Leadership and Self care

If you always put yourself last others will follow your example. I sometimes offer this response when I hear another woman talk about giving – time, money, energy – even though it’s clear she feels spent and really wants to ask something for herself instead. This is our common affliction, selflessness turned dangerously against the self.

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence it is an act of political warfare – Audre Lorde.

Choosing self-care requires that we grant ourselves the authority to behave as if we matter. This is daring and courageous because at every turn we have been told we don’t matter – at least not for our own sake, or in relationship to ourselves alone. Women, and women of color especially, are expected to give care and pleasure. We have been told they are not ours to take.

Yet take them (them being deep and abiding care and pleasure in and for ourselves) we must. Now. Starting today.

I’m not just talking about pampering, although a nice massage or pedicure is good. I’m talking about revolutionary self-care, which is more about living with some authenticity. Nurturing the woman within. Abandoning airless hiding places and showing up as our real selves. Listening for our own voices and honoring our honest human needs. Saying yes only when we really mean it. Being bold enough to ask for what we want.

This kind of self-care is about bypassing the busyness badge. There is nothing wrong with a busy schedule, but when we always wear exhaustion – physical, mental or emotional – as a badge of honor, it is definitely time for a time out. How should we use the time? However we want, excuses or guilt not required.

Perhaps you’re thinking…. Are you nuts? We are in crisis mode, there isn’t time for self-care!!!

I’m not suggesting a bubble bath while the house is burning. Only recognition that all resources, including our physical, mental and emotional energy, are finite. Willfully depleting our resources with no plan for restoration eventually leads to a different kind of crisis – feeling bombed out within. Instead, we must learn to take refuge in a regular, committed practice of self-care.

Share the struggle and make the time

We are all in this together; those we are fighting for and with – everyone has something to contribute. Our job is to recognize the agency of our compatriots. Also, to find innate value in ourselves (not based on what we do but just because we are), and stake a claim to identity beyond hero or martyr. It isn’t actually true as often as we’d like to think that doom is the inevitable consequence of our personal failure to ride in on a white horse. Sometimes we can give so much time and effort rescuing that we have nothing left, and we end up losing ourselves – surrendering good health, joy, dream time, clarity and spontaneity.

Of course our work matters. That’s why we do it. What also matters is finding balance. How is that possible when our work isn’t just a job but a life mission? We have to remember that we (each and every one of us) are included in the mission. We are equally as deserving of the freedom, peace, equality, opportunity and power as every other person we are fighting for and with. We must fight just as hard for ourselves.

Here are some simple self-care strategies to try today:

  • Pay attention to what you think and how you talk to yourself.
    • Notice when your inner voice is not kind or encouraging. Memorize and practice a compassionate response to your inner critic.
  • Anchor an awareness activity.
    • For example, each time you wash your hands or climb the stairs, slow down and take three to five deep breaths if that feels ok (some people feel unpleasantly activated by deep breathing). Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and signals the brain that all is well so it is ok to turn off the stress response.
    • Alternatively, you can try grounding yourself. Notice the pressure of your feet on the floor as you stand or walk.
    • Finally, say something kind to yourself as you bring attention to the moment. For example, may I be at ease, may I feel encouraged, may I connect with the strength and calm I need.
  • Check in with your body a few times each day.
    • See if you can notice any sensations happening inside. Do you notice shallow or rapid breathing? Do your shoulders feel tense? Does your chest feel tight?
    • Take a moment to stretch and soften any places that feel uncomfortable, tight or tense.
  • Notice what is going right.
    • Most of us have a negativity bias. We are always on the lookout for potential threats or danger (mostly this helps keep us safe). Unfortunately, it can also add to stress or feelings of overwhelm.
    • Make a conscious effort to give a little more attention to what is going right. Did you really enjoy your coffee or tea today? Did you exchange a nice smile with a store clerk? Did you see a beautiful tree? Look for big and small feel good moments every day.
  • Make time for yourself.
    • You deserve your care and attention. If your schedule does not allow room for you, do some trimming to make the space.
    • Be patient and gentle with yourself.
    • Tolerate your imperfections.
    • Remember you are uniquely you, don’t waste time comparing yourself with others.
  • Make and honor personal boundaries.
    • I have an anonymous quote on my wall that reads, “she who trims herself to suit everybody will soon whittle herself away.” Don’t lose yourself to your own unwillingness to set limits.
  • Know what feels good.
    • Do it often.

