Self-care or “caring for ourself” is not rocket science. Neither has it been unearthed from the dust or invented by scientists recently. It is something we are born with. We have the innate ability to love ourselves and take care of ourselves.
It is unfortunate that in the humdrum of life, we forget to listen to the most important person in our lives, i.e. ourselves. As quoted by Swami Vivekananda, “Talk to yourself once in a day, otherwise, you may miss meeting an excellent person in the world”.
Self-care manifests itself in different forms – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. So, when we pay heed to all the aspects of our lives, we nurture our body, mind, heart, and soul. It could be eating healthy food, keeping good company, reading a good book, or getting some fresh air outside. All these activities contribute towards holistic self-care.
In spite of knowing these facts, many of us are unable to practice self-care. We tend to put it at the bottom of our list of priorities. Unknowingly, we start ignoring our well-being, attaching the “least important” tag to it.
- Write THREE things that you would love to do more often, but have been putting off consistently in the last month?
- Have you at any time in the recent few weeks, felt a state of languish? Adam Grant, in his article, talks about the state of blah, which is what the feeling is.
Shatha Al Maskiry, a senior leader tells us in an interview how she realized the importance of self -care, only when adversity struck. This could be true for any one of us. Psychology talks about a disease most human beings suffer from called “irrational optimism”. Most of us believe that nothing bad could happen to us, and then feel cheated when life treats us otherwise.
This is where, “self-care” comes into the picture, more so for leaders who have the responsibility to create and transform the world around them. In a rapidly changing world, where technology is governing human behaviour, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized self-care and defined it as, “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.
While healthcare professionals have been pressing on the need to practice self-care, most leaders seem to be resistant towards the idea. Many of them still think of it as a luxury, dismissing it as a waste of time. They are keen to work 80 hours a week, spending sleepless nights on critical projects.
Some people find it a fleeting idea to practice self-care. They misconceive it as something that is done by sitting cross legged on the floor, closing your eyes and breathing deeply while being surrounded by scented candles and chanting. They hardly think of it as an inclusive activity.
No wonder anxiety, depression, burn out and insomnia is rising more than ever due to the negligence and ignorance of people towards their overall health.
Most professionals know that they need to practice self-care, still most of them do not do anything about it. So, let us explore some reasons behind people’s reluctance to adopt it, through a set of reflective questions.
- Do you feel a sense of guilt whenever you try to do something for yourself?
- Are you always doing things till the last minute, that you just feel exhausted to think about anything else?
- Did you have any early childhood experiences, where you have seen elders or others say, it is wrong to set aside time for yourself?
- Do you see yourself having too many chocolates or sugar, while you are in your meetings or while jumping from one task to another?
- Are you the decision maker both at home and at work?
- Have you been facing too many oppositions at home or work in the last few months?
- Do you always talk like a victim and portray yourself as a victim in every conversation you have with your family, friends or co-workers?
- Do you see yourself sitting in one place for extended hours and not giving yourself a break? – this could mean you are sitting in front of your computer for over 90 minutes at a stretch.
- Do you complain about others not doing anything for you?
- Do you like to follow a routine and get upset when it gets disturbed?
If you answered YES to any of the above questions, then it is time to take a pause and make a plan towards your personal “Self-Care”.
Once you have recognized the roadblock on your path to self-care, you could take appropriate measures to remove it. It might not be easy. Often, you would need to combine two or more strategies to reach that goal.
We have made an attempt to provide SEVEN useful suggestions that might add value to your self-care journey:
- CREATE YOUR MANTRAS
Framing some personalised mantras or affirmations in a language you would use to speak to a friend might help you reflect on it daily. This is not about a positive affirmation; it is about a neutral affirmation to be kind and creative to yourself.
Affirmations like, “I will only speak kindly to everyone” is harmful and puts pressure on you. Instead affirmations like, “I will not be too self-critical. Kindness is my mantra to others and myself”, would help you in your practice of self-care.
You can choose to create a project for yourself and your family by putting some posters around the house for practicing self-care as a family.
According to a research done at Carnegie Mellon, practising these mantras lowers your stress and increases your problem solving skills.
- REMOVE ZERO-SUM THINKING (all or nothing mentality)
One of the obstructions in the path of self-care for most leaders is the fear of showing their vulnerability. Many think that they need to be strong and that exhibiting the need for self-care is a sign of weakness. The belief that a leader must know all the answers makes them insecure, preventing them from expressing what they are going through. But psychologists say that sharing your weaknesses with your team members builds trust and loyalty. They can relate to their leaders better when they see transparency and humility.
