Self-care is the opposite to selfish!

RightFood4U Blog Stress Effect On Food and Mood - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin
Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

December 2, 2020

updated 4 Dec 2023

In this article, I’d like to explain why self-care is the opposite to selfish and why self-care is absolutely vital especially after these crazy months we’ve just been through.

This year 2020 has been such a crazy year and no event in history has impacted so many people globally so profoundly. Many have been experiencing feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and lack of motivation and direction.

However, it has also brought about some positive changes. We have seen an unprecedented unity (as we were all in the same boat). We have realised the importance of a community and good neighbourhoods. We have done things we had never imagined possible this time last year.

As humans, we are adaptable! And we will get through this crisis as well.

The whole world is experiencing this pandemic. While the rules and regulations of lockdown are different from country to country and the incidents are different – it is affecting every single human being in this world.

Why is it worse for some than it is for others though? You might say, “But it really is more difficult for me because…”

I would argue though that it does not matter how difficult it actually IS, or what kind of situation YOU are in.

It is never the situation, it is how you deal with the situation.

I read a really interesting quote recently:

“In the West, we are always saying ‘panic, panic everything is out of control’; whereas in the Buddhist world they say ‘relax, relax, everything is out of control.”

What this is really saying, is that when things feel out of control, or when we are stressed and overwhelmed, this is the time, when we need to relax most. This is the time when we need self-care.

However, what I keep hearing from friends, family and clients is:

  • “I just haven’t got the time to meditate”
  • “I am too busy to cook myself a nice meal”
  • “I have too many things on my plate, I just can’t take time for a hot bath at the moment”


  • “Everyone needs me, I can’t afford to take time out for myself”

You might have heard the analogy to the aeroplane recommendation of asking you to put on your mask first and then attend to the children. If you are not looking after yourself, sooner or later, you will crash!

  • If you are not looking after yourself, sooner or later, you will become reactive to small things and might snap at family members.
  • If you are not looking after yourself, sooner or later, you won’t be able to concentrate and focus at work, you won’t have the energy to do the things you love and you don’t feel well in yourself.
  • You might then turn to foods that make you feel worse.
  • You might stop exercising and finding lots of excuses and feel worse.
  • You might refuse to accept that you need a little bit of self-care and love.
Do you feel you deserve to be loved? Do you feel you deserve to be cared for?

Do you want to feel at your best possible – mentally and physically? You might want to ignore the first signs & symptoms, which can be cognitive

  • Memory problems,
  • Inability to concentrate,
  • Poor judgment,
  • Seeing only the negative,
  • Anxious or racing thoughts,
  • Constant worrying

Or emotional

  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness

Or Physical

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds

Or Behavioural

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

If you find more than 5 signs or symptoms of the above list, I highly recommend you start looking at more self-care.

We often deny that we are stressed, especially if there is nothing major out of sync in our lives.

But I think this pandemic is a stressful event for EVERY SINGLE PERSON on this planet. It’s highly traumatic to be living with this constant fear that we are constantly being reminded of in the news, going outside of our house, when we need to wear masks. “Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I doing enough?” Every little cough or sniffle “Did I catch something? Could I be spreading it?”

And this on top of our usual little triggers that cause stress responses several times during the day: Traffic jam, screaming kids, annoying boss, busy supermarket, computer crashing, no wifi when in an important meeting, the list is endless!

Realising the triggers and realising that this is a stressful situation we are all in currently, is the FIRST step.

The second step is to set time aside for yourself.

Don’t wait until you find the time and squeeze a bit of self-care into your already busy schedule. Make an appointment with yourself, as if you were going to go to a GP or a hairdresser.

Write it into your diary – 1 hour – non-negotiable!

This is not selfish!

Quite the opposite, being selfish is usually harming others and impacting on the lives of others. If you are not well, if you are snappy, if you don’t have energy – you are no fun to be around with! You are impacting others in a negative way.

Quick Check-in:

How does reading this make you feel? Do you “hear” yourself saying things such as “a sure, it’s good for her to say this, but in my situation, this is not possible” “Great for you! You are self-employed and don’t have any children/parents to look after!” “I just haven’t got the time, you don’t understand!”

What kind of emotions come up for you at the thought of “just sitting there, doing a breathing exercise”, “spending money on myself”, “taking time off work”, “saying no”.

I used to feel so so guilty spending money on myself, especially as I wasn’t earning as much as my husband did. I still feel “guilty” taking time out to do nothing, when there’s still such a long to-do-list waiting. I was brought up in a home were staring into the sky and doing nothing was regarded as “lazy”, and being labelled as “lazy” was one of the worse things you could be.

However, in the last few years, especially since I’m working in this area of helping people, I have come to realise, that I am no good at helping people if I am not on top of my own health – physically and mentally.

