I’m going to share how I practice self care, and it’s practice, not do, because it’s an ever evolving process! But I’m going to share what works for me because I really feel that we do not do enough of this for ourselves, and that if we did it would make a huge difference to us and to the world. As the old saying goes — you need to put your own life jacket on before you attend to anyone else, but far too often we run around putting life jackets on other people, and wonder why we’re the ones drowning.
My self-care awakening began back in the summer of 2015, at a time when I was drowning so much that I realised I needed to start taking better care of myself. This is my story.
I’d been working on an intense project for 4 months — and I’d already had 2 meltdowns in the office. Proper floods of tears, questioning my existence. It was like the most extreme case of Impostor Syndrome I had ever felt — I’d studied law, worked in Project Management for 4 years, and somehow ended up leading not one but two separate multi-million pound fit out contracts on one of the most prestigious property developments in London! Whoa! I should have felt proud and inspired by the challenge but I just felt terrified.
Everyone had said “give it 6 months”, but after 4 months I was dreading getting out of bed in the morning — I felt this acidic feeling, knots of tension, and was waking up at 2.30am or if I was lucky, 5.30am, and my poor boyfriend was getting affected by this too.
One morning, on the bus, I realised I was trying to distract myself from realising I was going to work — whether it was by treating myself to a nice coffee while I waited at the bus stop, or playing music to make me think of happy times, but as each bus stop passed I felt the creeping dread. It was like I was a child being dragged to school.
Eventually, I realised that on the days where I had woken early, and chosen to use that time for yoga and meditation, I had actually felt better than if I had tried to sleep and instead woken up later, and anxious. So I set myself a challenge — for the month of September 2015, I would get up every morning either at 6am or whenever my body felt like jolting me awake around then, and write in my journal — brain dump all the crap and noise that was holding me back, then do 5 sun salutations and then my Headspace.
I also decided to change the way I went to work — I had realised there was a walking route that took about the same length of time as the bus, so I chose from the 1st September that I was going to walk. With every step I was going to be consciously choosing to go to work rather than trying to distract myself and then ending up there against my will! And finally, I was going to use my walk to inspire myself instead of distract myself — instead of music, I would start to listen to these podcasts that everyone had been banging on about for years!!
Day 1, I started with Sheryl Sandberg’s Ted Talk on leaning in. Wow. I think I was almost skipping to work! I was really fortunate that I had this lovely quiet route where no cars could go so there were very few people sharing this with me. I would just smile to myself and nod to myself every time something inspiring was mentioned!
I got to work feeling energised — I had completely changed my perspective on how I was handling a difficult situation! So not only did I feel much better having chosen to walk to work, and having practiced yoga & Headspace, I also felt empowered by the fact that I made that happen! For me! No one else! But as a result, my boyfriend starting getting full nights of sleep, and a less stressy girlfriend!
It felt indulgent at first — arriving at work half an hour later, in order to accommodate this new self-care routine, but I figured it was either this or I just eventually refused to come into the office so 30 mins seemed like a fair compromise! And within that first few weeks I felt it make a change at work, in a way I couldn’t undo — I began to see and feel just how much I wasn’t coping. I was doing so much by myself and that was great, but it helped me see more clearly that I actually needed help if I was going to keep going. And after the 3rd day of crying in the bathrooms in a week, I decided yet again — I have a choice here — I can wallow or I can do something.
I tried to think when I had last felt truly supported or comforted with regards to work — and it was at a Women In Media networking event that my friend had run a few months ago. Just talking to other women about the stress I felt under, and hearing them say “me too!”, made me feel like I wasn’t alone! And that I wasn’t crazy to feel this way — I just needed to figure out how to handle it.
I decided to Google “women in project management” — surely there must be other women out there who work in the same industry and feel this way.? And I, very conveniently, found the WiPM Conference 2015, which happened to be in 2 week’s time! Just booking the event made me feel like help was on the way — I wasn’t on my own, and I was going to learn how to fix things soon. And it was, and it did, and that conference changed my life. Feeling that power of the female collective — so many like-minded women in one place at one time — was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I felt inspired, motivated, and rejuvenated in a way I could not have anticipated. I had found my Tribe.
So that’s where my whole awakening over self-care began!
And these are my Top 5 Tips for you to practice this for yourself:
1. Make time for mindfulness
Whether it’s yoga, meditation — or walking/running — find the way that works for you to let you switch off, at whatever time of day suits you best.
2. Change your perspective
If there’s something or someone you hate, try to find a different way to manage it, whether it’s your commute, how you structure your meetings, or how you communicate requests — find new ways of looking at what you need.
3. Make time for reflection
Whether it’s journalling, or talking to a friend, or even making a video diary! Even just jotting down a few notes about what you’re feeling and when can help you see patterns emerging and then you can change them.
4. Ask for help
From a Coach, a therapist, from colleagues, or even put yourself out there and find a new Tribe! No matter how you’re feeling, there’s someone else who feels that way! And just knowing you’re not alone will make a huge difference!
5. Seek out inspiration
Whether it’s listening to podcasts on your way to work, or reading inspiring books or articles, or attending inspiring talks — give yourself the gift of seeing people really achieve their best self, sharing their wisdom, and remind yourself of how much good there is in the world.
And remember, if you’re struggling with the concept of doing this for yourself — think of the life jacket analogy. You need to do this first if you want to have a hope of being the best person/partner/employee/boss/parent you can be. And you deserve that, as well as them.