Throughout my professional career, I have seen the topic of self-care come up rarely. It’s a shame, because it is not a nice-to-have; it is crucial to my well-being. Life is busy, and the workplace can be overwhelming. My desk is piling up with projects and competing deadlines. My calendar is double- (and sometimes triple-) booked. (I started this article three separate times.)
Factor in the projects piling up at home, time with your significant other and maybe kids’ extracurricular activities. How do we cope? We start skipping lunch, stop working out and start putting “pauses” on our relationships. When we stop taking care of ourselves, we start creating “blind spots” in our professional and personal lives.
It was not long ago that the topic of “self-care” was considered selfish, indulgent and wasteful. I am sure that some generations still might consider it extravagant. Most of us grew up believing that hard work and sacrifice led to bigger rewards and that the more we sacrificed, the bigger the reward. But I would argue that self-care is vital to our productivity.
While I was working on my thesis, I decided that if I reallocated all of the excess time in my day (including cutting down my shower time, limiting my sleeping time to four hours each night, and cutting out time dedicated to working out and eating), I could use that time to work on my thesis. I did not even last a week, as I already felt the pain of that unwise decision. In fact, it was exactly five days later that my co-workers started noticing I was not as sharp, and one of them told me that I “seemed groggy and out of it.” It was also on the fifth day that I fell asleep at the wheel driving home from work. Like many other people in such a fast-paced world, I took the mentality of “hard work and sacrifice will pay off” too far — without even knowing it.
It took this dangerous decision for me to recognize how fundamental self-care is. My mentality was not as sharp; it took me longer to focus, and I was not able to work as efficiently. This scenario is an example of why self-care is so essential to our work productivity and our personal lives. It helps us maintain productivity and continue to progress.
There are a number of reasons that self-care is essential:
Self-care helps you manage your stress. The impact of stress is powerful. It has real behavioral, psychological and physiological consequences, including decreased productivity, negative moods, feelings of dissatisfaction, sleep disturbances, headaches, ulcers and, in some cases, heart palpitations.
Self-care helps you maintain focus. Your mind needs breaks, and your body does, too; Meg Selig, author of “Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success,” writes in a Psychology Today blog post that “‘movement breaks’ are essential for your physical and emotional health.” Self-care also allows you to prevent the repercussions of “decision fatigue.” Be sure to keep breaks short to help prevent procrastination, which increases stress.
Self-care prevents you from burning out and/or giving up. When you are constantly moving and pushing yourself to your limit, you are leading yourself down a path toward burnout. While it is good to push your limits occasionally, it is not good to do so continuously. While people are often praised for their ability to multitask, it often causes anxiety, tension and stress.
Self-care helps you accomplish your day-to-day activities. Self-care is more than bubble baths or shopping sprees. It also means getting enough rest and sleep. It means taking your vitamins and eating well. It means allowing yourself to have the energy to run errands and do your laundry. It means giving yourself the opportunity to put your best foot forward.
Self-care elevates personal happiness. As Taylor Yanulevich writes in an article for Odyssey, “eating, sleeping, maintaining personal hygiene, exercise, reading, or even watching your favorite television show allows you to feel more comfortable and relaxed allowing feelings of happiness.”
There’s no right or wrong way to practice self-care. How I practice self-care is different from how my closest friend practices self-care — which is fine!
Self-care is a reminder that you love yourself enough to give yourself your basic needs. It is good personal hygiene. It is getting enough sleep. It is allowing yourself time to process what you are working on. It is allowing yourself space to disengage so that you might see intricate details that you need to see.
You would probably remind your child to stop and rest. You might also remind your best friend to stop and rest. Just in case nobody has said it to you, here is your friendly reminder to stop, take some time for yourself and to rest.
Here are a few ideas to help you practice self-care: