Updated: Mar 6
Why self-care is perhaps the most selfless thing you can do.
When was the last time you took your full lunchbreak, more to the point when was the last time you even took half of it without feeling a pang of guilt over everything that wasn't getting done. We get so caught up in our daily lives rushing from place to place, trying to meet all our commitments, multi-tasking has become so commonplace that we've started thinking of downtime as only having one chore to complete at a time.
One of the hardest things to do is to admit that we have created a lot of this overwork ourselves, setting up unrealistic expectations of what we can, and should, be achieveing in each day of our lives. We compare ourselves to images in the media, trying to live up to that self-assured professional who arrives early to their workplace - having already been to the gym, of course! Bright eyed, bushy-tailed, no distractions, mind on the job. The one who breezes through their day, then returns to their show-house in the evening where they find time to create a gourmet nutritious meal and settle down with loved ones for an evening of relaxation. There's only one problem .... that person doesn't really exist, at least not in any consistent way. As we chase this unattainable lifestyle it slips further and further away from us and we slowly begin to feel less accomplished, doubting our worth. As we feel less and less capable we become more and more overwhelmed with even the most mundane of our responisbilities. It's at this point where we stop being effective and present in our own lives. We may arrive at the office an hour early, we may hunker down over our keyboards throughout lunch, we may stay late at the office, we may even be found sat up in bed taking care of that one last e-mail at midnight ... but how many of those extra hours we have put in are actually an efficient use of our time. It stands to reason that if you are only giving half of your attention to a task it will take twice as long to complete, and so we need to begin to compartmentalise our lives, to set role boundaries and adhere to them. Ultimately we need to begin to give ourselves permission to be human.
It sounds so simple but where to begin?
One aspect of our lives we really seem to struggle with is self-care. If you want to be available to your friends and family you have to learn to be available to yourself first. It's a process but it's a process that can be started quite simply. Begin with your lunch-break, there are legal Health and Safety standards that require us to take a time out every now and then so why not use it to your advantage.
Begin with 30 mins of me time, set an alarm on your phone ten minutes before your lunch break, ample time to finish that last chore before you get up from your desk and simply leave the room, leave your work phone on your desk and just walk away. Eat lunch, take a stroll, chat to a colleague, sit on a prk bench, pass the time of day with a stranger, listen to some music, call a friend, have coffee on a patio, recline your carseat and close your eyes. Just do something, do anything, for yourself, something that has no greater purpose than pleasure. Don't pay your bills online, don't call your kid's school teacher back, don't run round the grocery store, don't stand in line at a bank, don't race to your dental appointment ... just be. When you return to your workplace you do so with a lighter step, most of the frustrations you were feeling before lunch will have disappeared and realistically you have no more to achieve than you would have if you'd spent the last half hour sat staring at your screen, shuffling papers and feeling bitter about how overworked and unappreciated you were. Once you realise what a difference fresh air and fresh perspectives make to your wellbeing it becomes a little easier to justify carving out time in your schedule to unwind and re-energize.
Start small, spend your commute home reflecting on your day, disrobing from the office and filing away your work life; if you have to take work home set a strict boundary around the time you will commit to it. An hour spent focussed solely on a task can easily be more productve than three or four resentful hours trying to watch tv or have conversations with family from behind a laptop screen. Disrobe, take a shower, freshen up and take an active role in your life. Our wellbeing, and that of our loved ones is one the most influential aspects of our quality of life, it's time to give it the attention it deserves.
For some,it can feel like a slap in the face when you take your lunchbreak and the world doesn't end, when you leave your desk for 30 mins and aren't even missed that much, when you realise that the expectations you are failing to meet are actually your own ... but that slap might be just what you need to wake up and start living your life more fully.
Take your calendar down from the wall, open your agenda or click into your schedule. There's an empty window in there somewhere, find it and write your own name in before it gets filled with someone else's. Leave the chores behind for an hour, and vow to keep a date with yourself!