The people you work with deserve you to be at your best!

There were a few years, when, in my job as a tour guide, I felt very stressed. I could feel how I was getting more and more reactive especially towards the end of the season. I felt the need to be alone more frequently and any delays would drive me mad. Even though I wanted the tourists to have a great holiday experience, I was struggling. Since changing my diet to a more balanced one, my stress levels and my reactivity to stressful situations has completely decreased. I would find myself in a situation that used to make me angry, and I’d be watching myself to “explode”, but nothing would happen. This was purely from changing my diet.

However, being mentally in a better place later allowed me to see other things more clearly, and I realised the benefits of a regular meditation practise and of regular journaling. It’s a package. It is all connected. One does not work without the other.

I know that if I want to continue to serve my clients, whether these clients are visitors to Irelands, my clients attending my retreats, my one-to-one clients or my participants in groups or talks, I need to be on top of myself. I need to look after myself first – and only then can I help others well. And that’s what I love!

So, here are my top tips and links for relaxation and self-care:

Many people think Meditation is sitting in bliss, having no thoughts in this zen-like image. However, meditation is NOT about getting rid of thoughts, but rather not getting caught up in your thoughts.

Taking just a few minutes out in your day to close your eyes and watch your breath is enough.

If you do not have 10 minutes in your day to do this, then you REALLY REALLY need it! Those 10 minutes will give you more clarity and more efficiency to work for the rest of your day.


You can practise mindfulness in every aspect of your life, but being fully present with what you do. For example, if you are completely absorbed in your task you are mindful, this could be walking, cooking, painting, ironing.

Accepting everything as is. Stress happens when you want your situation to be different.

Practising mindfulness becomes easier when you are also meditating, which is why a mindfulness course always involves meditation as well.


You can absolutely relax doing a walk or a run, but once exercise becomes too strenuous, it can be an extra stressor. Again, relaxation should be doing something mindfully, and it should help switching off the mind. Watching a thriller can be absorbing but often it also causes cortisol to raise. Mindlessly watching TV is not considered relaxation.


All yoga practises have a relaxing effect on our bodies as the postures require you to be fully present. Some practises such as Yin yoga has even more relaxing elements and is very slow moving. Really great way also to detox.

Breathing Exercises

There are tons of various breathing exercises out there and all are valid. Find one that you find appealing to you and you are most likely to stick to.


Bringing the “stuff” from your busy mind onto paper makes it so much easier to deal with it. Analysing what’s going on, asking yourself questions, showing gratitude, setting daily goals, reflecting on your day. Journaling is so powerful, and I suggest anyone should try for at least 2 weeks. “Brain Dump”.

I always suggest it’s best to have all of the above 6 incorporated into your daily routine!

Apps to download

Most of those apps have a few trial sessions that you get for free when you download them, and then you get the option to purchase various packages. Find one that you like and that appeals to you. So try out as many as possible. I personally love HEADSPACE as it offers so much variety, but I know many people can’t stand his voice. Find what suits, try each out for a couple of days and ask yourself “How likely am I to listen to this EVERY day?”

  • Headspace
  • Calm
  • Insight Timer
  • Chopra
People to follow that work with mindset, stress, relaxation, etc
Natural and nutritional help
  • Blood sugar balancing
  • Gut health (probiotics, more vegetables, fermented foods)
  • Nutrients (increase intake of vegetables)
  • Avoid the stressors (processed and refined foods, toxin)
  • Avoid food intolerances

With the following supplements, please check with your health practitioner first to see if these are suitable for you!

  • Ashwaghanda
  • Rhodiola
  • Siberian Ginger
  • Magnesium
  • Omega 3
  • CBD oil
Other techniques and methods
  • EFT (emotional freedom technique)
  • CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy)
  • NLP (neuro-linguistic programming)
  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy Massage

You May Also Like:

How do you manage to stay so slim?

How do you manage to stay so slim?

“How do you manage to stay so slim, when you are eating so much?” 3 “hacks” to stay slim without food restrictions I’ve recently been away with a few friends on a fully organised tour programme where meals were included and where we spent a lot of time eating. One...

How Golf helps you live longer and healthier

How Golf helps you live longer and healthier

Golf for longevity When we think why golf might be good for us, most people will think it's because of the exercise you're getting while out there. But most other sports involve some form of movement that is healthy and contributes to a longer life. What makes golf...

Why an All-or-Nothing approach to healthy eating works best

Why an All-or-Nothing approach to healthy eating works best

PRESS THE RESET BUTTON IN YOUR BODY FOR BEST RESULTS! I am sure everyone agrees that the days of fad “Strawberry” or “Egg” diets are well gone. Everyone knows now that fad diets don’t work and while they’ll help you lose weight, you’re most likely to put it back on...