Updated: Feb 27
It’s August. You’re stressed. The students are coming – or are already there. Self-care? Lol! You don’t even have time to read this blog. Maybe after things calm down, you’ll have time for self-care. Right?
This is how most people think about self-care. That it’s something you DO; and things you do are limited to how much time you have. If there’s already too much on your plate, self-care probably won’t make the cut. I mean, it would be selfish to make time for yourself when so many people are depending on you, right? The problem with this mindset is that it presumes that self-care consists of individual acts – a bath, a massage, the gym, a nap, etc.
In reality, self-care isn’t something you do, it's a state of being. It’s a belief that you are just as important as everyone else. It’s knowing that your voice and talents have incredible value for the world. Self-care is being in touch with your feelings and needs, so you can make sure you’re operating at your best physically, mentally, and emotionally – both for you and the people around you. This state of mind must be a part of your identity, if you’re going to do more than just agree that more self-care would be a good idea.
When you’re at your best, you give your best to others. No matter how well-meaning you are, tired, exhausted, grumpy, distracted you, is not giving other people your full attention or your best work/ideas. Have you ever been on the receiving side of someone who’s distracted and tired? Did you feel like they were really physically, mentally, and emotionally present? You may be able to pull it together for one or two people, but how many people – students, your staff, your family – are getting the short end of the stick when you’re not at your best?
Think about the stories you’ve told yourself over the years about self-care. What do they say about your beliefs? How important are your needs and well-being? Does your value only come from the quantity of work you produce? Do you believe self-care is important for everyone else, but not for you? I want to address a few of the stories I’ve heard over the years:
I’ll be too stressed thinking about everything I have to do to even relax. I’ll feel better if I just get it done. When you’re tired and stressed you don’t work efficiently. Period. When you see your sad-sack students walking around like zombies because they’re studying hour after hour, do you tell them to keep at it or to take a break? Pushing your body and mind to the brink isn’t healthy or productive. I haven’t run the numbers on your particular situation, but I’m 90% sure taking 30 minutes or an hour for yourself to reset then coming back to your work won’t take any more time than chugging through your task inefficiently. In fact, it might be quicker.
There’s already not enough time to get everything done! Excellent. Now that you know that, what can you start to cut or downgrade your plans? I used to have lofty ideas for staff training. But when the week before training started, reality would set in and I would frantically start cutting the things that were nice but not necessary until I had a reasonable amount to do. The beginning of the year always seems to make us think, “Now I can improve _____, _____, and _____!” Improvement is good, but be realistic. Adding a bunch of “would be nice” tasks to your list when there are so many other things that absolutely MUST be done is a recipe for stress and exhaustion.
The students/parents/my staff/my supervisor expect me to ______. Do they really? I used to set expectations for myself that were almost exclusively based on things I had made up in my head. They were things I thought “would be the best” or assumed other people expected me to do. If I really thought about it, I realized more often than not, no one else was going to miss/be disappointed if _____ didn’t happen. Often these expectations were driven by wanting to impress other people or prove that I was good at XYZ. Get out of your head and talk to trusted colleagues or your supervisor. I benefited greatly from my coworkers telling me I was being ridiculous and giving me permission to let things go.
Overall, self-care is a state of mind about how you see yourself in the world. If you believe your value comes from your thoughts, talents, and abilities, then you know you must protect those assets to make sure the world – and the people you care the most about – aren’t missing out on you. When you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t use your talents effectively. You’re inefficient, distracted, and more likely to get sick. You do not serve others well when you aren’t at your best.
When you’re at your best, you are more efficient, creative, productive, and engaged. That doesn’t happen with one massage or one afternoon off. It’s a constant state of evaluating and caring for yourself on an as-needed basis. It’s a way of seeing yourself in connection to the world, the people you serve, and the people you love. When you know your limits and needs, you can protect yourself and your best – which is what the world really needs.