“Purpose is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s needs.”Frederick Buechner, American author and Presbyterian minister
A note to the reader: If you haven’t read my previous blog post called “Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First,” you may want to check that out before reading this post. This is the second in a series about self-care.
Alright, so you’ve taken care of yourself. You’ve taken your soothing bath, done your nails, watched an episode of your favorite TV show, read your favorite book, or baked some cookies. Whatever fills your cup! Seriously, if you haven’t done that yet, please STOP READING and go do something for yourself. Anything will do.
Now that you’re prepared, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Because life is not all rainbows and unicorns, my friends.
As a former teacher, I am watching the current conversation(s) about when and how to reopen schools pretty closely. It has been a challenging time for us all, with many sides to the story, but my main takeaway is that everyone involved is feeling the anxiety and pressure of balancing the different scenarios that could play out. Between parents that need to go back to work and teachers that are concerned about safety and the reality of our new lives, there’s a lot to unpack there. Which brings me to today’s topic, what I am calling step #2 in self-care: service to others.
Service to others was an important part of my childhood. I was taught by the many adults in my life to empathize with pretty much everyone and everything, so that makes it difficult to ignore the plight of others. Although sometimes a hindrance (flashback to me crying over a beaver that got hit by a car – it was one of the more traumatizing events in my memory), it’s always been something I’m proud of. I do my best to understand where someone is coming from and go from there. Growing up in a local church community, I was taught that not only should you feel empathy for others, but you should also act on that empathy with service to others. I quickly discovered that not only was serving others helpful to them, but it also helped me! I felt great when I did something nice for someone else, whether it was just a passing smile or helping an elderly congregation member with their yard work. All I knew was that this was a great feeling!
As usual, I prefer to support what I’m saying about a subject with some cold, hard facts (or in this case, some warm, fuzzy facts!!!). I am not one to assume that just because I experience something, it is true for everyone. Was this something that only I had experienced, or was it a universal thing that everyone can experience for themselves?
In Helping Others, You Help Yourself
In my quick search for information about the benefits of service to others, I came upon an article from Psychology Today. The article explains that there is this term called “social regulation of emotion.” Basically, we can help each other regulate our emotions! Which is GREAT news, because goodness knows we are all in need of some help regulating some major emotions right now. I am happy to report that if you know someone who is feeling down, YOU can help him or her through some proven methods. I will link the article here so that you can check it out for yourself, if you’re interested. Bottom line: this is so good to hear!
One of the most interesting things I read in the article was that just by intending to be generous, we can generate neural change (yes, that’s neural, like in your brain itself!) and feel happier. Now, not to be too judgy, but I would argue that even though just committing to being nicer is great and all, I would like to suggest that you actually DO something meaningful.
You should have already read my previous blog post “Putting Your Oxygen Mask on First,” and if you haven’t, I highly recommend reading it asap. In it, I explain that you seriously need to “fill your cup,” “put on your oxygen mask,” or whatever you want to call it when you take care of yourself! Not only does this help you, but it also helps others because when YOU feel good, you can spread goodness, not all your icky feelings. Yes, icky. That’s what I said. Because I know that you know what that feels like. Because you’re still reading this 🙂
Back to my story about the school reopening situation. I am of course feeling worried, anxious, and lots of other negative emotions (ahem…angry…there, I said it!) on behalf of all parents, teachers, and children involved. So I was sitting here the other day, just feeling all that, and worrying and worrying. Then, I spoke to a close friend. She reminded me that I am a service-minded human being. She reminded me that I show others that I care by being generous and helping them. She reminded me that there IS something I can do. In fact, I brainstormed and came up with several ideas. And guess what? I already feel better! Just by making the commitment to do something for those parents, teachers, and students, I felt better. I guess the science is really true – just thinking about being of service to others helped me move out of my spiral of hopelessness.
- Write a note of encouragement to a teacher friend
- Make a little “care package” with treats for a teacher and drop them at their front door
- Donate to teachers through Donorschoose.org projects (see my “Giving Back” page for more information)
- Ask my teacher/parent friends what they really need right now, and LISTEN to them
- Advocate for causes I care about, especially with relation to education
Right now, serving others has taken on a whole new meaning… we have to reconsider both the method and the value of service to others. It is both more valuable than ever and more of a challenge.
What is important to you right now? What are you worried about? There’s a lot to be worried about, I know. But try and focus on one thing, just one, and do some brainstorming about how you can help someone else. There are so many ways to help, in spite of the current pandemic. Don’t forget to reach out to local organizations that may have suggestions in addition to your own great ideas.
So, after you have first “put on your oxygen mask,” remember to take time to do something for someone else. Self-care is nothing without the part where you take your renewed energy and mental health and pass it on to another person. Let’s build each other back up again, one kind act at a time.