Self-care is something I see discussed more and more places these days, so I wanted to take a few moments to share with you why I think it’s so important and some of my strategies to make sure I’m doing it properly.
Being overworked seemed to be a constant for many Americans. With downturns in the economy in 2008 that we still haven’t fully recovered from, more companies are trying to do more with less. This often means giving one person the work of two or three, or expecting employees to pull long hours to meet deadlines. Work culture in American, generally speaking, is pretty rough on the employee.
This can lead to a lot of burned out employees. I’ve worked for companies like this, where everything had to get done, regardless of how few people there were. It can take a huge toll on you. Especially if you’re in a position of logistical importance, like IT or a system administrator, where your absence can mean the whole system has gone down. I’ve been there, done that, and I wasn’t very good about self-care at the time.
So why do I think self-care is important enough to warrant a whole post about it?
Because without self-care I eventually cease to function.
For me, personally, self-care is about keeping myself balanced emotionally, physically, and mentally. If I don’t take steps to care for myself and just keep trudging through whatever project I have to work on, I will eventually collapse from hunger, fatigue, or an emotional breakdown of some sort or another. Avoiding any of those three things is high on my list, so I try to keep myself in some semblance of normal, which means employing my self-care strategies.
My new job is much less stress-inducing than my last one, so this isn’t quite as dire a situation as it used to be for me, but I still do my best to stay on top of it. I still have to remind myself to take time for myself, time for my husband, and time to decompress.
I have lots of strategies for this. I’ll share a few of them here:
Incorporate Down time:
This doesn’t have to be huge. It can be a five-minute break to reconnect with someone. It can be watching a quick cat video between tasks. Or it could be taking whole day or even a week off. There’s a reason that the saying “taking a mental health day” is so well known. It’s important to do, and sometimes just taking a day off to step away from work and relax is super important to keep you functioning well and working at your peak performance level.
It’s especially tempting not to eat well when you’re in a hurry, but keeping my meals and snacks regularly timed, varied, not pre-packaged, and lower calorie works much more effectively. In the immediate, over-eating can make you tired or give you indigestion. In contrast, I find that eating smaller meals and snacks more often throughout the day allows me to keep my blood sugar on an even keel as well as work towards my weight loss goal.
Balance of Social Time:
Humans are social creatures. Being alone too much can make me a little loopy, but so can mot being alone enough. You have to find a balance that works for you. Do you need to see people most of the time and take an occasional break? Or are you an introvert who still needs to be around people every so often?
I’m a bit of a mix really. If I don’t get about half an hour to be alone in a room with my thoughts every day, I go a little but nuts. Similarly, if I’m stuck alone for ten straight days with nothing but low level interactions with shop clerks and restaurant staff, I go more than a bit nuts. Both of these extremes of contact levels affect me. So I have strategies to prevent them. I’ve let all my family know that I need a little alone time each day, so if it’s a big family gathering and I disappear, they let me stay missing for half an hour. Ten straight days alone doesn’t come up as often (but there was a memorable week and a half during my study abroad semester…) but I also consciously remain aware of this and schedule things so that I don’t have these long gaps between seeing people.
Make Time for Friends and Family:
This ties in a bit with the above, but interacting with coworkers or students at work seems to fill my minimal interaction needs, so this is a separate consideration. It’s important to maintain the relationships in my life, so I make a conscious effort to make extra time for friends where I can, try to go home to visit my parents, sister, and niece at least every few months, and I have reminders on my phone about spending quality time with my partner. Yes, it’s probably a little weird that I have to have a reminder to spend time with someone I live with, but it’s important for me because neither of us is great about verbalizing or noticing when we aren’t getting enough attention from the other, so having a reminder each week that asks if I’ve spent that quality time yet that week has been working really well for us.
Make Time for Hobbies:
Writing is technically one of my hobbies. I also make jewelry, sew, and do a little craft-level painting of things like wooden boxes, pots for plants, and the like. I also love paint-your-own-pottery shops when I can find them.
Having the blog helps make sure I’m doing at least a minimum amount of writing each week. I also host a weekly write-in, which is basically just a gathering of writers at a little restaurant/bakery that we like. So that’s two ways that I make sure I’m writing frequently.
The other hobbies are a little more sporadic. I tend to make jewelry more in December in the lead up to Christmas since it makes great gifts for people. The others are a bit hit and miss at the moment. Sewing is the hardest to keep up with because it requires more time, planning, and space than the others. However, I did just get my grandmother’s Singer passed down to me (she’s still around, she just doesn’t sew anymore). It’s built into a table that folds open so I have some of the space I need without it always taking up so much room. She also passed down a bunch of material she hadn’t used yet, so I have a lot of projects ready to be made.
Have Someone to Talk to:
For some people, there is a friend or family member they can turn to for this. For me, this means having a counselor or therapist. I had a few in college, and then didn’t have one for a long time. I was going through a lot of stressful transitions in my life recently, so I found a new therapist. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Sadly, she’s left private practice, and I have to find a new therapist. I’ve identified a couple options, but have been procrastinating on actually calling someone to start again. I was with my last therapist for a little over a year and she was really great. Finding a new one is intimidating because I have to establish the relationship and trust all over again. However, putting off finding a new one is affecting me. My partner has already noticed an increase in some of my less desirable behaviors that are usually stress induced. So getting set up with a new therapist is a must do for me, and I’ve given myself a deadline of next Friday.
A comment on therapy in general:
I believe that everyone can benefit from therapy at some point in their life.
Therapy isn’t just about mental illness and it’s certainly not about needing medication. Therapy is about having a neutral third party to talk through issues with. Well, maybe not neutral, because they want you to do well and grow during therapy, but someone not immediately involved in the situation. Sometimes, a friend or family member can be that for you, but a lot of times they are too close to the situation themselves, so you need someone further from the situation.
Take Care of Your Body:
There are the general things, like eating right and exercising, that are a huge benefit to your overall health and wellbeing. There are also less obvious things. Stretching throughout the day, looking away from your monitor every twenty minutes or so, or if you sit at work, getting up and moving around periodically. I have a set up so I can stand at my desk at work, so I have to make sure to take a little time to sit down during the day.
I’ve also had back issues for a long time, so doing my physical therapy exercises every day and being very aware of my body and my posture so I don’t stress my back (which ends up leading to a pinched nerve and lots of leg pain) is something I have to really watch myself with. I also shouldn’t lift anything heavy, by which I mean more than twenty-five pounds. That one is really hard since I’ve always been able to help lift things or carry furniture, or haul my own stuff around before.
I’m always looking for more strategies:
What do you do for your own self-care? I’d love to hear some of your strategies or your thoughts on any of mine.