As busy business owners, leaders, and professionals (often with lives of work, volunteering, and family), it can be challenging to prioritize much less actually follow through when it comes to truly taking care of yourself. Sometimes this topic is blown off as a fluffy, feminine issue. However, while men don’t often get manicures or pedicures or schedule coffee chats with friends, both men and women both need to make sure they are resting and restoring their own energy. This is taking care of themselves.
When we don’t take care of ourselves, we put ourselves in a position of increased vulnerability to stress resulting in reduced emotional management and a highway to burn out. While our self-care actions might not hit our top 10 list for today’s priorities, it is time to start adding them to your list! Before we make a list of “ideals,” you will need to understand what self-care means for you.
For years my friends and family have chided me for burning the candle at both ends and needing to take care of myself. At times it was hard to understand what they meant. I knew I was busy, but I was doing things that were important to me, that I loved, and that I found energy and space for. My friends and family would say space at the cost of my downtime, but sometimes I felt confused about what was I supposed to be doing. I couldn’t see just sitting at home reading a book for 3 hours or even a single hour, or taking a whole day to go for a hike while still trying to do the hobbies I enjoyed. It felt like an oxymoron: “Relax and take care of yourself, but don’t schedule anything.” How do you get a massage without booking it and where do I squeeze that into my busy schedule? Usually, I would answer, “I am fine.” I had some self-care items scheduled into my day and felt plenty energized despite my business, but I knew I was not really taking care of myself or taking time for down-time luxuries, but it just seemed more stressful to plan those into the day as well.
What finally got my attention, as is true for many, is when my body couldn’t quite keep up with me in the same way that it used to. After my second daughter was born I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroid. Symptoms are supposed to include tiredness, brain fog, body aches, etc. I thought, “What’s new? You just have to push through it.” The diagnosis really didn’t change anything except increase the concern of my friends and family for me to slow down and take care of myself. Enjoying productivity and getting things done, I kept a full schedule with 2 jobs, family, and a heavy volunteer schedule.
Then, I hit my 40s. While enjoying everything I was doing, I found a good amount of stress came with the low margin I allowed myself. The combination of the stress and health is what I attribute to some anxiety challenges I started to have which wound up resulting in panic attacks. This got my attention. I tried to manage this new challenge with mediation but found that that had additional side effects. I tried to go back to my years of options and efforts to work out, meditate, journal, quiet time, etc. I started to notice the activities of those who were getting older in years but looked young vs. those who were the same age that looked old. This is when I started considering how my low margins helped me get a lot done but significantly added to my stress load. My stress load contributed to my compromised help and increased anxiety which then had its own ripple effect.
So maybe you are in denial yet about self-care and have people telling you that you need to slow down, or maybe you have had your own turn around moment and recognize the importance of self-care. I believe everyone needs to take care of their body, mind, and spirit they have, but speaking to the on-the-go mover and shaker, you especially need to take care of yourself. You connect with a lot of people, you have an impact and depending on your level of self-care will impact your ability to keep doing what you are doing as well as the degree of positivity you share as you are doing it. So, how do you do it?
#1) The Fundamentals. The fundamentals are those things that contribute to your on-going sustainability. When we are healthy and young we can easily take advantage of this health and get away with not doing the fundamentals. The more we age, the more we see the impact of this lack of self-care or the amazing shape of those who took the time. Health research and articles continually have similar suggestions:
- SLEEP. Don’t cheat yourself. You need 8 hours.
- MOVE. Even a daily walk is better than nothing. Get a pedometer. Do 10K steps. Get outside (I lived in MN, I know how hard it can be.)
- WATER. Drinking your body weight in water is ideal, but for some of us, just MORE water is a win. Add lemon wedges or whatever helps you get as much as possible every day.
- GREENS. Eat more veggies and greens (kale, spinach, etc.). Honestly, the good greens are tough for me but the more often you add them to your diet, the easier it gets.
- ANTIOXIDANTS. Either with good foods (turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, blueberries, nuts, etc.) or a great supplement.
- BREATHE. Whether classic meditation or just 10 deep breaths a day, increase your moments to relax, destress, and fill your body with oxygen.
#2) Restoring your Body, Mind, and Spirit. I believe there is a difference between the self-care checklist and learning to listen to my inner self and intuition for self-care. A checklist might be used to help give ideas, get you started, or let you experience different options of what might truly be needed. Deeper self-care is not about being a slave to a checklist, rather answering the calling of the inner self. For example, if you are thirsty, the body needs water. You could look at the menu of drinks: soda, tea, coffee, juice, water… but you know what your body really needs you listen to your body and you will know if you try to drink the other options you will still be thirsty. The body needs water to be refreshed. Likewise in our self-care, it is important to learn how to listen to yourself and hear what your body, mind, and spirit is asking for.
- Checklist examples that include activities from common self-care suggestions in your daily and weekly routine:
- Body (helps your body physically feel better): massage, walk outside, eating a salad, working out, stretching, take a 10-minute break, eat fruit, eat breakfast, drink more water, cut sugar, get some sun, laugh
- Mind (helps reduce stress and clear the mind to relax): meditation, playing the piano or an instrument, reading a book, journaling, make a list, set a boundary, read positive quotes and inspirations, declutter, unplug for an hour
- Spirit (encourages the heart, bring joy and internal sense of peace): coffee with friends, listening to music, going out, dinner out, reading the Bible, prayer, keep a folder of cards & review, reduce or eliminate toxic and negative people in your feeds, volunteer
- Intuitive Direction. When you are able to listen to your intuition and inner voice, it will tell you what you need. It might sound like things that are on the self-care list or might be completely random. You might not want to do it, but understand how wise your body is and trust that it is giving you good direction in what you need. It might be like this:
- You have been inside all day on your computer. You feel sluggish and tired. You ask yourself, “What do I need to recharge?” GO FOR A WALK.
- You have been feeling uninspired and unmotivated. You ask yourself, “What do I need to refuel?”
- You feel lonely even though you have people all around you. You ask yourself, “What do I need to renew?” CALL YOUR OLD BFF FOR DRINKS.
- You feel overwhelmed and behind. You ask yourself “What do I need to de-stress?” MAKE A LIST.
- You feel frustrated and nervous about all your projects. You ask yourself, “What do I need to relax?” LISTEN TO MUSIC AND GO FOR A WALK.
Whatever it is, the point is that there isn’t a right or a wrong. It is not a magic act. It is listening to your inner self and allowing your body to creatively tell you what is needed. This can sound a bit ‘woo-woo’ and hopefully it’s clear that I am not talking about anything illegal or inappropriate, but as you get used to listening to your body (through being still and calming your mind and listening to your heart), you will get helpful information that does not come from the head and the neverending list of things that could be done, rather true refueling and uplifting self-care that is just for you, at this time and moment to support you to be at your best!