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Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: How can I make time for self-care without guilt?

Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

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Q: In your article “How can I Manage my Anger?” you mentioned self-care as a key for controlling aggression. Please give examples of self-care and how to factor in the time without feeling guilty about it?

A: Thank you so much for asking this question! I’m glad that you did because it’s a struggle for many in Latter-day Saint culture. We try to follow the Savior’s admonition to love and serve another so much that we sometimes forget that, in the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” there is an overlooked commandment to love ourselves!

We need look no further than the Savior’s life to see that self-care is a righteous, Christlike principle. As I explored in a previous article, after creating the world for our benefit and to obey His Father’s command, “He rested” (Genesis 2:2). Though Jesus spent day after day teaching, ministering, and healing, He also deliberately escaped the crowds to recharge (see Matthew 5:1; Matthew 8:18; Matthew 14:22, Matthew 15:39). When the disciples labored against the storm, Jesus slept below deck and allowed them to do the work themselves until He was absolutely needed (see Mark 4:38). When the demands of the people were not aligned with the work that He had been sent to do, “He departed again into a mountain Himself alone” (John 6:15). Christ was selfless. He was giving. He was kind. He also took care of Himself so He could continue to be those things. We would do well to follow His example.

So what does that look like? It means different things for different people, but I would start by repeating what I’ve heard said: “If you don’t have time to pray and study the scriptures, you’re busier than God ever meant you to be.” Taking time to find your spiritual center, to connect with Heavenly Father, and to receive guidance from the Spirit is the most important self-care that any of us can do.

► You may also like: 4 Easy Ways to Avoid Burnout: Why Self-Care Is Anything but Selfish

From there it’s really a “choose-your-own-adventure.” The most important thing, in my opinion, is that whatever you do helps you to recharge so that you can give your best in building the kingdom, caring for your family and your neighbor, and performing your labors.

Brigham Young taught: 


The Lord never commanded me to dance, yet I have danced: you all know it, for my life is before the world. Yet while the Lord has never commanded me to do it, he has permitted it. I do not know that he ever commanded the boys to go and play at ball, yet he permits it. I am not aware that he ever commanded us to build a theater, but he has permitted it, and I can give the reason why. Recreation and diversion are as necessary to our well-being as the more serious pursuits of life (DBY, 238).

Do you like to read? Read. Do you like to go to the theater, see plays, watch movies, play sports, go hiking, visit with friends, or develop a talent? Do it with the Spirit, do it in moderation and balance with everything else you have going on, but do it.

How do you make time for it without feeling guilty? By recognizing that if you don’t make time for enjoyment, fun, laughter, meditation, reflection, exercise, or connection, you will burn out and will be of no use to anybody, including the Lord.

I’m a therapist. My job places a heavy emotional, mental, and spiritual toll on me. So I run. I lift weights. I play with my kids. I watch movies. I read for the enjoyment of it. This helps me to be prepared to face my work with optimism and serve my clients with renewed energy.

I’ve found that it’s easier to take time for yourself when you support those in your circle in doing the same. For example, when I insist that my wife find time for relaxation or to pursue her passionate interests, she comes back refreshed and supportive of me in doing the same.

Self-care. It’s a true and righteous principle.

God bless you. I hope this helps.

SUGGESTED READINGS

“Happiness and Social Enjoyment,” Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young

"Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: Balancing Self-Care with Helping Others"

Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT, Contributor

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily gospel-based relationship tips. 

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