"Why should I take care of myself? I thought I was supposed to put everyone else's needs first. And isn't self-care selfish?"

Self-care is an often misunderstood concept. Taking care of yourself does not mean neglecting everyone else in your life. And BIG NEWS-self-care has nothing to do with being selfish or a "bad" person. Self-care is as essential to life as breathing.

Before I continue, let me clarify how I define self-care. Self-care involves addressing your own basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, sleep, money to live on, etc. It also involves addressing some of your higher needs such as health, love, sense of belonging, etc. Self-care even involves addressing your wants and passions, including hobbies and the activities that make your heart sing and truly bring you joy. It means being nice to yourself. Treating yourself with love and respect. For some people-particularly those in caregiving roles or with demanding schedules-finding 15 minutes a day of peace and quiet to themselves is a loving act of self-care.

Simply stated, self-care involves whatever it takes to make you feel energized, happy, balanced and at ease in this world. For me, self-care involves getting a really good night's rest...Eating nutritious, energizing foods...Getting in some movement, because my body loves to move....Filling my life with positive people....Having time daily for spirituality...Having fun by dancing, listening to great music, hiking in the mountains, being in the beauty of nature...It also means thinking positive thoughts and talking kindly to myself...which also means that when my inner critic shows up, I get to gently tell her she has the rest of the day off...

Whatever self-care means to you, it is IMPORTANT. Not just important, but VITAL. Vital to your well-being, your enjoyment of life, and your SURVIVAL! If you do not take care of yourself, you will not survive. If you do not feed yourself-physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually-you will starve to death. Lack of self-care leads to a great deal of stress for our minds, bodies and spirits. And unfortunately, a majority of chronic and acute illnesses are linked to high levels of stress. In some ways, neglecting your own self-care is like slowly-or even quickly-ending your life.

Why else might you want to take good care of yourself? Well, if you are a caring person and responsible for the care of family members or cannot give what you don't have. If you are not healthy, energized and balanced yourself, how can you possibly expect to tend to someone else's healthy, energy and happiness? If you give, and give and give, and never receive-from others or from yourself-you are left with nothing. Completely void, without anything left to give. I am sure many of you can relate to how that void feels-in your body, mind, and spirit.

My favorite analogy here is a bucket. If your bucket is empty, you have nothing left to give. The more full your bucket, the more you have to give. Life is a constant process of pouring from your bucket, and refilling-giving and receiving. How do you refill your bucket? With self-care, self-love, doing all those things that bring you balance and joy. Self-care is the supply of water that will fill your bucket and allow you to continue giving and loving.

I am not suggesting that you engage in so much self-care that you forget everyone else. That would not be good either. I am suggesting a good balance of self-care and care for others.

And one final thought...Self-care is NOT selfish. It is self-preserving. It makes your life flow a LOT smoother. The happier and more balanced you are, the happier and more balanced others around you can be. Taking good care of yourself is actually the most loving thing you can do for others.

So there you have it! 100% certified, bona fide PERMISSION to take good care of YOU. Should anyone try to give you a guilt trip, have them read this article-or send them to me.

Written by Courtney Long

Courtney Long, MSW, LC, CHt is a Transformational Life Coach and Certified Hypnotherapist, trained at the award winning Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe, AZ. She obtained her Masters Degree in Social Work and Bachelors Degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. She is based in Phoenix, AZ yet serves clients worldwide.