Unfortunately, the default setting for many of us is to care for others before we care for ourselves.
When I mention self-care to my clients, they invariably say that it feels selfish to think of themselves before others. So, let’s be clear—self-care is definitely not a self-indulgence, it's self-preservation!
Why should we focus on our self-care?
In recent months I’ve been working with many clients who are suffering from stress and feeling overwhelmed. This is often due to pressures both in their personal life and at work that have compounded, resulting in them feeling that they have little or no time for themselves. We tend to view doing things for ourselves to be selfish, but it is far from selfish to care for our own wellbeing. Putting ourselves last can have a significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing, resulting in burnout. Once we reach this point, we’re no longer able to look after ourselves or others.
Self-care is known to prevent burnout, reduce the negative psychological and physical effects of stress and help you refocus on what’s important in your life, YOU. One of my previous blogs—Stress & Its Impact on Our Health & Wellbeing—discusses the signs that you’re stressed or overwhelmed, but in this article I want to focus on self-care.
NOW is the time to recognise your own needs. Remember that you’re responsible for yourself and recognise that it’s okay to care about and care for yourself. Knowing yourself and your needs is crucial to the maintenance of your health and wellbeing. By being able to identify what activities make you feel good and how you can recognise early signs of being stressed and/or overwhelmed enables you to bring balance to your life.
Accepting that you need to look after yourself is an important aspect of ensuring that you’re resilient and have good mental health and wellbeing. It’s often the case that many people who care for others and recognise other peoples’ needs do not effectively care for themselves. It’s essential to recognise that you are a human being and need to care for yourself to ensure that you thrive both personally and professionally.
What we should be doing is making ourselves a priority, as this will enable us to be resilient at times of pressure. One way that I explain the need for self-care it to think about the safety advice given by the flight attendants on a plane, who always say “secure your oxygen mask first, before assisting others.” Why is this an important rule? Put simply, if you cannot breathe you cannot help those around you. It’s the same with self-care - if you don’t look after yourself first, you can’t effectively support others and nor can you operate effectively in either a personal or professional capacity.
So, were to start?
There are two levels to self-care: macro and micro. Macro self-care relates to the bigger things in our lives: good nutrition, taking annual leave and holidays, getting the sleep we need, focusing on our relationships and spending time doing things which we enjoy. These aren’t just important, they’re essential. Micro self-care is what we might consider the small stuff, the things we can fit into our day-to-day life, such as being self-aware, being kind to ourselves, having self-compassion, taking time to breath, taking breaks during the day and making time for meditation.
Making a plan!
Start by doing a self-care assessment and identifying what self-care means to you.
Make notes of your ideas and use a mind-map or a self-care wheel.
From your notes, mind-map or self-care wheel, identify areas you want or need to focus on, trying to identify something that’s important as well as a quick win. Don’t be tempted to try to change everything overnight: start with two or three things and build these into your routine straight away. Self-care is an ongoing process which needs to be monitored and reviewed. Following this process will help you acknowledge obstacles, realign goals and celebrate your successes before building on them. All of which ensures a robust self-care habit.
It’s important to identify activities that make you feel good. Some people love to run, others like to take a walk, but if for any reason you can’t or don’t wish to do either, try to spend time outside (preferably in a green space). Studies have shown that simply spending time outside in a natural environment can improve stress and depression.
Set goals. It’s important to have specific goals as vague goals don’t last very long. Rather than saying “I will take more time for my self-care”, try goals that identify specific activities at specific times e.g. ‘I will go for a 30 minute walk every day after dinner’ or ‘I will meet with friends or family every fortnight for coffee’. By having a plan that includes goals you get self-care integrated into your routine and it becomes a natural process, not a chore you feel you have to do, or you feel guilty about not doing.
Working with a wellbeing coach can help you understand how stress in your life is impacting on your wellbeing, and how self-care can help you to become more self-aware and resilient. As a coach I can help you identify triggers and guide you as you put in place a self-care plan to clearly identify self-care goals and support mechanisms that will ensure ongoing success. This will help you go on to become more balanced in both your personal and profession life.