After spending almost two years away from home, I will be heading back to New Zealand in a few months. Coming to the end of this period, reflections about what I have learnt during this time have been flooding me. Something in particular that I come back to again and again is about self-care.
Self-care has become something of a trendy topic, but it is really hard to explain until you need to desperately feel the need for it.
For a long time I felt bad. I felt like a part of me was empty. I struggled to deal with stress and overwhelm and I didn´t take good care of myself. I kept falling into depression and it got harder and harder to get out of it. Once I left NZ, it became really obvious, something I couldn´t escape. It was always there, in the back of my mind. Job instability, being away from family and friends, different cultures and languages, all put extra pressure on me and made it harder to keep just getting by.
It wasn´t until I had the opportunity to talk to a life coach that I realised I needed to accept the situation and work out what I could do to feel better.
So what is self-care?
At the base of it all, it is about looking after yourself. Sounds simple right? But I think the nuance or specificity depends on who you ask. It could be making sure you are in good physical shape. Eat well. Exercise. It might be about getting enough sleep. Painting your nails. Getting your hair cut. Watching a movie or chilling out.
It is all of this. But there are some huge subtleties that get missed and somehow we still end up burnt out. Through trial and error, I have learnt that there are about seven important components to looking after ourselves to make sure we feel our best:
- Movement. We all know that we should be getting something like 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week. Not to freak you out, but it should probably be more than this, especially if you have a desk job. Dance around at home while you vacuum, go for a run, for a yoga class, for a walk, bike to work, take the stairs… there are so many ways to add just a little bit more movement into our day.
- Food. My friend Mel always talks about how important food is. It isn´t just what fills our belly, it is the energy fuels our machine/body. It makes sense that the quality of the input will be reflected in the quality of the output. Basically: if you eat shit, you will feel like shit. So, eat vegetables, drink water. Enjoy food, keeping in mind trying to make the best choices, knowing that you will reap the rewards of it in the near and long term.
- Fun. Aussie crafter and writer Pip Lincolne wrote a thoughtful blog post about the role of fun in our self-care. Forcing ourselves to do things we don´t feel like doing doesn´t necessarily help us feel cared-for. If you don´t like getting up early to run, don´t do it. Find something else you enjoy. Dance. Sing. Take up boxing. Go walking with a friend. Laugh. ENJOY it.
- Community. Self-care doesn´t happen in a vacuum. Sitting alone at home doing all of these things won´t necessarily fill your cup. Catch up with friends. Hold hands with your love. Write or call your parents. Humans are wired for connection and there is almost nothing better than a really good conversation with someone you love.
- Sleep sleep sleep. Sleep is soooo good. If you´re tired, go to bed a little earlier. Take a nap on the weekend. Listen to your body – if you feel tired, you probably could do with a few extra hours of sleep.
- Spiritual. Keeping somehow in touch with the deeper spiritual side of ourselves is important. Whether it´s by going to church, through yoga, meditation, or some other practice that helps connect to your inner self and the big universe.
- Nature. Getting out into nature is important. This doesn´t mean you have to go on a weekend camping hike, but getting to see a bit of natural green and blue is important to balance back and refill. If it is hard to get to the wilderness, maybe there is a lovely park nearby?
- Imagination. Filling our minds with new ideas, creativity, and inspiration is important. This could be reading an inspirational book, watching a TED talk, listening to a good podcast. It´s about connecting to others´ ideas and expanding our perceptions and knowledge.
When you´re running around after other people, working long hours, obsessed over the latest deadline, it is really hard to fit all of these things in. Some of them will be easier than others. Some things will come naturally or will already be a part of your regular routine. But is there anything missing?
Todd Henry writes a lot about building your best work, but I think he has some good advice in general about filling ourselves and looking after ourselves: Schedule. Plan.
Mara Glatzel wrote in her newsletter recently that to begin her self-care journey after burnout, she started simple. She stopped multi-tasking, instead giving herself time to only brush her teeth, instead of also doing X, Y and Z.
What got me back to my place was rest, inspiration and movement. I go to bed early at about 9pm. I make time to connect with interesting ideas as much as possible, even for just a few minutes each day – whether it is a blog, a podcast or a book. I commit to practicing a minimum of 10 minutes of yoga when I get up in the morning.
Do you need to add something or subtract something to look after yourself better? To feel more resilient, stronger, balanced? What little thing could you do?