My work has always involved taking care of other people in some way and it took me a few years of reaching the point of burn-out annually before I finally established some solid self-care routines. Even so I forget about them from time to time.
Every day, and especially when our brains and nervous systems are working overtime to navigate rapidly shifting challenges and circumstances self-care is preventative medicine! Intellectually we get the concept that self-care helps us care for others better. So, why is it so hard to make it happen?
I think it’s denial. Have you ever thought something like, as soon as I finish _____ then I will be ready to [insert self-care routine]. Somehow the calm just doesn’t come and we stay wrapped up in whatever keeps happening. Or it actually does calm down and you think, finally I can get a lot of work done! If you’re lucky you get focused quickly. If you’re me then by that time my thoughts are spinning and the quality of my work is suboptimal.
Last summer I had a lot of work and in a flurry of too much optimism plus low level anxiety I found myself forgetting to take a break, forgetting to go outside, running out of time to exercise. It was a cycle that could only be interrupted by trying something different. Instead of waiting to take a break until I was “finished” with a project I decided to take a break at a certain time – no matter how deep I was into a project. Something can seem like such a big deal until I walk away from it to feel my breath, to feel the sun, or the wind, or the rain. Once I unroll the yoga mat I’m in a whole new state of mind. When I return to my work I feel more creative than before I took a break and I’m able to focus in a more satisfying way.
Tips for making it happen:
- Choose self-care strategies ahead of time and tell your family what they are (your kids will learn how to do self care if you demonstrate it!)
- Make sure you have some that you can access easily and don’t require a lot of time (breath is my favorite! looking at the sky is another one – especially during sunrise or sunset)
- Make sure you have some that you can do with children (like belly breathing, stretching or yoga, listening to calming music or dance party, playing sports, cook or bake, expressive arts)
- If you have someone to trade off caregiving responsibilities with make a plan about when each of you will do something that is not work-related (take a class online, read, write, meditate, therapy, organize the closet, sit down and do nothing)