Self-care is thrown around a lot. I mean, A. LOT. But what does it really mean?
I have nothing against the term self-care, but I prefer stress management. I’d like to first propose two broad categories of stress management (simplified for the sake of helpfulness, not exhaustiveness, of course):
- Treat Yo’ Self
- Build Yo’ Self
If you’ve never watched Parks and Recreation starring Amy Poehler and other amazing people (if not, strongly consider it), “Treat Yo’ Self” was a day started by two of the main characters during which they did just that. They flew from one pampering activity to the other, essentially no expense spared. Quick intro video here.
Cute verbiage aside, let’s dive in. For some, “Treat Yo’ Self” has become synonymous with self-care or stress management. I argue it’s not. It’s pampering. Now, before you argue about how massages, mani-pedis, foot scrubs, body scrubs, facials, and donuts make you feel wonderful and whole again, I get you. I love pampering. But I want to get more personal and individualized (and more effective) on this.
There was a time in my professional life when I worked as a psychologist with older adults – in hospice, adult day healthcare centers, in-home care for homebound individuals, and even long-term care facilities (aka nursing homes). Yes, I was there to work with individuals struggling with aging, health-related concerns, and even those facing death. But one of my other important functions was being available as a resource to staff who provided care for these people day in and day out. As you might imagine, there is a high rate of stress and burnout in these professions. Burnout is incredibly prevalent among those in helping professions such as nurses, doctors, home-health aids, therapists, teachers, etc.
One of the most important functions I provided was helping staff create stress management plans. And no, I’m not talking about encouraging them to go get a massage every once in a while. I’m talking about taking an honest look at themselves, their stress triggers, and exploring rituals, habits and other strategies to incorporate in their life on a regular basis. Or, as I think about it, “Build Yo’ Self” into a professional who [mostly] remains steady in the midst of chaos and stress. The better they managed their stress (and took care of themselves), the better they were able to serve their patients.
Here’s the “Build Yo’ Self” case for why a plan is important for all sorts of professionals:
- When you have a stress management plan in place, you increase your self-efficacy. Self efficacy is the belief that you can do something, perform a particular task, or be successful at accomplishing meaningful goals. You are a busy professional woman. And when you’re as busy as you are, life can easily slip into reactive, whack-a-mole-type situation. You’re bouncing from one thing to the next, never feeling like you even have time to think. And playing whack-a-mole most assuredly makes us feel out of control. Think you’re the most productive and effective employee/boss/leader when you’re playing whack-a-mole? Imagine yourself in front of a room full of preschoolers all whining at you for a toy/snack/tie my shoes/why is he hitting me/I need to go potty, and then at the same time trying to think of your vision for your career/life/goals, etc. Good. Luck. [My brain hurts just thinking about it]
Now, I understand that true control can be an illusion, but I’m not trying to wax philosophical here. I’m talking about self-efficacy. Imagine having several or all of the following stress management (or self-care) tasks scheduled in your life:
- Regular doctor check-ups/appointments
- Exercise ~3x per week
- Eating [mostly] healthy
- At least one regularly scheduled pampering session (e.g., pre-scheduled monthly massage)
- Regular sessions with a coach or therapist
- Regular downtime, no-screen time
- Somewhat regular vacations
- Regular meetings with friends/family
- A semi-predictable work schedule
- Regular sleep
When tasks/activities such as these are part of a stress management plan, they can bring predictability and the belief (self-efficacy) that you actually can manage your crazy successful life. And that belief turns into a reality. You don’t just believe you can manage your busy life, you ARE managing your busy life. Doesn’t that sound better than whack-a-mole ad infinitum? If you’d like to learn more about self-efficacy, here’s a short synopsis.
- If stress management is not planned, not routinized, it lingers in the back of your mind, adding to your to-do list that you feeling guilty for not doing. It adds to the chaos when it’s not planned. If these sort of activities/tasks are not planned, they just add to your mental to-do list. They stay in the back of your mind as shoulds. And shoulds then turn into feelings of failure of guilt and failure. No Bueno.
- When they’re not planned, they likely don’t get done. And for many of these items, when they don’t get done, your body physically suffers. Not convinced? See my previous post on stress.
What does all this accomplish? Well, for one we feel better. And one overarching reason you’ll feel better is that you’ll have replaced reactivity with proactivity. Say it with me… replace reactivity with proactivity.
Now for the work you need to do.
If you read my previous post, you’ve already (hopefully) thought about your stress triggers and “tells.” And you’ve started thinking about what rejuvenates you.
Keeping all of that in mind, start crafting your stress management plan. Consider:
- What are some of the stress management tasks that jumped out at you from the list above (e.g., exercise, sleep, medical appointments)?
- What items from the list jump out at you as particular pain points? Areas where you’re hurting the most?
- Are there other items that you would add to the list?
List the stress management items that are the greatest priority, and then consider whether these are recurring activities (daily, weekly, monthly), or things that you need to schedule once in a while (e.g., scheduling your annual physical is a necessity, but not something that you add to your monthly plan.
When I think of managing stress in my life, I think of how managing stress occurs daily (e.g., meditation, exercise), weekly (e.g., meeting a friend for coffee), monthly (e.g., massage, date night with hubby), and even semi-annually or annually (e.g., travel, unique experiences with my kids).
I also schedule scheduling time. Sounds crazy, but you know what I’m talking about. How often do you put off scheduling doctor appointments because you don’t feel like taking time out to call and make the appointment? Right.
Now, if you are starting from scratch, start simple. Don’t try to make massive changes in your life all at once. You’re much less likely to stick with it.
Ok, that’s a good start, and I hope you find it helpful. I’ll surely write more on this in the future. This is a topic I love working on with professional women, so if you’d like to dive deeper, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or better yet, schedule a free consultation. Be well!