Need someone to work extra days?  Ask me.  Someone who’ll clean up the place because we’ve scheduled an open house?  Sure.  I’ll even bring the cleaning supplies.  Need someone to baby-sit your kids while you go away for a weekend?  I’ll do it.  Stay late?  Cook extra?  Loan money?  Run an errand?  Give up my bed, my book, my best outfit? You bet.

“This was my life,” said Betty, 42.  “I thought I had to do anything and everything people asked. Even if they didn’t ask, I’d find ways to accommodate them.  And if I couldn’t, I felt guilty.”

Betty was an expert, no-holds-barred, genuine “accommodater.” Somewhere along the line she learned that her needs weren’t important. In fact, she had been accommodating others for so long and doing it so well, she didn’t even know what her needs were.

What she did know was that she was unhappy, that she sometimes felt angry and almost always felt guilty.  She realized she allowed people to use her, but she didn’t know how to say no.

“To me, self-care had something to do with giving myself breast exams,” she said.  “If someone mentioned boundaries, I thought they meant property lines.”

“Self-care is an attitude toward ourselves and our lives that says, I am responsible for myself,” wrote Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More. It doesn’t mean you become selfish, cold, and dispassionate.  But you first become compassionate with yourself.

I often say in my work that the most important relationship that you need to nurture is the one you have with yourself.  Just like you might call and check in on loved ones every so often, you need to check in with yourself on a regular basis.  To practice self-care you must continually ask the question, “What do I need to do to take care of myself?” Even asking yourself the simple question, “What am I feeling right now?” can go a long way in helping you become your own best friend.

To be sure, self-care can take the form of gifts to yourself and pleasurable activities, but it can also mean work.  For example, you may need to change some behaviour or take care of some responsibility.  Sometimes just saying “no” is the hardest thing you have to do.  Especially early on when new behaviours are foreign to you.

Self-care also means asking others for what you need and want, everything from returning an iron that doesn’t work to requesting help around the house from your partner.

Practicing self-care means you become your own best friend, confidante, personal counsellor and spiritual advisor.  One thing is true: practicing self-care will always improve any situation you are in.  It’s the basis from which you give to others, and function effectively in this world.

Following are some self-care qualities:

* Being financially responsible.  This means being aware of your financial situation and taking responsibility for living within it.

* Taking care of yourself physically.  Eating healthfully and exercising; practicing preventive health care. Being in touch with your body (http://www NULL.julia-dinardo NULL.com/index NULL.php/site/article/listening_to_our_bodies_they_know_more_than_we_do/) is the first step.

* Having fun, playing, and laughing. You’ll feel better physically if you include laughter and fun in your life.

* Setting and maintaining boundaries.  This is what I will or won’t do.  This is how far I will or won’t go.  This is what I will or won’t tolerate.

* Maintaining nurturing relationships.  Spending your time with people who are kind, loving, honest and appreciative.  Giving and accepting compliments, hugs, love.

* Affirming and nurturing yourself.

* Seeking professional help when you need it.  Remember, you don’t have to do it alone.

“Self-care isn’t narcissistic or indulgent. Self-care is the one thing I can do that most helps me and others too.” —Melody Beattie

Author’s content used under license, (c) 2008 Claire Communications