I spent this weekend with a hotel full of Certified Rehabilitation Counselors, and one of the very important things I learned is “self care.”
When HR came to me and said, “You have too many vacation days and you need to use them,” I was the first to say, “Yeah, yeah, I know.” My thought is that I have too much to do.
I listen to my manager explain to me that if I don’t take care of myself, how can I take care of anyone else, and my manager’s manager say she is making it her mission to make sure I take care of myself. And my children say, “Mom, you have to relax.” Even with everyone in my life telling me that if I don’t be careful I’m going to burn out I didn’t fully get it until this weekend. How can I help any of you if I can’t see it in myself?
I listened this weekend to stories about people they have helped over the years, and how some were successful and some were not. I attended a Suicide Prevention class and found that it talked more about how the counselor not only should look for signs, but more importantly how you must take care of yourself after events like this happen in your life. I connected with the stories because they were just like mine. I have been successful, and I have had a couple stories that didn’t turn out with a good ending. All those stories pile on your shoulders and weigh you down.
One counselor said, “We are beacons of hope!” I have always believed that. We are sometimes the last people that interact with individuals that are on the downward spiral. They have lost all hope that anyone can help them. Sometimes we can pull them out of the spiral and give them their hope back, but at what expense to ourselves during the process?
When stress strikes, self care often takes a back seat. The ability to care for oneself is predicated on the ability to consistently go inward and listen to what is there.
However, during stressful periods in our lives, we tend to focus outward. We diminish or disregard our inner life, ignoring our needs and limits. And yet, it’s during hectic or difficult times when we need to care for ourselves the most.
That’s when we need to move our bodies, get enough sleep, not skip meals, take a breather, and preserve our boundaries. That’s when we need to attend to our needs and engage in the activities that nourish us.
Practicing self care not only helps us feel better. It also helps us function at our best. It replenishes our reserves, boosts our energy and provides clarity. We’re able to do everything, from making smarter decisions to helping others. In short, self care supports our health and well-being.
The concept of self care is rather self-explanatory. In simple terms, it means treating yourself – mind and body – well. And it’s something that should be part of everyone’s routine. Because these days, we’re all really, really, busy.
This busyness, among other things, is causing us all to be stressed out, too. In 2014, 77 % of the American population reported feeling the physical effects on a regular basis, and 73% said they’d felt the psychological effects. On top of that, 33% indicated they consistently experience extreme levels of it. And, as I’m sure you’ve all heard before, stress can negatively impact pretty much every part of the body.
But despite this, we often neglect to take the appropriate steps to unwind, especially when things get difficult and demanding. And yet, it’s during hectic or difficult times when we need to care for ourselves the most.
I know – when life gets chaotic, it may seem impossible (and unproductive) to fit in self care. But the truth is, you probably have more time than you think, even if it’s just a couple of minutes. It’s up to you to examine your schedule and find that extra space in your day. Once you find those pockets of time, you must start with the basics – brushing your teeth well, getting enough quality sleep, eating well-balanced meals on a normal schedule, taking a shower, and so forth.
Yes – this sounds obvious. And it should be. But if you don’t start with the fundamentals, you won’t have anything to build on. And you may be surprised that you aren’t paying enough attention to some of these essential behaviors.
Just last week, I was talking to a friend about how she often forgets to eat lunch due to her overwhelming workload. And, confession? There are plenty of days I don’t eat lunch because I feel I’m too busy to stop.
But it goes beyond these simple, everyday things. They talked about the wellness wheel, which encompasses seven different areas of your health – physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, financial, emotional, and environmental. Sometimes, occupational is thrown in there, too. (Though it should be included all the time, don’t you think?)
You want to find balance across the entire wheel, and to do this, you can practice self care for each section. For instance, perhaps for social, you pencil in a weekly catch-up session with a good friend. To address your financial wellness, you choose to open a savings account or meet with a financial advisor. And while spiritual could be choosing to reconnect with your faith, it can also be taking the time to identify and explore your core values.
The trick is to do what you enjoy. Don’t try to force yourself to engage in activities that don’t make you feel better or happy. For instance, I like the feeling that spinning gives me when the class is over, but I honestly hate 41 out of the 45 minutes I’m in that room. My feet fall asleep, my hips hurt, and the monotonous scenery causes me to glare at the instructor.
Will I take an occasional class with friends? Sure. But I won’t choose it for my physical self care. You can practice before, during, or after work hours. There are no rules, other than implementing it on a regular basis and making sure the actions you choose are contributing to healthy and positive ways.
Practicing self care not only helps us feel better, but it also helps us function at our best. It replenishes our reserves, boosts our energy, and provides clarity. We’re able to do everything from making smarter decisions to helping others.
You must be in top-notch condition to do your best work, and you must be at your best before you can help others be at their best. That includes partners, friends, family members, co-workers and – yep – your boss (gasp). This isn’t selfish behavior. It’s necessary.
Here are some ideas on practicing self care in stressful times, whether you’re navigating the holiday season, work deadlines, or a loved one’s illness.
Engage in self care activities that you enjoy the most. For instance, if you usually carve out time to watch your favorite sitcom and read the Bible before bed, you might skip the show in favor of meeting your spiritual needs. Or you might watch your show because you really need some laughs.
Address unmet needs
When you can’t meet a certain need, it can be incredibly frustrating (on top of your stress). Silently acknowledge that you’d like to satisfy this need in the future. Addressing our needs – even when they can’t be met – is a meaningful form of emotional self care that can help hold us over until the storm passes.
Check in with yourself
Self care is all about listening. Sit still and pay attention. Ask yourself “What do I notice? What do I need?” in each area.
Ask for help
When your plate is too full, remind yourself to reach out. Ask yourself: “Can someone else help with this piece?” Decide what really matters.
Stressful times can be destructive if you let them be. What is most important for you to accomplish today? What can wait?
Self care is personal. What you choose to do will depend on your personality and preferences. One person’s spa treatment is another person’s half-marathon training, your self care practice might be active or restful, interactive or solitary, quiet or noisy.
Whatever you choose, remember, self care is necessary to anything important we hope to do, any meaning we hope to have, and any difference we hope to make.