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