Self-care is the foundation of self-leadership.
Understanding the psychological and physical aspect of self-care is an essential part of growing as a leader.
Some leaders I coach show signs such as these:
- Feeling tiredness despite sleeping well
- Feeling rushed and harried
- Low dosage of anxiety management medication
- Sleepless or difficulty staying asleep
- Weight management issues
- Low moods over many months
- Loss of interest at work and need to put up a facade
Many of the above are signs of burnout and lack of self-care.
What is Self-care?
- Any practice that slows us down to rest and rejuvenates us to nourish ourselves and all of our body, mind, and spirit.
- It is the cornerstone of balance in life.
- It enhances our capacity to manage crises or any other difficult situation we may be in.
- It enables us to fulfill all our promises in life and supports us in taking care of what we care about.
- It helps us to be energized and feel nourished.
Experiencing a stressful time or any crisis triggers a break in our self-care.
Our response could be frustration, feeling out-of-control, depression, confusion, anxiety, pressure, overwhelmed with irritation, tension, indecisiveness, anger, anxiety, exhaustion, or illness.
Self-care and Deprivation
Deprivation makes us lose focus on self-care. We can feel deprived of
- calm & quiet
- emotional support
- restfulness in body
- me time
- physical energy
- mental peace within
- company of others
- care & touch
- You may want to just lie down to relax and read instead of driving around doing errands.
- You may be in a late evening meeting, but what you want to do is to go to bed.
- You are with a group of friends who are chatting about something that does not interest you. Instead, you would rather be in more stimulating company.
We put up with it all.
A need getting ignored in any situation leads to deprivation.
This kind of overgiving and overdoing especially when you cannot afford to, is a sign of deprivation.
My personal breakdown
Self-care is taking responsibility for ourselves. Only we can structure self-care for us, as no one else can do it.
Self-care is about valuing oneself. It is something that I connect with very personally because I’ve had many breakdowns in self-care.
We, as a family, were going through some difficulties a few years ago. The difficulties were particularly connected with our younger child’s cognitive capacities. And, due to those difficulties, we had to take her out of school. We homeschooled her for almost 18 months. At that time, I was running two organisations and , and I decided to close them down. I stopped my work completely. My only focus was my child’s well-being and growth.
I felt deprived of stimulation and the recognition I got from work. I felt deprived of rest as I was overworked doing the homeschooling and the neurological program we ran for my daughter.
I felt so exhausted and wanted to crawl into bed, yet I wouldn’t do that. Instead, I would be running around attempting to juggle all my balls in the air. There was such a breakdown in my moods. I experienced anxiety, helplessness, and frustration. I felt resentful and stuck.
What does one do at that time?
‘Options thinking’ was key
- My option was to invest in self-care.
- Whether it was building a network in my apartment that could support me or turning to my immediate family for help.
- I learned to make many requests.
- I began connecting with friends who would support me physically by coming home and being of help.
- My husband would give me a break on weekends so I could go and do what I wanted while he held the home front.
- There were many, many actions that I needed to take to get over this experience, both in my mind and body.
- I slowly regained my balance.
- I needed to choose mid-ground in many places in my life.
Self-care can be challenging
Self-care doesn’t come easy to some of us due to our own personal practices and habits. In our growing years, we either haven’t had anybody tell us what self-care is, or we haven’t had an example of adults who showed us how to take care of ourselves.
Some of us have grown up in families that explicitly told us that caring for ourselves is selfish. A good life is wholly dedicated only to taking care of the needs of others.
No one is going to care for you but you. Thus, take the time to care for yourself in a way that nourishes you.
A leader’s story
This client was building a house on a farm. Just at the same time, her husband fell very ill and was in the hospital. She spoke about how she got into overdrive and became super-efficient. She juggled everything. She tried to be at the hospital, the work on the farm continued, and she was a career person as well. She pushed herself in each area of her life.
She felt so alone, unsupported, and exhausted all the time. Being a leader, she was struggling to find time to lead the team the way she wanted. Yet it did not occur to her to take time off. The deprivation kept building up. She was on the verge of a health breakdown when we met.
Unexpected challenges often take us to our old coping strategies. Her coping strategy was to be a strong and efficient person. So, she went to those coping strategies rather than looking at what she required. She did not have enough ‘options’ thinking yet.
Here are four excuses that we often use and what they mean.
This is from Cheryl Richardson’s work on Self-care.
- “I never have time to do what I want to do”. It means “I don’t take time for my needs”.
- “I always do all of it on my own”. What it means is “I don’t ask for help,” or ‘’I don’t know how to make requests to other people,” or “I don’t know how to get other people involved in what I have to do”.
- “No one appreciates the things I do”. Mostly likely meaning is “I take on too much hoping someone will notice and tell me how good I am or how grateful they are for what I am doing.”
- “My kids take up all my time” what needs to be admitted is “I have chosen (most of the time) to make my children’s need more of a priority than my own.
Correcting the self-talk
Now that we know the unhelpful self-talk, it’s imperative to correct those statements. For example.
|Inner chatter in our mind||Correct statement|
|My kids take up all the time.||I have made my children’s needs more of a priority than mine.|
|No one appreciates me||I have to ask for what I need|
|I never have time to do what I want||Let me focus on my needs. My needs are essential|
Leaders have a responsibility towards their team, their organisation, and the results they generate. You will not generate results when the muscle of self-care is weak.
SIX questions and a reflection:
- Where do I feel deprived?
- What do I need more of right now?
- What do I need less of right now?
- What am I yearning for?
- What is causing me to feel this?
- What request can I make, and to who?
The response to these questions allows you to look at what is needed to take care of yourself now.
Do you need more rest?
Is it an unfinished conversation bothering you?
Do you have to change the structure of your day?
Do you have to make a different request from your team?
Do you need more sleep?
Does your body need more movement and exercise?
Do you like what you do in your role?
Are you leading with a sense of purpose?
Leaders need the courage to be in touch with their deeper needs rather than ignore them. Many times, coaching conversations reveal these needs. Then a leader can cut the cycle of deprivation and can get on the road to self-care.
15 ideas to begin your Self-care today
- Build a network of support with people in your social circle-friends, immediate family, and colleagues.
- Look for ways to expand your capacity and delegate responsibility.
- Have conversations on purpose, mission, and satisfaction at work.
- Start to make requests and get people involved in your life. This way, you create spaces for self-care.
- Get regular health checks done.
- Seek mental health support if needed
- Build the second and third layers of your team well. A strong team is part of the self-care design.
- Create habits around physical fitness and movement.
- Manage your calendar so you take micro-breaks many times a day.
- Pursue a hobby or activity that is relaxing.
- Create me-time spaces at work and home.
- Social media detoxes are great. Being connected all the time is stressful.
- Take intentional breaks every few months.
- Give and receive hugs.
- Do five thoughtful actions each month. Kindness feeds our spirit!
What self-care approaches have you found helpful?