This article was previously published on LinkedIn on April 23, 2018
This is my second article in a series of articles dealing with burnout recovery and prevention.
When you are close to the end of your rope, self-care is a ridiculous idea, something that you’ll get to when you have managed to complete the high priority items on your to-do list (i.e. never). What with child-care, elder-care, work responsibilities, keeping a household running, and anything else that happens to be on your particular plate, looking after your self is not a priority. Life is on rinse and repeat. Get up, go to work, come home, do stuff at home, go to bed. Repeat. If you work shift or at home, paid or unpaid, the cycle may have different timing, but the feeling of being on a treadmill is still there.
It is true that self-care includes making sure you sleep enough, eat nutritional food, exercise, go see your dentist and doctor, get a massage now and then, and have enjoyable social activities. But for the stressed and weary these activities merely become more items added to an overburdened to-do list.
True self-care starts with listening to yourself and ends with acting on what you hear, feel and learn so that you are being nourished in the way you need. This differs for each of us. For example, I love Olympic Cleans. A hour of lifting heavy weights nourishes me. But a year ago it also completely destroyed my energy afterwards. I did not have the stamina I needed. I still did them for my mental and emotional well-being and made sure I could give my body the rest it needed to recover. At other times I have done yoga because I needed to give my body “stretching with love.” It was way too tight and I needed to hear a soothing voice while stretching and the wisdom to only stretch it as far as it wanted to stretch, not as far as the super flexible person next to me. These are just small samples of how listening to your body helps inform your exercise regime.
Self-care, at its core, is about being in touch with your self; about knowing what your emotional state is, what your body’s state is, and what your mental state is. Many of us ignore subtle clues from our bodies, soldier on while we feel tired, or when we are emotionally out of sync. We use the old “stiff upper lip” to get us through whatever is in front of us. We do so at our peril. Self-care starts with being willing to listen in on our self, our total self, our integral self. As leaders, we can do use the same to listen in on the whole self of our teams, our organizations.
How is your body feeling? Your body is subtle but it does speak. Spend a few minutes in communion with your body. Scan it from head to toe, what messages does it have for you? Where are the areas that feel tight? If these areas could talk, what would they say? Do the same for areas that are achy, sore? Again, what messages would they have for you? Where are you feeling free? What does this area want to tell you? This is a great start for self-care. Instead of starting a daily meditation practice, start a daily listening-in practice. Sit or lie down, be still and go into your body and experience it from the inside out. Be curious about what your body is experiencing. Once you have experienced this a few times, you can do this at different points in your day. It is lunch time, what is your body feeling, is it hungry, is it still digesting a previous meal, what would feel nourishing to eat, etc.?
Start paying attention to your emotions. What is your predominant emotional state? Are you frequently irritable or angry? Or are you anxious a lot, constantly waiting for the next piece of bad news? How about just feeling indifferent, you just don’t care anymore? Or are you feeling excited, joyful, energized? There is a neat little free app, called MoodMeter. It allows you to do a quick check-in with yourself several times a day and record your mood. At the end of the week, you can see how often you were in certain emotional states and how much time you are spending in emotional states that are not that resourceful. As a coach I delineate emotional states in resourceful and unresourceful. When we are stressed we often spend a lot of time in the unresourceful space – a space where we are limiting our ability to make good decisions.
Finally, your mental or head space. This is your inner voice. What is the predominant message that you are telling yourself? We are often not aware that our ego has a voice and is nattering away in the background 24/7. I will write more on this in a future article.
Once you are listening to your whole self, it becomes possible to take actions that nourish and replenish you, instead of blindly running on empty. A coach can help design a program that is uniquely suited to you.
For employers, there is wisdom in knowing how to support employees. Stressed employees are not nearly as productive as they appear and they often are not making optimal decisions. Are you listening in on the whole self of your organization? Do you know if your employees are tired, depleted, or energized? Do you know what the emotional mood of your organization is? What is the inside voice of your organization? What is the most common narrative? Valuable information to have as a leader. An Employee Survey does not always address all these areas. I am available to help you get in touch with these aspects of your organization.