- LEAN ON YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
You cannot do it all alone and you don’t have to. What you are dealing with might be overburdening you. You could ease that load by sharing your feelings with a friend, family member or a therapist. Talking about your struggles aloud or getting a reality check from a trusted person helps you to move forward.
- MINDFULNESS & MEDITATION
When life seems too much, take it slow. Guided meditation and observing the present moment without evaluation or categorisation could help you detach from your expectations. Analysing your approach each day could be overwhelming. Instead, take some time out every month or every quarter to brainstorm and come up with a game plan to make it a reality.
- DEFINE SELF-CARE IN YOUR OWN TERMS – EXPERIMENT & ADOPT
All of us are not cut from the same cloth. The strategy that works for your colleague might not be suitable for you, or the technique that is helping you might not be useful to your fellow colleague. Each person has to adopt a tailored mechanism of self-care, depending on their lifestyle and environment. Doing it alone might seem like a herculean task and that is why, it is normal to speak to a lifestyle/fitness coach who could guide you. You could try different things – practice, experiment, and identify unique measures that work for you. Take a holistic view. When we talk about health, it is not just physical, but mental, emotional, spiritual and social as well.
It is an established fact that having the right physical health is the key to having sound mental fitness. Choose an exercise regime that is both enjoyable and supports your mental fitness as well. Recent advances in neuroscience tells us that mental health is directly linked to lifestyle disorders like diabetes, heart problems and even cancer. Our central nervous system communicates with the different organs and manifests any aberration that might be present within the body.
Maintain your emotional health by keeping stress at bay. The various stressors you have around you affects the amygdala — the area of your brain responsible for your fight-or-flight response, diverting resources from the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical reasoning, problem solving, decision making, and willpower. This indicates that in stressful situations, you could benefit by slowing down to think big, innovate, and solve the problems that are causing the stress.
Social health is important. If you are exercising, practicing yoga or meditating, but you are unable to find the time to talk to your colleagues, family members, or go out with your friends, then you are not doing it right. Talking to the people you love and care about, checking on friends and having mindful or light-hearted discussions with people at work or home is as important as having a healthy meal or getting optimum sleep.
- HUMOUR AND LEARNING TO TAKE THINGS LIGHTLY
Laughter is good for us. There are positive changes that happen in the body when we laugh. It helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression. So, watch a comedy show or a sitcom on TV, play funny games with your friends or family, read a funny book, etc. The other part of humour is learning to take things lightly. Learning to laugh at ourselves teaches us to embrace our imperfections, recognise and accept them. This helps us transition across roles easily. It will also help us be kind to ourselves and others in every situation. This is a higher order skill that will help you build maturity in your self-care practice.
- TAKE A HOLISTIC AND REALISTIC APPROACH
Once you have identified the areas you need to work and improve on, you would need to figure out ways to do so. Both, senior and middle managers complain of not having enough time to have a proper meal, leave alone going for a walk or having coffee with friends.
If time is what is holding you back, play it smart. Make self-care an inclusive activity; a part of your routine in a way that it does not interrupt your work. You might be struggling to wake up early and go for a jog, but you can surely have that 15-minute discussion with your colleague while walking around the office cafeteria, instead of sitting in the conference room.
You might have to delay your meal owing to a client call or a team meeting, but you can always have a healthy smoothie or nuts right before. If you are failing to catch up with friends, you could take a gym subscription or plan your fitness regime around those of your friends. If you are unable to spend quality time with your family, decide on a time when you will switch off from work every day. Plan your weekends in a way that enables you to completely detox from work.
While a large percentage of the working population complains of running behind the clock, the rest manage to balance health with work and other aspects of life. Had they not been fuelling their body and mind our economy would have plummeted by now.
For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health can be as high as $1 trillion per year.
So, it is necessary to act now. If your current schedule does not allow you to take long breaks, split your breaks into 5 minute sessions of silence and mindfulness. Whenever you feel fatigued, you could sit quietly in your position, close your eyes and do nothing for 5 minutes. These short sessions/microbreaks are also powerful. Taking breaks prevents decision fatigue, renews and strengthens motivation, enhances productivity and creativity, consolidates memory and improves learning.
These are the pearls that could help you weave a garland to adorn your life with the inner beauty you possess. Rightly said by Christina Enevoldsen, “Self-care isn’t about pleasure; self-care is about doing what’s best for you. It’s not focused on your immediate comfort. Rather, it’s focused on your long term well-being.”
Are you ready to build your self-care play book?