Self-Care or Self-Medication: Which Path Are You On?

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Self-Care or Self-Medication: Which Path are You On?

I’m beginning to believe that every person and every leader, whether they intend to be or not, is on a path.

One path is a conscious choice. The other subconscious.

One path is healthy. The other is unhealthy.

One path leads to life. The other, ultimately, doesn’t.

So which path does every leader find themselves on?

I believe each of us is either on the path of self-care or self-medication.

I believe each of us is either on the path of self-care or self-medication. Click To Tweet

I had never heard of the term ‘self-medication‘ until I got married. But my wife Toni is a health care professional and she uses it to describe what people do to cope with the stress, anxiety, and difficulty in life.

When stress and life overwhelm you, you will either choose to respond to it in a healthy way (self-care) or an unhealthy way (self-medication).

And when you think of self-medication, don’t just think of pills or alcohol. As we’ll see below, there are some very ‘socially acceptable’ ways even for Christians to self-medicate.

But the results are still numbing.

The choice is yours, but the first reality is this:

Self-care beats self-medicating.

Self-care beats self-medicating. Click To Tweet

The second reality is just as important:

If you don’t intentionally choose the path of self-care, you’ll likely end up on the path of self-medication.

If you don't intentionally choose the path of self-care, you'll likely end up on the path of self-medication. Click To Tweet

That’s why it’s so important for you as a leader to choose which path you’ll walk.

Here are 5 ways Christian leaders self-medicate:

1. Food.

Being overweight or even obese is almost normal in some Christian circles. As someone who has to watch my weight very carefully (and who does not understand how anyone can be a natural bean pole), I empathize. And I also know I often eat when I’m not hungry, but when I’m upset or just bored. Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.

2.  Overwork.

Again, working too many hours is socially acceptable, even rewardable in some circles. As a recovering workaholic, I know. But all work and no play doesn’t just make you dull, it makes you disobedient.

3. Gossip.

It’s just a theory, but I think when we feel bad about ourselves, we say bad things about other people. And that’s just sinful.

4.  Shopping.

Whether it’s retail therapy at the mall, the bigger house, the better car, the latest tech, the designer brands, Christians can easily numb their pain by joining the endless accumulation of things that end up in a landfill site one day.

5. Substance Abuse.

Whether it’s a drink every day when you get home, an ‘overuse’ or misuse of your legitimate prescription, or even the use of illegal drugs, Christian leaders can fall into the classic pattern of turning to a substance rather than turning to God for relief.

So if you don’t want to end up self-medicating, what do you do?

Here are 10 healthy options for self-care:

1. A great daily time with God.

Whatever method you use (here are some ideas), time with God matters. And your personal walk with God is often a casualty of ministry. Why is that? Shouldn’t be!

2. Exercise.

Being out of shape physically means you will never be in top shape mentally or emotionally. I don’t like exercise either, so I invested in a road bike. I get asked all the time what I ride, so here you go: a 2009 Specialized Roubaix. And I bought it used (1/3 of its original price). It doesn’t have to break the bank.  And yes, I love it!

3. Healthy diet.

You are what you eat. Dumping the processed foods for whole foods can make a big difference.

4. Proper sleep.

If I don’t get 7-8 hours semi-regularly, I feel it. Sadly, sometimes others do too.

5. Intentional white space in your calendar.

You can schedule time off and down time in the same way you schedule meetings. Just do it! I wrote a post on time management that links to many time management tips here.

You can schedule time off and down time in the same way you schedule meetings. Just do it! Click To Tweet

6. Healthy friendships.

Ministry can be draining. When was the last time you hung out with a friend you didn’t need to ‘minister to’? Who makes you laugh until you cry? Go hang out with them. Regular doses of life-giving relationships can make such a difference.

7. Margin.

I am at my most kind when I have the most margin. This is true in terms of my calendar, but also true of finances. How can you be generous if you spend all your money on yourself?

8. Hobbies.

Writing and blogging are my hobbies these days. You can be much more interesting than that. Take some pictures. Take up hiking. Get crafty. Study the constellations.

9. Family Time.

Take a road trip, go out for dinner. Have some fun! Play hockey in the driveway or shoot hoops.

10. Coaching and counseling.

For about 10 years I’ve had coaches and counselors who have helped me get through road bumps and life issues. Invaluable. Yes I pay them money, but it’s an investment in my family, my church and my life. I’m different and better for it.

I know at the end of my life, I will be so much better for pursuing the path of self-care rather than the path of self-medication. One takes intentional planning, but it’s so worth it.

I know at the end of my life, I will be so much better for pursuing the path of self-care rather than the path of self-medication. Click To Tweet

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What do you think?

What are you learning about self-care? How have you seen people self-medicate?

I’d love to hear what you’re learning on this!

Can't find the time to get it all done? Become a high-impact leader without burning out (or sacrificing yourself).

Without a new strategy and approach, it's easy to continue to:

  • Sacrifice family on the altar of work
  • Overcommit and underdeliver
  • Have no time for what you actually want to do
  • Struggle to get time off to refuel and relax

Worst of all, other people—other tasks, jobs, and projects—will continue to hijack your life.

It’s time to change that by implementing a strategy that works.

At Your Best is a proven strategy to get your time, energy, and priorities working in your favor. It's my step-by-step online course that will help you overcome stress, find a sustainable pace without losing impact, and be far more productive at work.

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This message so profoundly impacted us, that we named our annual company theme, “At Our Best,” using Carey’s system and resources to strengthen our culture and make health a priority this year.”

Sean CannellFounder and CEO, Think Media

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.