by Mel Blackwood
Do you feel guilty about taking time for yourself? I certainly do, but I'm trying to fight it.
I used to think that self-care was a luxury. Something I would aspire to do once I'd reached a certain level of success. Now, I realise after a number of burnouts, self-care is ESSENTIAL.
No one is going to look after you or understand your energy levels in the way you do. Therefore, it's your responsibility. I'm choosing to redefine self care from spa days and retreats, (which I still think are a luxury), to meaning 'time out for myself to allow rebalancing of internal energy' (much more achievable).
Why do I think self-care is selfish?
I thought back to why I had this view of self-care is being selfish and strongly believe it's linked to society's expectations for women. When I was growing up, girls were praised for being good, quiet, generous, helpful and it seemed that boys were praised for being adventurous and taking risks. I think this our views have now shifted. Children being raised today are celebrated more for being themselves, but my parents are now grandparents, so their beliefs will still filter down to affect the younger generation. My therapist reminded me that before I go racing off to have a challenging conversation with my parents, they were just doing their best. At the time, they probably thought they were being the most forward-thinking parents there were, providing the best possible start for their family, so I don't need to tell them off for their overly traditional views - it was in keeping for thinking at the time.
If, like me, you were raised with very traditional gender ideals from your parents, you may have also learned that there is only one correct answer to the question "Are you ok?". Which is "Oh, I'm fine," while your eyes flash with sadness or anger. This is self betrayal at its worst. If we believe this is the only choice of answer, we start believing we are okay and ignoring how our body feels. We do our best to push the feelings away, effectively gaslighting ourselves, but some point our bodies simply cannot take anymore. Our minds begin feeling heavy and weighed down by emotion. Feelings are called feelings because you feel them in your body. Ever woken up and felt so sad you're not able to move? It could be your body trying to get you to notice something! If we are used to telling ourselves and everyone else we are fine when we are not, it becomes very difficult to unpick later.
Since starting my own therapy journey to unpick my personal trauma, I'm now a huge advocate in therapy for all. This is a very individual from of support, so it is important to get the right therapist for you. Someone who will challenge you but support you. The challenge is in facing those difficulties that usually stem from childhood, before you realised there was a choice, that you may be trying to run away from. Ultimately, you won't feel peace until these traumas are resolved in some way.
Suffering is not comparative or a competition of who is having a worse time.
Of course it has taken me many years to realise how important rest is, particularly when my entire adult life has been spent working, raising a family and now running a company. I absolutely love what I do with a passion, but I'm still going to allow myself to find things difficult, when my son tells me he is struggling with his A-levels or the house is forever a mess (when did I last see the bottom of the laundry basket I cannot even say), or I realise I planned three meetings on the same day and committed to meeting a friend who was recently bereaved. It is particularly changing to say "I just need a rest". Instead I have to create boundaries, but why is it so hard? We want to please. We want people to like us.
Well, that stopped for me. I've retrained my ego not to care so much about what people think. The thing that helped - roller skating. No, seriously, hear me out. I'm a wallflower, introverted and awkward in many social situations (hard to believe sometimes I know). When you are an adult roller skating - people see you. ( I have brilliant headphones now so I can block out the world a bit and roll around to my favourite tunes and recharge my energy.) I can either skate, be seen and learn to care less, or not skate and still feel rubbish. I choose the former and over a loooooooong time, I have learned that most people who see me skating (if they are not also skating) wish they were too. I can't control what anyone else thinks, and it's not my job to. As long as I am skating with respect for others, there isn't really a problem!
Well, this would all be fine if I actually felt I had the time to skate and chill out regularly. Due to my hobby and chosen line of work being the same thing, it's very easy for me to be looking like I'm hobbying, but actually I'm working. So yes, even when travelling, apparently for a holiday I'm still NOT having a rest. Of course I'm telling myself I AM having a rest because it's a change of scenery, but this goes back to old habits that are ultimately self-destructive - pretending to have a rest. The truth is I have been operating at sprint pace for the last few years, so when the pace has slowed down to a jog, it's felt so strange that I have filled my time with more stuff! Yes, self-sabotage at its finest. Of course that's totally unsustainable and a couple of times I've come very very close to burn out. I should say that I have the most remarkable team and friendship group. We all fully understand that we would sooner not commit to something unless we are likely to actually do it. If it's a friend thing and our internal energy says 'no', we hold no hard feelings against the person. They're not letting us down, they're looking after themselves. Everyone should have friends like these.
I'm now working to block out days during the week or months where I'm actually doing nothing. No meetings, not even virtual ones (because they are still meetings!), no plans with friends. Just for me to decide on the day, what I want to do. If that involves a full Netflix binge, then so be it. If I want to sort out my clothes because looking at nicely folded t shirts in a drawer brings me joy, then I'm going to do that.
In conclusion, self-care is essential. No one can tell you how much time you need to recharge. Only you know that for yourself. Self-care is also difficult, as we have extraordinarily busy lives and feel pulled in many directions. It takes a very strong and courageous person to say "I really need to recharge right now." If self care is managed properly and we learn to understand our bodies better, then we won't reach burnout. That's the point of a good self care routine. Back to roller skating then - it's through roller skating that I have learned to connect my mind and body. Eyes are not allowed to see what the feet are doing, so we have to learn by feel. This is how it feels to bend my knees this much. This is how it feels to twist my shoulders and support turning. With my mind occupied on learning about the body, it seems that physical activity really does support mental wellness. I come away from skate sessions feeling lighter. Committing to skate sessions was enough time in my schedule to feel recharged.
Movement is medicine.
This weekend, I'm truly delighted to be heading to Portugal for a luxury wellness retreat that I'm determined not to sabotage for myself. I'll be leaving the laptop at home so I can't even be tempted to work. The whole weekend is to nourish oneself - the fact that it is in the sunshine in April and led by women just makes it that much better. Thanks to lovely Joy @WeAreSkaterBooty @HoopHustleFlow for making this happen.
Do you have daily self care habits? Please share below!