Self-care, an update: still hard but getting easier!
Last July I wrote a blog about self-care and its importance, as well as highlighting how difficult it can be for some of us, me included. The guilt we feel when we put ourselves first can really get in the way. Culturally, I also think that “us Brits” are pretty bad at stopping, resting or living life at a slower pace. I’ve been having some interesting conversations recently where working hard seems to mean working long. Long hours at work seem to gain kudos or the assumption that you’re working harder than your counterparts who might stick to their hours. Yet, all the research shows that shorter weeks, more work-life balance leads to a healthier, happier and more productive workforce and one that won’t burn out!
So, after admitting that I am pretty bad at this self-care thing, I set about making some changes. Gotta practice what I preach right? I did start small because otherwise it felt a bit much to change in one go. Here’s how I got on.
Firstly, I had a holiday in September, which was completely work free; phones off, emails off, even internet off! I spent long, daily hikes in the moors and evenings cooking and reading a book I’d wanted to find time to read for months. This bit was not that hard to do, especially after the first day or so because I was pretty active. I returned feeling restored, head clear but also feeling as though that week was not enough! But hey, it was a starting point, it gave me something to continue.
This also helped me kick start back in the gym. Health and exercise are a big part of my value system and yet Id been avoiding the gym for months. I knew it was making me feel worse and yet somehow, I kept finding excuses not to do anything. I’d found myself caught in a vicious circle; the less I did, the more work I did, the more tired I felt and the less I wanted to exercise. So again, I started small; setting targets to do a workout once in the week and then at weekends where I knew I had more time. This meant work was less of an excuse. I booked classes, so it was harder to cancel them last minute when the thoughts of “I’m too tired” or “I’ve got to get this bit of work done” crept in and won. Lucky for me, the gym also launched a new class in the Autumn, it’s a HIIT class that I absolutely love. Its brutal, but strangely motivating and lets me measure my heart rate zones live in class, so I can see how hard I’m working. Interestingly, instead of competing with others or for calories, I found I was competing against my own heart rate…. how quickly can I recover after each set? In other words, how healthy can I become? I’m getting stronger, feeling better and less stressed. More recently, I have tried to get outdoors more, walking or running more regularly outside. I find having fresh air at some point in my day makes a huge difference to my mood and energy levels. I have sporadically tried to do more yoga and Pilates, but this is an area I need to work on… I’m still not good at finding time for these.
Something that has made a huge difference to my well-being but has been a big thing to overcome in my head, is having regular sports massages. In June I tried to swim and found that I struggled to lift my arm over my head (front crawl) due to tightness and pain in my neck and head. How on earth had I got that bad? I mean, that’s ridiculous! Well, a massage feels indulgent doesn’t it? I found myself needing to tell people it was a sports massage, so I’d feel less guilty about this time that was just for me, to look after myself. So, in September, I booked in and have gone regularly, without fail. Now then, anyone who has ever had a sports/therapy massage will know how excruciating they can be, but I went, religiously. Oh, and the thoughts came; “I shouldn’t spend this money, I could just stretch properly”, “I haven’t got time” “It hurts”, “I don’t need it”, on and on they went. Are these thoughts helping me, I asked myself? No, no they were not. Fusing with them was literally causing me pain. So, I practised all my skills in letting the thoughts go and went anyway. I am still going and have been able to reduce the frequency and am feeling looser for it! I am also having less headaches, go figure!
More recently I have been reading about waking up at 5am and the benefits associated with it. It got me thinking about my own mornings, which consists of rushing around, answering emails, scoffing breakfast and running out of the house with wet hair in attempt to get to work on time. I have noticed that by the time I get in my car at 7am I’m already feeling pressured and rushed. So, I started to wonder if waking up a bit earlier would help. So, after procrastinating and putting it off for a while I did it. In the last couple of weeks, I have set my alarm 20 minutes earlier. I now wake and get up at 6am (I wasn’t brave enough to get up at 5am…start small remember?!). I’ve always been an early riser, so it hasn’t been as challenging to do this as it might be for some people. Also, its only 20 minutes earlier than usual. However, those extra 20 minutes have had a huge impact! I didn’t add in anything I had to do in that time, but I feel I have been given the gift of time! I now shower more slowly and mindfully, I actually dry my hair, I don’t have to rush my breakfast, I can empty the dishwasher or stretch or just sit for a moment before work if I want to. And I’m calmer! Starting my day more calmly is really quite lovely and I’m looking forward to seeing more benefits to this as time goes on. Just 20 minutes and totally worth it.
Finally, I am taking a few moments a few times a week to just sit. With quiet, with no noise, no talking, no music, no phone. Sometimes I find this peaceful, sometimes I squirm and find the many many thoughts creeping in about what I should be doing in that moment that would be better. So, I’m starting with a few moments, mindfully watching those thoughts and trying to catch those glimmers of calm. Because they are worth it!
I think that’s it so far! A few small changes and in some ways not so difficult to implement. Perhaps that’s why it has stuck. The trick was to start with things that are important to me, and things that were not huge changes so as to feel insurmountable. I am starting to feel less stressed at the beginning of my day and less grumpy at the end. Both me, my body and my partner appreciate this!
So, what’s next? Well, I’m booking some more “no work” holidays and trying to stick to more normal working hours. I also want to keep up the things I am doing, because they are working. I feel more balanced and I’m curious about where I can take this next.