Caring for ourselves is not self-indulgence. Caring for ourselves is self-love. It is what we must do, not only because we are change makers and want to bring our best selves to this work but also, maybe even more so, because good physical, mental and emotional health require that we create space to honor ourselves and our own human needs. When we always put ourselves last others will follow our example…let’s set a better example.

 

 

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8 Ways to be True to Yourself

  1. Maintain alignment between what you feel and need and what you say and do.
  2. Make value-based choices while taking into account intuition, research, and the bigger picture.
  3. Do something each day that reflects your deepest needs, wishes, and values.
  4. Speak up for yourself and ask for what you want.
  5. Don’t put up with abuse of any kind.
  6. Give up designing your behavior by the desire to be liked (be imperfectly perfect and yourself!)
  7. State and maintain your boundaries, especially about the level of energy you can handle being around or taking in.
  8. Offer your fear loving-kindness and compassion.

From: 4 Questions to Foster Your Authentic Self
By Carley Hauck | Mindful.org/October 12, 2016

A Result of Meditation

“One of the finest results of meditation is the increased gap between stimulus and response. That gap before I react gives me time to notice my habitual patterns and sometimes even decide whether to stay a slave to them or break loose (when this happens, the feeling is liberating – like getting naked in public).” Brent R. Oliver

Being with your anger

When we are angry, we are not usually inclined to return to ourselves. We want to think about the person who is making us angry, to think about his hateful aspects – his rudeness, dishonesty, cruelty, maliciousness, and so on. The more we think about him, listen to him, or look at him, the more our anger flares. His dishonesty and hatefulness may be real, imaginary, or exaggerated, but, in fact, the root of the problem is the anger itself, and we have to come back and look first of all inside ourselves. It is best if we do not listen to or look at the person whom we consider to be the cause of our anger. Like a fireman, we have to pour water on the blaze first and not waste time looking for the one who set the house on fire. “Breathing in, I know that I am angry. Breathing out, I know I must put all my energy into caring for my anger.” So we avoid thinking about the other person, and we refrain from doing or saying anything as long as our anger persists. If we put all our mind into observing our anger, we will avoid doing any damage that we may later regret.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

Tell yourself the truth

Decide now is the time to ask the question that has been fluttering around the boundaries of your subconscious mind. Let it fully form, and then face it with curiosity and courage. Maybe your question is about why you have stayed in a job or relationship long after it helped you connect with the best part of you. Maybe it is about why you won’t leap for your dream even though staying in place is increasingly stifling. Maybe you want to understand your eating, spending or drinking habits better so you can finally make choices that support your physical and emotional well-being. Whatever the question, decide to ask it now. Know that whatever answers an honest search  reveals you have, or will find, the strength you need to do what you must be done.

Daring as self care

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. David Lloyd George quoted in Do One Thing Everyday That Scares You – A Journal.

In other words…go ahead and leap for your dreams. Go for your goals. Throw off the burden of unrealized potential, it is too heavy to carry indefinitely.

Learning how to say no

Why does it feel so hard to say no? Some common reasons are:

  • It makes me feel strong, proud and important when others turn to me.
  • I am afraid of starting a conflict or hurting the other person’s feelings if I say no.
  • I worry that I might lose the relationship if I say no.
  • I am embarrassed to say I don’t have the money if I can’t afford to lend it.
  • I don’t feel like I have the right to refuse.
  • I want to help.
  • I always say yes, I can’t just start saying no now.
  • I feel guilty when I say no.

If any of those reasons sounds like you, here are some suggestions for learning to say no.

  • Practice letting yourself feel uncomfortable. Saying yes to someone else only because you feel guilty is a way of saying no to yourself, your goals and your needs.
  • Establish short and long-term goals that you share with others. If no is not yet a complete sentence for you, it may be easier to refuse with a reason that points to your goals so it is clear you are being purposeful rather than mean.
  • Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. For example, I can’t loan you money but I can help you brainstorm alternative solutions or explore other resources.
  • Especially if you feel pressured, delay your response until you’ve had a chance to review the situation.
  • Remember that you don’t have to rescue or save everyone all the time. Sometimes, deciding why your needs are important is the priority.
  • Offer a compassionate no. Acknowledge the need and express regret that you are unable to help in the way requested.
  • Remind yourself that your value lies not in what you are able to do for someone or give to someone. You are valuable just because you are you.

Set boundaries for self care

Why are boundaries important for self care?

