Watching my young daughter has taught me an important lesson about our basic needs – eating, sleeping, playing and love. When all of these needs are met, she’s the happiest baby on the planet. But when just one is missing, she cries and cries as if the world is coming to an end.
As adults, we often forget that we have these basic needs too. Just because we’ve trained our minds to ignore them, override or rationalize them away, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In fact, they’re still at the core of our health and happiness.
So to live happily (and to avoid the adult version of baby tantrum – PMS mood swings), it’s important that we include these four basic tenets into our self-care routine.
Self-care #1: Get enough sleep
Babies need 14-18 hours of sleep a day. They sleep at night and take multiple naps during the day. A tired baby is not a happy camper. And neither are we. When I sleep well, I’m happy, sharp and optimistic. When I don’t, I feel tired, crappy and irritable – and I’m more prone to have PMS symptoms.
For this reason I put sleep on the top of my self-care list. If for some reasons I’m unable to get a good night’s sleep (e.g., getting up to attend to my baby), I try to make it up with a short nap during the day – which can make a world of difference for me.
The left-brain argument is also pretty strong. A lifestyle that burns the candle at both ends (day and night) puts our body under stress, which triggers the overproduction of cortisol. When the body needs to produce more cortisol to deal with stress, it’ll make less reproductive hormones, such as progesterone and DHEA (the mother hormone of estrogen and testosterone). So not getting enough sleep is a sure way to create various hormone imbalances and an overall suboptimal physical health. It also affects mental function and our emotional wellbeing.
Self-care #2: Eat well
My baby eats every four hours. When her blood sugar gets low, she freaks out. We do too. Maybe we won’t cry out loud, but we do inside. We get cranky and irritable. And our cortisol is again working overtime to deal with the stress. So it’s important that we eat every four hours or so to stabilize our blood sugar level, which helps balance our mood and maintain our physical energy and mental focus.
Food and water not only sustain our body, they nourish our soul as well, serving as a major source of enjoyment in our life. When we relate to food this way, we infuse a special healing effect when we take it in. (If you’re interested in learning more, I teach women how to make the kitchen a healing sanctuary, and how to use food to balance their bodies and menstrual cycles in our Free Period Guide.)
Self-care #3: Play
Babies love to play. It’s their way to get physical and explore the world. Their passion for life is contagious! But for us adults, everything becomes work. We dread going to our job, hitting the gym, going grocery shopping, paying the bills, or even playing with our kids, as our days seem filled with mundane obligations and an endless to-do-list.
Imagine what would happen if we see everything not as a chore but a form of play instead. What if play means to exercise our body, do our work with joy, or just be silly and have fun? What if we bring curiosity, presence, enjoyment and a sense of humor with us wherever we go and to whatever we do? Our lives would be quite different, wouldn’t they?
Self-care #4: Love
Babies’ days are filled with hugs, kisses and smiles. They’re just being themselves. Whether they’re happy or cranky, calm or fussy, they’re loved nevertheless. As adults, we get fewer and fewer hugs, kisses and smiles. And we can’t just be ourselves because we think that’s not enough for us to be loved.
We’re hungry for love. That’s why we get angry, afraid and depressed. And that’s why we gradually lose our passion for life. So it’s exceedingly important that we bring love back into our lives – starting with being kinder to ourselves and loving ourselves a little more.
This means taking care of our needs, whether they’re physical, mental, emotional or spiritual, just as we would attend to a baby when she needs us. It means hanging out with people who support our health and wellbeing, doing our best while accepting our limitations, learning from our mistakes without criticism or condemnation. It means protecting our boundaries and standing up for ourselves. And most importantly it means being true to who we are and loving ourselves just as we are.
Even when my daughter was still in my belly, I knew that she would be my teacher. And she is. She’s teaching me a lot about life – the essence of it and what’s important about it. I hope this post will inspire you to get in touch with your most basic needs, so you can take good care of them – and yourself!