Relative Weight: Why we need self-care

Lessons in self-care: the relative weight

When we start to discuss stress, its effects on us, and the necessity of self-care, I often come back to the popular story of the water bottle. 

It begins with a professor in front of his class. He holds up a water bottle and asks the class “How heavy do you think this bottle is?”

The class responds with a variety of answers and questions:

“How full is it?’


“A pound”

The professor says, “Okay, so relatively speaking, it’s pretty light, right? I can pick it up and put it down and there’s really little strain on me whatsoever.”

The class agrees.

“What would happen, if I picked up this bottle, though, and was told I could not put it back down for the rest of the day?” the professor continued. “Do you think my perception of its weight would change?”

The students of the class looked at each other and shrugged, then shook their heads. “Sure. Yeah. It would probably feel heavier to you, “ one student responded.

“Yes. Of course. It would be pretty annoying, wouldn’t it? And it may feel pretty heavy even before the day was over. Let’s take it one step further now. What if I picked up this water bottle and was told I could NEVER put it down? I had to carry it with me everywhere I went and everything I did involved the water bottle. What then?” the professor asked. 

Responses came in: “It would get in the way.” “It would feel so heavy!”

“Yes!” said the professor, “what else may happen? Do you think my hand would start to cramp? Or maybe my arm might become sore from carrying it constantly? I would feel it physically in my body. What about just the mental space it would take up? I would think about it constantly… how it gets in the way of driving, working. My sleep would suffer. Wouldn’t you think? If I had to hold the bottle through the night, can you imagine? My relationships would be strained because I would be thinking about the water bottle, rather than truly engaging and connecting with those around me. Just think of the far reaching effects a simple water bottle can have if we never put it down- it can be crushing.”

The class quietly nodded in agreement. 

The professor continued, “This water bottle represents your stresses. The events in your life that happen to you that you never take time to process or address. All too often stress hits us and we do not take time to care for our bodies, minds or emotions. Instead, we pile on the feeling of the new stress, along with all the others and carry on. The events, when we don’t take time for self-care, become heavier the longer we carry them. We become exhausted and tired. If I take the time to manage my stress, process my emotions and move my body… it’s the equivalent of setting down the water bottle, even for just a moment. It does not mean the water bottle goes away. It just means when we go to pick it up again, we are stronger. We are refreshed and we are able to manage a bit better than our previous weary self. Set down the bottle.”

This story allows perspective every time I read it. A simple concept, that often is lost in its simplicity, becomes clear again. The value of taking care of ourselves ON A DAILY BASIS cannot be underestimated. It is not selfish. It is not self-serving. It is life-giving and necessary. We often make our own self-care the last thing on our list of things to do today. Let’s change that. You create energy for everyone and everything else, when you take care of yourself first. 

How will you set down your water bottle today?

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