  • Boundaries are a signal that you are choosing to be deliberate about your plans and goals. When you do not have or honor your boundaries, you risk being pulled in random directions.
  • Boundaries are a way to stand up for yourself. Standing up for yourself can help you feel like you have some control over your life because you get to determine how you will use your resources instead of letting everyone else decide for you.
  • Boundaries can help reduce stress and may even reduce outbursts of anger or frustration that often come with feeling out upon or overwhelmed.

A final thought…saying yes to everyone except yourself provides a poor example to others for how you expect – and deserve – to be treated.

Support for Self Care

There is no one right way to ask for or get support. The only thing you can do wrong when it comes to support is try to do without it. No matter how strong, smart, talented or resourceful you are, you need the support of others. Even if it has been difficult in the past, don’t be afraid to rely on support. Look for support among friends, co-workers and family.

Be careful to choose people that care about you and are emotionally healthy enough to give and receive support. You can also look for support from strangers, such as in a support group.

What is a support group?

A support group is a gathering of people around a problem, period or theme for the purpose of sharing ideas, encouragement, resources and experiences.

Support groups are great because they:

  • Are good places to be heard. Use this time to be honest about what is on your mind, what you need and how you are feeling.
  • Offer safe space to explore your feelings. Chances are someone in the group has felt the same way and can relate.
  • Are places where people know what you are going through. It is easy to feel isolated or like you are alone when you don’t have support.
  • Can help you get unstuck because  you are sharing information and ideas that give you motivation to move.
  • Support ongoing personal development because you get encouragement to try something different.
  • Are a great chance to give and get a pat on the back.

Take Action!

Find support groups at local community centers, at non-profit agencies, in the local paper, online, in faith communities or through employee assistance programs. Or you can start your own support group.

 

Sharing as an act of self-care

 

Comfort Words

Everything that matters is still true. I used to use these words as salve when some small thing, in the larger scheme of things, went wrong. This patch of perspective covered it all. I relied on my raft of words to keep me afloat when troubles, real and imagined, threatened to overtake me. A wildly expensive repair bill, minor irritation, major disappointment… uncomfortable feelings didn’t fester too long with my mantra as salve. Nothing else really mattered as long as dear ones were safe, healthy and well.

Then my brother died.

It happened in the wee hours of a September Saturday. Even before I arrived at the dawn darkened course or took my first step of the Singleton 10-miler, Brad was dead.

The weather was deceptively beautiful. It gave nothing away. Everything that mattered was not still true, but the gentle breeze carried no signs. I crossed off each race mile in blissful ignorance.

I have heard others talk about the sudden death of one beloved. They speak of signs. I knew something was wrong, they brag proudly, holding up their angst. It is evidence of their bond, unassailable and true, with the loved one, cruelly lost. I expected to know, too. But I didn’t. Me, the oldest sister who read Brad bedtime stories as boy, welcomed him for summer visits as a teen and admired his kindness as a man.

My brother died as I slept undisturbed then later toed the start line thinking only of the finish – not his life, already ended. I did not feel any shift or change. I did not dream or startle and bolt upright. I had no hint from my heart or bones. I did not know until the calls came.

They started in the check-out line at Sam’s club. Race participants had parked there before the store opened to the usual throngs eager to check Saturday chores off their lists. Until the calls came, I had counted myself among them – an ordinary person doing ordinary things on an ordinary day.

The cashier looked giddy with surprise. Her pitch had landed a “yes.” Sure, I said. I’ll upgrade my membership to Advantage Plus. You’ll save four dollars on your paper towels today, she said, eager to assure me I had made a wise choice. The phone buzzed in my pocket. It stopped and started again immediately, insistently. I pulled it out, five missed calls, and knew… something was wrong. My sister doesn’t ever call on a Saturday morning, and never so many times in a row.

Filling the gas tank, usually a dreaded chore was a welcome task then. I needed time, just a few minutes more with the pretend comfort of willful ignorance. The tank filled too quickly. I had to call back. Stalling hadn’t helped though, my brother was dead.

Brad died on September 24, 2011. He would have been 36 on his birthday, just two days later. Instead of celebrating we mourned. No, we didn’t really. The shock was still so fresh. We didn’t fully understand yet how vacant the space he occupied in our lives would be. We could still torture ourselves by pretending it wasn’t true that he would be separated from us forever.

Now I need new comfort words.

I am without protection from life’s upsets. Something that mattered is no longer true. A dear one, my younger brother, is not safe or healthy or well. My brother is dead, and I am left without my mantra to steady myself on grief’s rocky path.