Work, family and social commitments create multiple demands on your time and energy, which can be stressful and exhausting, leading to ill health, low productivity and burnout. That’s why self-care is vital.
In 2005, the U.K.’s Department of Health defined self-care as a part of daily living: “It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well-being, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends and others in neighbourhoods and local communities.”
Self-care is about attending to your own needs — looking after yourself emotionally, physically and psychologically — and includes rest, pleasure and healthy habits. Unfortunately, some people equate self-care with self-indulgence, as if attending to your mind, body and spirit is a luxury. It’s quite the opposite. Self-care is a necessity.
Benefits of self-care include less stress and anxiety, increased happiness and positivity, better relationships, greater productivity, improvement to overall health and functioning, and even a longer life. In spite of this, most people, especially the middle-aged, ignore the signals and plow on. The Pew Research Center says that baby boomers spend half as much time as millennials on improving their own well-being through self-care (diet, fitness, therapy, life coaching and well-being apps).
In his TEDx presentation Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid, psychologist Dr. Guy Winch discusses the importance of looking after yourself — not just physically, but psychologically. He says, “We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness. And yet, even though there are scientifically-proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don’t. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should.” Let’s take that holistic view of self-care and look at some practical tips for looking after ourselves.
Self-Care At Work
If you spend half your waking hours at work, it’s important to incorporate some self-care. But how do you do this while on the clock? It can look like this:
• Be intentional and strategic about how you manage your time and energy. Think about what you want to achieve or do, professionally, and then set goals with plans to achieve them.
• Speak up. Do you need help? More time to finish a project? A break? All too often, without ever actually expressing their needs, people make assumptions about their bosses’ reactions. Identify what you need and why — and respectfully ask your boss for it.
• Delegate. Not delegating denies your direct reports opportunities to learn, grow and be visible.
• Learn to say no. It might be hard, but it’s not as hard as spending the weekend working because you couldn’t say no. Saying no is a valuable skill you will benefit from using in every area of your life.
Self-Care For You
We are so busy doing things for others and taking care of others that we often forget to practice kindness toward ourselves. How can you do that?
• Schedule self-care in your calendar. Create a daily ritual, whether it’s going to yoga or the gym, or just starting your day with a glass of hot lemon water.
• Stop “shoulding” yourself. Release yourself from the guilt of things you ‘should do,’ and make life easier. When you’re busy but think, “I should really bake brownies for the team,” instead give yourself permission to buy them. Rather than invite friends over for dinner, meet at a restaurant.
• Accept that things go wrong. Everyone makes mistakes, and everybody experiences failure. That’s a fact. How we deal with mistakes and learn from them is more important. Reframe it as a journey, not a destination. These things will pass, and you can move on.
• Avoid negative people. Many of us are self-critical enough without spending time with negative and judgmental friends and family. Put distance between yourself and these people.
• Comparison is the thief of joy. We each have different strengths and paths, so comparing yourself to another person is just setting yourself up for defeat. Focus on your own strengths and successes, not what others are doing.
• Digitally disconnect. Constant emails, social media and social issues can be draining. Disconnect from these dramas, and reconnect with yourself and with others around you in real life.
• Take a vacation. Book your annual vacation in advance — or take a spontaneous weekend trip.
Everything In Between
Our lives involve other people — friends, family, partners. These relationships need tending, but they are also a source of self-care.
• Fuel your love life. If you’re seeking love, set aside time for looking online and meeting up socially. If you are part of a couple, have a date night (even if it’s at home, after the kids are in bed).
• Outsource help. Household chores, picking up kids, making meals — these all require time and energy, both of which are often in short supply. Where you can, purchase services to free up time to do what is important to you and/or your family. In my experience, it’s is an investment that pays off.
• Make time for your friends. Whether it’s a meal, a drink or a call via phone or Skype, it’s important to stay connected and catch up.
• Relax to gain peace of mind and clarity. Practice mindfulness and meditation, which can help you to clear your mind, focus, consider your actions and cultivate a deeper awareness.
• Rekindle your passions. What did you love doing before you became so busy? How can you reincorporate this into your life? Do you love African dancing, but there are no classes nearby? Dance at home with help of a video on YouTube.
Self-care is not self-indulgent. It is about taking positive actions to address or remove everyday stressors in life. It is essential in helping you to create the life you want and in living that life according to your personal values. Above all, it is an investment in your self-worth.