It’s hard to care for someone else when our own tank is empty. When we haven’t cared for ourselves properly, we often start dropping the ball at home, work, with friends, and in other areas of our lives. Caring for ourselves requires meeting our own needs holistically: mind, body, and soul. Unfortunately, when many of us think of filling our tank, we often seek after things that give a quick release, but fail to have any long-lasting benefit on us. When we are feeling spent, many of us commonly pursue things that provide immediate gratification, such as junk food, entertainment, drugs, sex, or an adrenaline rush. The problem with these pursuits is that they are like caffeine, they give us a quick burst of energy, but it isn’t too long before we are in need of more to keep up with life’s constant demands. Today, we are going to explore what we can do to fill up our tank effectively so that we can keep ourselves going longer.
I want to stress the importance of making holistic choices as we pursue long lasting care for ourselves. It is not enough to eat right and stay fit (though these are both an excellent place to start). We not only need to exercise our bodies, but also our minds and souls as well. Focusing on only one aspect of our being is like feeding only one of our children. The one child is going to be healthy and strong, but the rest of the kids are going to be crying out in desperation. I know that this is a pretty weighty analogy to be making. However, when we don’t take care of ourselves holistically, it can be just as detrimental to our children’s well-being as it would be for us to stop feeding them. When parts of us are empty, we are likely to decrease the positive quality time we spend with family, we often say and do things we later regret, and we may even fail to take care of our children’s basic needs. These are all things that our children, and our partner can’t live without. That is why, if we are going to take caring for ourselves seriously, we need to do it holistically.
Let’s begin with discussing some ways that we can care for our bodies. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (75 minutes of strenuous exercise) per week and 2 sessions (working each major muscle group as a set, for 12-15 repetitions each) of strength exercises per week. Here is how I break down aerobic and strength exercises: aerobic exercises refer to activities that focus on increasing our lung/heart efficiency, giving us access to energy needed to accomplish strenuous tasks; strength exercises refer to activities that help build our muscles to meet greater demands on them, such as lifting or carrying heavier objects. We should be getting, at minimum, 30 minutes total of exercise per day.
Diet is another way we can care for our body. Here are the serving suggestions for an adult male per day:
- 5 servings of fruits/vegetables; 6 servings of whole grain breads, cereals, and or starchy vegetables; 2 servings of low-fat dairy products; 2 servings of lean meat/fish/chicken.
- A serving would be as follows:
- 1 cup of fresh vegetables or fruit
- 1/2 cup of starchy vegetables or dried beans
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 cup of dry cereal or ½ cup cooked cereal
- 1/3 cup of rice or pasta
- 1 cup of low-fat milk
- 3 ounces of lean meat, chicken, or fish
Finally, we can increase our physical health by getting the amount of sleep that we need each night. For those of us that work the night shift and sleep during the day, the same concept applies. It is recommended that an adult male get about 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night/day.
Keeping these three physical goals in mind well help keep our bodies in tip-top shape.
Next step, we need to take care of our minds. My first recommendation is to be honest with yourself. When there are discrepancies among what we say, do, and believe, a build up of stress and fatigue will likely follow. Another way we can care for our mind is to take mental breaks as needed. It is recommended that for every 45-50 minutes of work, there is a 15 minute rest period. Third, we can care for our minds by challenging our brains with new tasks/stimulus. When we try something new, our minds create neural pathways that allow us to increase our problem solving skills, understood vocabulary, visual/spatial reasoning, attention span, and memory. Finally, we can care for our minds by increasing our awareness. Often, we jump from task to task, without taking in the plethora of information around us. We miss the little intricacies and nuances that make up the world we live in. As Sherlock Holmes said, “You see, but you do not observe.” Taking time to observe the world around us will help to focus our attention and collect useful information for making wise-minded decisions.
I would say that out of all the different areas of our life that need attention, our soul is the part that is left starving most often. As I mentioned before, I view the world through the perspective of my relationship with Jesus Christ. I realize that not everyone shares my perspective. My goal here will be to share from my own experience what I have needed to care for my soul. Please take from this section what you find most helpful.
When caring for my soul, I have learned to address the following concerns. First, I pursue healthy relationships with other people and with God. Relationships allow me to build trust, pull away from self-centered thinking, share my hopes and concerns openly, and to ask for help when needed. Second, I find new ways to development character and virtue. I have found that my thoughts and feelings are most disturbed when I am not growing in my relationship with God. I am not meant to remain stagnant, but to grow in maturity and wisdom. Third, I seek opportunities to commune with other Christ-followers. People who share my beliefs are an encouragement to me and help keep me grounded. Finally, I put my faith into practice by following the example that Christ has set for me. Christ was active in caring for others, taking God’s scripture to heart, conversing with his Father, and offering discipleship to those that were willing to listen. Christ knew that I needed these things as well to care for my soul.
I want to finish by saying that not all days will be alike. Some days, we will be able to push through without having to take as much time for ourselves. Other days, we may need to pull back and recharge more. This may be especially true when we are met with devastating circumstances. Though we need to care for others during challenging times, we may need to give ourselves some grace when we do not have as much to offer as we usually would when we are at our best. I try to remember that I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to give it my best.
I am interested to hear what you do to care for your mind, body, and soul. Feel free to leave a comment below.
Brian Faust is the Fatherhood Program Coordinator of Rock Solid Fatherhood in Warsaw, IN. He is the husband of the world’s best wife and father of three beautiful girls. He has nearly a decade of mentorship and mental health experience. Brian has a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Grace College. It is his desire to come alongside men of all walks of life as they embrace their role as partner and father with rock solid strength.