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You can't pour from an empty cup

Updated: Dec 13, 2018

You know when you’re on an airplane and they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping the child next to you? Why do you think that’s the protocol? Seriously, it sounds a little cruel to me sometimes to think about helping myself if I have a terrified child next to me who needs me.

The reason is because helping yourself first is your best chance at longevity. If you don’t have oxygen yourself, how will you help the child get oxygen? You won’t… and then you’ll both be in trouble.

So sometimes it’s a necessity to put ourselves first – hmm, this is a strange concept to think about isn’t it?

When you hear the words self-care, what do you think of? You might think of a luxurious bubble bath filled with essential oils or an extravagant date night out with your partner - but in reality self-care doesn’t have to be any of these things. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to spoil ourselves, but the self-care I’m talking about is required for survival – so you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking it.

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Have you heard this saying before? It is one of my favorites because it is such a great reminder to fill up our cups, otherwise we will run out of good to give.

Everyday that you go to work, focus on others in any capacity (customer service, support, etc.), tend to your child or partner’s needs, clean your home, donate your time, take care of your pet, cheer up a friend, cook, volunteer your time – you are pouring from your cup. You are giving and distributing what you have to offer this world. You might not think that these everyday monotonous things are very significant, but I’m here to tell you that yes, those things are valid and they are so important to the world around you. Even if your primary "thing" is a boring desk job that you hate - I would even say self-care is especially important if your thing is a boring desk job that you hate! You are pouring and pouring your energy into so much every day.

So, you need to fill up. Notice that I didn’t say “should” or “could”. No, you NEED to fill up, or else you will run out. Running out is not fun and can actually be dangerous (see oxygen mask example above).

What does it look like when we run out? It looks like increased anxiety, depression, fatigue, and irritability. How will you continue to pour from your cup if you have run out yourself?

Below I’m going to list my favorite free & simple self-care tips. Some of them are very small things that can help fill your cup in different ways. I’m also going to include my favorite splurge/luxury self-care tips because, treat yo’self.

- Listen to your favorite happy song

- Snuggle with your pet

- Close your eyes and take a deep breath. What do you hear? What do you smell?

- Play a (safe) prank on your spouse

- Take 5 extra minutes in the shower to enjoy the textures and scents of your favorite soaps

- Go to sleep 10 minutes earlier than usual

- Draw, color, or paint

- Play a video game

- Look in the mirror and notice something you like about your looks

- Name 3 things you like about your personality

- Read something you enjoy

- Scroll through Pinterest and look at puppy pictures

- Pick out an outfit you feel confident in

- Eat comfort food

- Look around the room and name 3 things that make you happy

- Look up funny memes

- Play with “kid” things – slime, playdoh, or legos!

- Treat yourself to coffee, tea or cocoa

- Watch your favorite movie

- Take a bubble bath and watch Netflix at the same time. I know, right?

- Go out to dinner with a friend

- Paint your nails, or get them done professionally

- Exercise by doing something active you enjoy

- Go to see a therapist (see what I did there?)

- Go buy yourself something, if you have the funds

- Work on a garden or enjoy the colors of your plants

- Put on your favorite lotion and take a minute to enjoy the scent

- Put your phone away

- Do a puzzle or play a board game

What is your favorite self-care go to? What is something you want to add to your day? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments.

Take care of yourself!


Hallie Henely, LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Mental health advocate

Holding Hands Family Therapy, PLLC

West Des Moines, Iowa

Don't be shy, email me!

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