Stress & Self Esteem, 3: Nurturing Yourself

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The popular view of ‘self-nurturing’ seems to focus on making ourselves feel good. Experts in magazine columns exhort us to be nice to ourselves, to speak gently to ourselves, and to ensure we’re not so disciplined that we forget to treat ourselves to something that feels nice once in a while. You know the kind of advice we’re talking about: get a weekly massage, or meet up with friends for a coffee on a regular basis. None of which we’d necessarily disagree with – but we also suggest that self-nurturing goes much deeper.

The problem with many of the recommended techniques, though, is that they’re surface-level gestures. Much like sticking plasters that are beneficial if applied over a clean cut (but won’t do much if the wound’s gone septic!), techniques like a weekly cappuccino routine won’t go far in improving our self-esteem unless they build on a foundation in which our basic needs met.

So what are these basic needs? Not surprisingly, they’re much the same as the basic needs we have to meet to build anything else in our lives. A core principle of Optimum Life is that *everything* is interconnected, which means self-esteem doesn’t exist off in a little category of its own. Basic needs include:


The need to nourish our bodies with nutritious food (‘nurture’, ‘nourish’ and ‘nutrition’ all come from the same root word in Latin), the need to move our bodies so that all of our systems are maintained at optimum levels, and the need for sufficient rest


The need nourish our minds and hearts with thoughts and beliefs that energise and support, rather than sabotage; and the need to surround ourselves with people who do the same


The need to nourish our spirits by connecting with the spiritual, however we might personally find that connection. It could be prayer or meditation, but could equally be time spent alone walking in nature, or listening to our favourite music. The channel to the connection doesn’t matter – it’s the connection itself that meets our needs.

Of course, the added advantage of addressing basic needs first when trying to build self-esteem, is that it sends a clear, pre-emptive message to your Inner Critic (which will often try to tell you that looking after yourself is selfish) that you’re worth taking care of. And that, in itself, can be a huge step forward in building self-esteem.

But if that’s not enough, and you feel you don’t deserve to spend this time (or money) on yourself, you might want to remember the last safety demonstration you saw on an airplane (if you’ve never flown, you’ve probably still seen it in a movie). Remind your Critic that in *every* demonstration, passengers are told that if oxygen masks drop, they must fit their own before helping others. Most people would agree this makes sense – after all, if you’re short of oxygen yourself, you’re not going to be in any kind of position to help anyone else fit theirs. So is it so hard to extrapolate from airplanes to everyday life?

As with anything, in order to give something (whether it be oxygen, energy or time), we need to actually have it to start with. We simply can’t give what we don’t have. Just as, to manage the task of fitting someone else’s oxygen mask, you need a minimal flow of oxygen to your own brain; to meet the needs of others, you first need to make sure your own are met. And meeting our own needs is exactly what self-nurture is all about.

Once, and only once, you’ve begun to address these basic needs do we suggest that you start exploring the suggestions of the many experts out there. Not all suggestions will work for everyone – but the only way to find out whether something will work for you is to try it.

Finally, if you discover that you’re not meeting your basic needs, but aren’t quite sure what to do to change that (or know what you need to do, but somehow never seem to get around to making it happen), you may well find asking for help from others useful.

Our final article in this series on Stress and Self-esteem investigates how best to do this, but if you’d like to benefit from personal coaching with a qualified stress management counsellor before then, please don’t hesitate to contact me to find out how I can best help you.

Until the next article, may every day bring you closer to your Optimum Life.

Copyright 2005 Tanja Gardner