Sixty-eight percent of women have been feeling at least somewhat burned out according to a national poll by Business Insider. That’s higher than men, (who come in at 55%). With a global pandemic, economic strain, environmental challenges, and political divisiveness it’s been quite a year (or several)! In the midst of worrying about everything and everyone else, working women in particular are likely to forget about one critical investment: taking care of themselves.
Fortunately, there are lots of little changes you can make to take care of yourself that can add up to a big difference in your professional and personal well-being. More than two-thirds of Americans feel more productive (67%) and happier (71%) after taking time for themselves. Read on for some actionable self-care tips.
Realign Your Thinking
You can’t always adjust your circumstances, but you can change how you think about them. Perhaps the biggest step you can take to better care for yourself is to consciously prioritize yourself, without apology.
During the pandemic, I started a company, AdaRose, named for my youngest daughter. The inspiration behind the company is to help women like me – and perhaps you – to take better care of ourselves both mentally and physically, which also helps us care for our families and communities effectively. In my own experience, through some legwork and asking a lot of questions I was able to avoid an unnecessary open heart surgery for my daughter. It took me longer to figure out that I had to pour some more energy into myself, too, in order to be there for her and others, but I’m working on it with increasing success.
To create AdaRose (which provides self-care tools and experiences for women), my partner Lauren and I interviewed dozens of working women (including a few we found via Elpha!) who told us that their biggest barriers to self-care are time, guilt, and the hassle of planning.
Let’s focus on that “guilt” part for a second.
Many of us (myself included) often feel guilty caring for ourselves, yet it’s absolutely critical. It is within our power to let go of the guilt, even if it takes some practice. A healthy, vibrant, happy you will do much better – both at work and at home. Take a moment and consider your own feelings about self-care. Do you feel any guilt associated with spending time or money on yourself? If so, where does it come from? What would it take to let go of it, so you can acknowledge and address what you need most? Try challenging any mental barriers you may have to caring for yourself.
Align Your Schedule to Match Your Priorities
Once you recognize that self-care is essential, as opposed to a “nice to have,” you need to start treating it as such. In the early years of my career, I would try to fit in exercise if I had time, and I would eat whatever was most convenient and/or cost-effective. But neither of those strategies made sense in the long term. Too many bagels, too little exercise. No wonder I felt cranky and tired.
Today, I arrange my time around core self-care building blocks, including exercise, healthy eating, and sleep. Those are the commitments I make to myself in my schedule. Everything else has to fit around and with them. For me that means committing to regular classes at my yoga/pilates gym, setting aside time for meal planning, and turning off the light at least 7 hours before I know I need to get up the next day.
I also believe that mental health is as important as physical health. I make a priority of catching up with friends and family, even if it’s just by phone, regularly. And over the years I’ve learned that therapy is a useful tool to help me structure growth and work through difficult patches in life, much as a physical trainer or coach can help me strengthen my body in ways it would be hard to do on my own.
Design Your Physical Space to Support You
The popularity of the Container Store and Marie Kondo speaks to the power of organizing your physical environment in a way that aligns with your life. Clutter is stressful, order is calming. Who doesn’t appreciate clear surfaces and good design? But the impact of your physical space goes beyond how it makes you feel. It can also change your behavior. By assembling my clothes and bag for the yoga studio the night before, I’ve noticed I can greatly increase my chances of actually making it to an early morning exercise class.
In another example from my own life, my husband put together a great system for lunch assembly for our kids. They have an area of the fridge that is just for them. It is stocked with pre-apportioned healthy items like fruit, cut peppers in small containers, and cheese sticks. Their job each day is to assemble for themselves a lunch that contains pieces from all the food groups. Laying them out into modular pieces in advance makes the task easier and less daunting.
Have a look around your physical space at home and/or at work. Could you design it to encourage yourself to engage in healthier or more enjoyable activities more often, with minimal friction?
Look Good, Feel Great
Most people think of spas when they think of self-care, including spa services such as facials, manicures, and pedicures that contribute to people looking good as well as feeling good. This topic is a complicated one for me because I feel very ambivalent about the pressure society places on women especially to look good and often to achieve a narrow beauty standard.
While I don’t believe you should feel obliged to fit someone else’s beauty standard to feel good about yourself, I do think there is a connection between looking good and feeling good. I’ve seen the way a haircut or a new outfit can brighten someone’s day (including my own). And I’m also a fan of Queer Eye, which is indeed so much more than a makeover.
I believe you should invest in and show up in a way that makes you feel like your most authentic, attractive version of yourself. Maybe that has to do with your clothing, hair, nails, or attitude. Tap into your inner self, nourish it, and share it with the external world. Groom and care for yourself in a way that makes you feel good about yourself. How does that translate into your life?
In conclusion, there are many small ways to begin to better care for yourself, and they all begin with realigning your thinking. I’m very curious to hear about what self care means to you, and how you apply it in your daily life.