I had a realisation this week. I’m not as great at self-care as I thought I was.
Lately, I have been kept very busy at work delivering a range of health and wellbeing programs to different workplaces all around New South Wales. I counted that on Friday of this week, I had delivered ten different programs consecutively in the last week and a half, which helped normalise the feeling that my brain was going to explode!
Many of these workshops involve sharing pearls of wisdom about how to implement self-care to deal with things like workplace change, stress, and competing priorities. I like thinking of self-care through the analogy of flight attendants reminding us to fix our own oxygen masks before assisting anybody else with theirs, including children.
I have noticed that usually when stress levels rise in people, their self-care strategies drop, but this is precisely the time it is necessary to ramp up ways to replenish our energy levels and discharge our stress. For some, it can be a quandary to just set aside five minutes each day to do a meditation practice (which is why I have started encouraging people to start with 60 second chunks of self-care activities spread throughout the day).
I have also noticed that for people like me who are in a caring, helping, compassionate, person-centric profession, it comes very naturally to put the care (usually for others) before the self. I feel so rewarded listening to people and supporting them to find solutions to issues they may be experiencing, and enjoy being “busy” and productive at work, but sometimes this comes at a cost to my own health. At times I tend to dismiss my own needs and self-care, prioritising others ahead of myself. I am sure many of you can relate to this, and I don’t want to sound like a martyr, but I thought it might be helpful to share some examples to demonstrate how I have ignored my own needs in the past and how easily this can happen. Two specific situations spring to mind when I reflect on this.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to deliver a week’s worth of training in a fairly remote part of Australia. I landed in the small airport the night before the commencement of this work, got a taxi to the hotel, then ventured out to get some dinner. Unfortunately, whilst walking back to my hotel in the early evening, I was physically assaulted by a man very well known to the police. Obviously I was very shaken, and also suffered some noticeable bruising around my face, a lumpy head, and a shining black eye to boot! After being taken to hospital and filing a report with the police, I probably got back to the hotel around 4am, and was required to kick off training at 6am the same morning. So what do you think I did? Stayed awake, rocked up to work with my lovely new face, and pushed through until the end of that week, which culminated in me having a bit of a wobbly during my flight home. Yep…care before the self.
Did I learn from this? Not really.
Only last year for example, I travelled interstate by plane whilst suffering with bronchitis for yet another stint of workshop facilitation. Rather than choose a more appropriate option such as postpone the training, call to explain that I wasn’t well, or take time off, I stubbornly pushed through again and eventually got hit with pneumonia.
Care before the self.
So what will it take for people to take the self more seriously?
In my case, I only sat up and started paying more attention to my internal cues when I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue in October last year. Whether I liked it or not, there was just no more care to give because the self was suffering. I’d like to encourage you to start thinking about ways to care more for the self to ensure you don’t end up like me. And I’d be interesting in hearing ways you look after your self too 🙂