It's hard to imagine, but there was a time not too long ago when the term "self-care" had yet to permeate our shared lexicon. It was three years ago or so when I began to notice it. It started when someone (a millennial friend, naturally) told me she admired me for my self-care skills, which at the time were 1. eating lots of vegetables 2. going to yoga on a regular basis and 3. monthly massages. It struck me as sort of a funny-but-sweet term and an interesting thing to notice and admire, but I soon saw references to the practice of self-care all over the internet. I realized that most of us struggle with the simple concept of caring for ourselves in a fast paced world that stresses speed, productivity at all hours, and consumerism.
It seems that in 2016, a particularly tough year in the world of global and national politics, complete with a grueling election season, topped with a relentless stream of celebrity deaths, the concept of self-care has officially entered the mainstream. While we are not here to tell you it's time to take that yoga class or schedule that deep tissue massage, we can share with you some ideas on how to practice self-care as it relates to work and career. Taking these small steps as a matter of course in our day to day, week to week lives can hopefully stave off burnout that can come from being constantly over extended. These are all things you already know but sometimes need a small reminder.
1. Unplug now and then. It has become the expectation that we are available and able to work no matter where we are or what time of day. With our smartphones on our nightstands and remote network access from all over the world, we are expected to be responsive at all times, vacation, early hours, or not. If you work within a culture with that expectation and unwritten requirement to succeed, It will be tough to create those boundaries that all of us need to give our brains much needed rest. Once a year, plan a vacation, a real vacation, where you let your colleagues and clients know ahead of time that you will not be checking your emails and then stick to it. It will take some planning, but it can be done. I still long for the calm and peace I enjoyed during a week in Nicaragua with no cell signal or wifi - the brain truly does clear in a way it cannot with constant stimulation and opens up for innovative, creative thought.
2. Focus on solving the problem, not the mistake you (or someone else) made to cause it. We would not be human if we did not royally screw up occasionally. From an ill-timed typo in a thank you note to a hiring executive after interviewing for your dream job, to dropping the ball on a critical task that causes a project to go sideways, it is not going to be helpful to beat yourself up (or worse, your team) for that mistake. Set a timer and give yourself 10 minutes exactly to cringe, freak out, and vent to a friend, and then move up and onward. Don't waste that energy on the negative, but rather turn it towards figuring out how you and your team can fix the problem.
3. Junk in, junk out. When you are working long hours to meet a tough deadline (or that is just how you always work), it can be easy to go for that pastry on the conference table, that birthday cake in the kitchen, or that steak and bottle of red out at dinner with a client. While you can place these sorts of indulgences in the "Treat Yo Self" category of self-care, they are not likely to bring you long term well-being. Avoid empty calories that will leave you sluggish, sleepy, and unable to focus and instead opt for lean proteins, lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, and drink more water.
4. Get outside and move. You do not have to be a doctor to know that sitting inside all day in a climate controlled, artificially lit building is probably not what our body needs to thrive. Realistically, we are going to have to be indoors to conduct most business, but that does not mean you cannot find opportunities to catch some fresh air throughout the day. Even a 15-minute walk outside can be enough to boost your blood flow, mood, and outlook on a situation so that you can think more clearly and be more efficient and effective.
While you are at it, go to yoga and get a massage too - you, and your career are worth it!
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