How do you define self-care? And perhaps more importantly, how do you practise self-care or simply put, take care of yourself? When was the last time you recharged your own battery?
Many people – especially those working in global development or caring professions – prioritise other people’s needs above their own. Meeting deadlines, managing projects, people and stakeholders, engaging with beneficiaries, and improving outcomes for communities and clients all seem to take precedence. However, remember that if you keep on giving out your time and energy, without replenishing yourself, you will have nothing left to give.
In her Harvard Business Review article, Amy Jen Su says:
‘At the heart of self-care is your relationship and connection to self. As part of your job, it means that you’re attuned to and understand what you need to be your most constructive, effective, and authentic self… including care of the mind, emotions, relationships, environment, time, and resources.’
From this holistic perspective, she goes on to suggest its connection to a higher purpose, and the means of fulfilling it: ‘self-care flows from an intention to stay connected to oneself and one’s overall mission: Who and what can support and be in service of the positive contribution I hope to make?’
The Work Disease
Burnout, overwork, stress, anxiety or depression adversely affect work performance, increasing staff absence because of sickness. This can have disastrous effects on yourself, your business/work and your organisation.
Unfortunately, workplace mental ill-health is on the rise. One global survey of employee assistance programmes discovered that work-related stress, anxiety and depression amongst employees ‘accounted for more than 80% of all emotional health cases in 2014, compared with 55% in 2012’.
It’s important to address your own psychological and emotional needs and practise self-care, to retain sufficient mental resources and energy for all the things you do (and have to do).
So how are you practising self-care? Let’s look at some simple and practical tips (most probably reminders) for taking care of yourself.
10 Tips for practising self-care
Most of the following actions sound like common sense, which is exactly what self-care is. But sometimes, you need a reminder – or even permission – to put yourself first.
1. Nourish yourself
In food shopping, cooking or meal preparation and eating, practising self-care means choosing healthy options and eating modest amounts of nutritious food regularly. The importance of drinking water is also underestimated – we all need to drink several litres of water each day. Dehydration has a variety of symptoms: low mood/depression, anxiety, fatigue, memory problems, foggy thinking, problems with concentration.
Burn the candle at both ends, and the result is burnout. Make time in the day to simply relax. Incorporate meditation, mindfulness, yoga or breathing exercises into your working day, especially when you need to ground yourself or be fully ‘present’ in the moment.
Everyone needs sleep, regardless of work deadlines. Sleep gives your body a chance to renew cells and even whole organs. Your brain also uses sleep to remove toxic proteins from its neurons, which is impossible when you are awake. Sleep is essential for life and health – e key ingredient in practising self-care. See this Forbes article for more benefits and tips for better sleep.
4. Take exercise
You don’t need to spend two hours in the gym every day. Whether it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or going for a walk in nature, making some effort to move more, do more, and build exercise into your daily routine can lengthen your life, as well as sending feel-good endorphins through your body. Progressively build up your routine and stamina each day, and you will feel happier, stronger, and ironically, more relaxed.
5. Be supportive – of yourself
I encounter many coaching clients who give themselves a hard time, using critical self-talk or a negative inner voice. Notice when you are doing this – and stop it immediately. Emotional self-care starts with feeling compassion towards yourself. Be as kind and patient with yourself as you might be to a child (sometimes our ‘inner child’ is the one suffering!). Talk to yourself positively and encouragingly, as you would to an upset friend or colleague. We’re all doing the best we can, so treat yourself gently, with forgiveness. Focus on what you have learned from any mistake. Leave any bad emotion behind you and take only the learning forward, to inform your future actions.
6. Surround yourself with good people
Mixing with positive, supportive people is a means of self-care. Employ, and engage with, your network and friends selectively. Identify the drains and radiators: some people drain your energy (or are ‘energy vampires’); others radiate positivity, energising you and motivating you. Laughter is uplifting, too.
7. Maintain a work-life balance
Schedule your diary with time to do things you enjoy. Nurture your creativity or spirituality, go camping in nature, play with your children, or enjoy a trip… All will add to your self-care. For additional ideas, see my blog posts on achieving Balance – work, life, energy and everything in between!
8. Turn to technology
There are increasingly innovative ways to take care of yourself – from Fitness trackers to ‘digital and computational psychiatry’ clinical practice, apps and devices. In his Harvard Business Review article, ‘What Happens to Mental Health at Work When Our Devices Know How We Feel’, Michael Schrage says, ‘Increasingly, we can expect our personal devices to diagnose, monitor, and manage our mental wellness’.
9. Seek help
In terms of your physical health, practising self-care might simply mean taking the time to visit the doctor when you are ill, can’t sleep or are worried about something (or everything). Similarly, if you have even minor psychological, mental or emotional problems, seek help from a doctor, counsellor or therapist. A coach can help you with work issues like planning, time management, assertiveness and removing barriers to success. Seeing someone sooner rather than later means you can be on the way to recovery and success – faster.
10. Learn how to say no
Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying: “It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”. It is virtually impossible to say “yes” to everything and furthermore, nobody wins if saying “yes” compromises you, or your work. Make sure you say “no” (or learn to say “no”) when you want to. Most of the time, saying “no” is more stressful than hearing it.
Self-care is not selfish. Like the safety instructions you receive as a passenger on a flight, you must put on your own oxygen mask before you attempt to help anyone else – or you are no good to anyone. You must replenish and nourish yourself, first, which means getting sufficient rest, water, healthy food, exercise and relaxation. In practising self-care, you will have more to give others.
For further tips, look at my blog post: 8 Leadership Intentions for a Successful 2019.
If you would like some help with self-care, leadership challenges, or feel that you would benefit from coaching, please get in touch with me.
You can also download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.
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