I often wonder how it is that every one loves himself more than all the world and yet takes less account of his own judgement of himself than of the judgement of the world. At all events, if a god appeared to him or some wise master and bade him think and contemplate nothing within himself without at the same time speaking it out loud, he would not tolerate it even for a single day. Thus we respect whatever our neighbours will think about us more highly than we respect ourselves. Meditations, Marcus Aurelius 12.4
We hear a lot about self-care in popular culture, however, we don’t get to hear all too much about self-preservation, even though without no commitment to self-preservation, we can never truly feel the benefits of self-care.
What is Self-Preservation?
In the simplest terms, self-preservation is the act of keeping ourselves safe from harm, it is regarded as a basic human instinct which we are all equipped with – yet that doesn’t mean that everyone is using self-preservation effectively and always acting in their own best interest.
Self-Preservation kicks in when we are faced with danger and adversity, it is our self-preservation which triggers the fight or flight response which either gives us the impulse to confront the danger or move away from it. It’s an effective system in the wild, however, in modern-day situations, it is not always possible to use those two modes of self-preservation.
Any situation which causes us to become stressed can trigger the flight or fight response, such as getting stuck in a traffic jam and being late for work, waiting on an important phone call, or having a disagreement with our loved ones. Yet, in many cases, the adrenaline which is pouring through our bodies after triggering the response and preparing us to run or attack is coursing through our bodies with no outlet. This adrenaline which we aren’t able to use in turn causes anxiety and can cause panic attacks – which is exactly where self-care comes in, we will explain more about the differences of self-care and self-preservation down below.
The Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Preservation
As we pointed out above self-preservation is a natural instinct which we use to ensure our safety and survival – we don’t get a choice in making it happen. Self-care, on the other hand, is a conscious decision which we make for ourselves to make sure that we are taking the time to manage the stresses in our lives. These stresses are largely ones which self-preservation can’t help us with. For example, if we receive an unexpected bill which we are unable to pay. We can’t fight our way out of the situation, and we can’t really run away from the problem without it becoming much, much worse. Instead, we can choose to be kind to ourselves while we process the information and try and find a plausible way to remedy it.
The beauty of self-care is that there aren’t a set rule of activities to engage within, instead, it is knowing what helps you to relax personally. If reading a novel helps you to dissolve stress, or a walk in the park clears your mind, or drawing a bath helps you to relax, you can always opt for these methods. However, the three fundamental aspects of self-care involve exercise, a healthy diet, and meditation. With these three aspects of self-care covered, you will find that you have much less stress to contend with on a daily basis.
What Are the Limits of the Natural Human Condition?
As we have already learned, stress can be detrimental to our health, so, what happens when our jobs constantly require us to be face to face with stressful situations. While every job has the potential to be stressful, people in service positions such as soldiers, police, firefighters, and doctors are constantly experiencing stress on a daily basis. So, it comes as no surprise that people in these roles often experience burnout after being put through extensive chronic stress. It is worth noting here that not all stress is negative stress – stress and the cortisol which follows is what gives people the ability to run into a burning building or confront an armed attacker. However, chronic stress can cause fatigue, migraines, aching muscles, stomach problems, insomnia, chest pain, a low immune system, depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviour and mood swings.
This is why it is crucial for people in self-sacrificing service roles to practice sufficient self-care, because as selfless as people in these occupations may be, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be thanked for their efforts. Putting yourself through constant stress and seeing very little in the way of praise can often take its toll, therefore, we must take the responsibility to give ourselves the recognition.
Practising positive self-care isn’t selfish, despite what many people would believe, in fact, it puts us in a better position to help look after others. After all, you can’t fill with an empty cup! Do little things which remind you that you matter. Pamper yourself, indulge yourself – within reason. Don’t become a martyr to your own stress.
The Justifications of Our Fears
There are many different forms of stress in our 21st-century lives, there are also many different ways in which we justify our fears and what triggers the stress response. Take for example the different reactions people have when they see a spider. Spider phobias are one of the most commonly learned fears, and for everyone who is living in Australia, panic should kick in when you see a spider as they can be poisonous and harmful. But if you’re living in the UK and you see a harmless spider, the fear isn’t as well justified. Fear of spiders or any potentially dangerous creature is a survival instinct which allows us to kick into action when faced with a threat. However, our methods of self-preservation were much more suited to us when we didn’t have to think about mortgages, taxes, moving house, relationship breakdowns, getting fired, and so on.
Now our acts of self-preservation stem from fear and anxiety triggered by different stressful stimuli and it’s not always easy to see the best choice to make. For example teenagers who get involved with gangs because at the time it may seem to offer more safety by ‘joining with the pack’, however, it is easy to see how decisions such as these can lead to more trouble further down the line.
Therefore, it is important for us to understand how self-preservation works, so we can make more mindful decisions in our lives, which aren’t just simply acting in action and letting an outdated system rule us by jungle rules in the 21st century.