From an early age, we are told our work ethic will strongly determine levels of success in life. If we want more, or increasingly if we want to simply stay afloat in light of an evolving, pandemic-driven world, we need to give it all to our job. Or in some cases, to multiple jobs we’ve taken on.
Compound that with family demands, aging parents who depend on adult daughters and sons and community obligations that require a huge expenditure of time, effort and energy. In the workplace alone, 77 percent of respondents to a Deloitte external workplace survey said they experience burnout. So where does all this leave us? It may be surprising to some to note that taking steps to care for ourselves is not selfish as we may have come to believe. Self-care, in fact, is a measure of respect and gratitude for all we’ve been given.
Whether you’re an adult daughter or son who is a family caregiver to an elderly loved one or an older adult with a full plate, chances are you’ve learned to do without enough sleep, perhaps regular meals and adequate nutrition, exercise, social activities with friends and any downtime or other form of stress relief. Words like anxiety, depression and insomnia are part of our lexicon. Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs also result from the stress caused by overextending ourselves, ignoring our own needs, subordinating them to everyone and everything around us.
But caring for our own mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs enables us to feel better, make better decisions and more competently handle the challenges of everyday living. Though it’s the old story about the airline passenger needing to put on the oxygen mask first before helping others, the message remains clear: self-care is essential care.
So how do we take those all-important first steps?
Acceptance and Action
Experts recommend identifying the things we cannot change vs. what we can. While we can’t necessarily stop work from piling up, or family demands from mounting, we can change our attitude in relation to it and how we react to it. Acceptance, though perhaps uncomfortable at first, goes a long way in our ability to manage the circumstances in which we find ourselves, impacting our mental and emotional states. With that, the first steps in self-care don’t have to be giant ones. Committing to five weekly sessions with a personal trainer may be a lot to bite off. Rather, an early morning walk with a neighbor or an hour out together for coffee, getting lost in a great book or movie, unplugging from social media, or saying no to something you simply cannot take on at the moment can go a long way in building a better relationship with yourself, one in which you feel you have more control.
The following actions can provide some steps for moving ahead in the realm of self-care, moving closer to the goal of a healthier life:
Exercise and Nutrition
The benefits of exercise cannot be overstated. At any level, working it into your weekly routine will improve your health. The accruing release of endorphins will boost your attitude. Eliminating refined sugar, unhealthy fats and carbohydrates, and processed foods can help our minds and bodies function more efficiently.
Try going to bed an hour earlier each night. As we age, adults need more sleep, and you’d be surprised what that extra time does for your mind and body—and outlook.
Make time for good friends. They remind us how unconditionally loved and valued we are—and can be a lot of fun in the process.
Books and Movies
Getting lost in a great book or movie can provide an important escape from the “real world,” broadening our horizons at the same time. Making time for this each day or a few times a week is not only relaxing but provides opportunity for a different perspective.
Religion and Spirituality
Engaging in religious and spiritual practices can improve our attitude, strengthen our resiliency, even relax and refresh us in the realm of offering comforting ritual and hope.
Yoga impacts body, mind and spirit. The combination of deep stretching and mindfulness provides for a release of stress and tension, leaving the practitioner with a sense of calm and deep relaxation.
Especially when practiced on a regular basis, this is another route to managing problems and stress.
Take advantage of nature. Walking on a beach or a hike in the woods (if you live in a big city, a park can be a reasonable facsimile) can recharge your batteries and renew your spirit—especially if made part of your routine.
Sometimes challenges are too much to handle alone. Seeking a different perspective from a qualified mental health professional is the key to a positive outcome. Reaching out in in this way is a sign of strength.
That’s right—it’s not only okay but essential to spend a whole day every so often away from laptop, tablet, cell phone, and/or any form of social media. No pun intended, but it can help reboot your mind.
“Self-Care is Not Selfish—A Checklist for Family Caregivers and Older Adults,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.