The Importance of Self-Care when you are Taking Care of Everyone Else

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Taking care of yourself is important no matter what.  But especially right now as we are all living through this unprecedented time, we have stress on us that we have never experienced before.  The people you are taking care of can be anyone, people at work, family, friends, furry babies, anyone that is not you. We all have different stresses in life and they are real and powerful to that individual.   Personally, as someone who is constantly focused on what our team needs, what my husband and furry babies need, checking in with my friends and family, or offering my advice to others in my profession, I am not good about adding me to that list.  Three weeks into the pandemic, I found myself burned out.  I literally slept for 14 hours one day.  I couldn’t decide what to make for lunch, and then once I was making my sandwich,  I literally couldn’t have a conversation at the same time.  My brain was a total fog.  Luckily my husband and I both recognized this. And with some help from my therapist and a commitment to refocus on the routine I need to be my best, I’ve gotten on a better track.  Not perfect, but I recognize the signals when I’m on an offramp and I need to get back on again.

I share that because we all need a reminder to take care of ourselves, no matter what is going on in the world.  Here are three things that help me focus on taking care of myself.

Give yourself permission to take care of yourself.  Michelle Obama has a great story in her book where she learned this lesson herself.  The short version is that when their kids were little, she would get angry at Barack for taking time in his day to go to the gym.  A marriage counselor helped her realize, she should actually be “mad” at herself for not prioritizing herself and she should also go to the gym or whatever she needed.  You need to give yourself permission to carve out time for self-care.  It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.  You will only be your best for everyone else if you take care of yourself first.

Ask yourself what you need.  Some days you may need quiet, or to go to a coffee shop and read, or take a leisurely walk or drive.  Other days you may need to relax in a bath or get a massage or listen to some music.  Other days you may need to burn some energy with exercise or hang out with friends.  But take a moment to close your eyes and literally ask yourself, “what do I need”, and see how you answer.  Then have a list of things (like above) that you can do for yourself that you can pull from depending on the answer.  It may be different every time you ask, and that’s ok.  Listen to yourself and communicate with your partner or whoever is in your life that needs to help you protect the time for yourself.

Build self-care into your day or routine – Personally, if I don’t exercise in the morning, it doesn’t happen.  It’s so easy for my day to get away from me.  I apply the same approach to my workday.  I know my brain needs time to warm up.  So as much as possible I try to do emails and tasks when I get online and then take calls and do some heavy thinking right after lunch, followed by calls and then final tasks.  Right now while we are all working from home, I build in a break for lunch otherwise I never will leave my desk. Building self-care into your routine is important because if I try to write this blog post first thing in the am, or go for a run at the end of the day while I’m counting the minutes until I have to get back for dinner, it’s not actually taking care of myself.  It’s adding stress to something that is supposed to be relieving stress.  It’s not giving myself permission to do the thing for me.  It’s never perfect but it will help you actually enjoy that self-care moment (whether work or home self-care).

I know so much of this is easier said than done.  But hang in there and just try.  Pick one thing this week that you can do for you.  Then next week pick two things!  It’s like anything, once you start to feel the benefits, you will make it a priority.  And you will make sure you are taking care of yourself, especially while you are focused on taking care of everyone else.