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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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.

Celebrate the uniqueness of you

You are a unique combination of experiences, perspectives, values, talents and strengths. Of all the people in the world, there is not one person exactly like you. You are a rare and valuable gem. Flaws, faults, failures and all. You are still special. Just the fact that you are still standing, still trying, still fighting for your dreams and goals, still finding joy in big things and small, still seeking out things to strive for and laugh about…in spite of everything. That’s your evidence. Remember that when tapes of old stories play in your head and consume you with worry that you should give up because of every real and imagined thing you think is wrong with you and your life. You are worth fighting for, no matter what has happened in your past. No matter what comes your way remember that there is nothing common about you. You are special and you are equal to any challenge. It matters not what anybody else around you has accomplished. You are uniquely you. You may have to stop, rest, get help and regroup to get through but you are equal to the challenge and get through is what you will do. And so it is.

Cultivate kindness

A research study involving fourth and fifth grade students in Vancouver, Canada found that cultivating kindness in kids helps them to be more accepting of others, more positive in their outlook and more popular among peers, too.

Is this important? Increasingly, yes. Mass murder, bullying and other acts of unkindness have become increasingly common. There isn’t one magic bullet solution, but cultivating empathy, kindness and compassion is almost certainly some part of the answer. Each of these is learned, just as violence is learned. We can choose.

Maybe the world isn’t a meaner place. It has been suggested that the 24-hour news cycle only makes us feel it is. But in spite of globalization one could argue that the world is at least a more isolated and disconnected place. Such isolation can make it tough for many to feel a sense of belonging and responsibility to the larger community.

Cultivating kindness in kids, and nurturing it in adults, builds connection and reduces isolation. We learn through this connection to imagine what it feels like to stand in someone else’s shoes, and to care. We learn that we all matter. We learn to feel compassion for ourselves and for others.

As we approach another New Year it seems the perfect time to reflect on the kind of people we want to be and the kind of world we want to live in. Many of us will resolve to reduce debt or our waist lines. Let us also consider cultivating kindness. Show concern before tragedy or heartbreak. Tell kids, and remind adults, that kindness counts.

So many painful tragedies. What if, in addition to mourning, people everywhere changed their attitudes and practiced compassion in every action? What if we changed our question from why to what can I do to be sure this doesn’t happen again?

Self-care tips

As promised, eight more self-care tips for protecting your emotional health:

  • Decide that there is no real value in always putting yourself last. In fact, it is important to sometimes put yourself first, even if you are a parent.
  • Know it is okay to expect happiness in your daily life. Look for small pleasures you can be grateful for and relish throughout each day.
  • Rest your mind. Spend time regularly in meditation, prayer or silence. Commit to this practice even if your life is very busy or doing so feels strange. You may even be surprised to find that you feel calmer, more productive and focused. Start simply by taking three or four deep breaths each time you visit the bathroom. Or you might set your alarm clock ten minutes earlier every morning to pray or meditate.
  • Avoid people, places, media and situations that leave you feeling bad or drained. Protecting your time and space is one of the most important ways to practice self-care.
  • Set up and honor personal boundaries. Yes, you can say “no” sometimes without bringing the world to an end.
  • Be deliberate. Do things that don’t contradict what you say is important to you.
  • Give yourself a break. The next time that voice in your head starts bad-mouthing you or putting you down, tell it to STOP. Choose an affirmation and repeat it for calm and comfort.
  • Keep a journal, sing, color, dance, create…

Take Action Challenge: How will you practice self-care?

Tomorrow…the next building block for protecting your emotional health – support.

 

 

 

 

“You can go your own way”

Women are making some strides politically and in the corporate world, but what about socially? Not so much.

There remains an underlying vein of discomfort – even guilt – as we break away from long loathed limits. “Having it all” comes up often, but that isn’t the real issue. The real issue is having the freedom from cultural pressure to identify and choose what we want. Then to actually go for whatever that is without apology.

The dreams our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and even mothers, dreamt are becoming real. We have more choices about what we can do, but not as many real choices about how we can be. There is still a great deal of tension related to identity, gender socialization and life choices.

For example, do we choose from the multiple roles available to us (employee, mother, leader, wife, partner, etc.) or does the cultural current simply carry us along until we settle into these roles. How do they fit together and how do we reconcile the sometimes conflicting responsibilities of each? How do we find (and use) our voices when our subconscious minds still believe on some level that women should be accommodating and made of the requisite sugar, spice and everything nice?

The next frontier we conquer must be social and cultural norms. Our job as women with more choices is to actually embrace and exercise them without regard for the cultural limits that keep us in conflict with ourselves. You know the limits. They show up in our willingness to speak up for everyone except ourselves; torment us whether we work in or outside the home, encourage us to stay in unhappy relationships, and fill us with doubt about our life choices.

The fear of cultural backlash can make it difficult for women to be honest about who they are and what they want. We worry about being perceived as a “ball buster” or a bad mom. We worry about how it will look if we are single, without children or divorced. We worry about fitting in and about not upsetting the status quo. We’ve had a lifetime of worrying about the right way to be a woman. That will not earn us a second life. We will still get only one.

Planning for self-care

Women are often urged to look everywhere except within for comfort, centering, love and self-care thus reinforcing the idea that we don’t have what it takes to restore, heal or encourage ourselves. We do. We just have to find the strategies and connections that work for us. Consider combining community services and support with your own internal resources for a self care plan that you can build, direct and own. Here are a couple of strategies to try.

  • Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT), Mindfulness and Meditation Practice – learning to observe your feelings as they come up can make not identifying with them or not letting them lead you astray feel easier.
  • Exercise and yoga (can be as effective as antidepressants) are good ways of claiming and using “me” time.
  • Sister Circles – join with other women to harness the power of community caring, concern, accountability and support. Choose women that are emotionally healthy enough to support you in ways that are meaningful, and meet at least once monthly. Be sure to establish important group rules, for example – you may agree that members must observe confidentiality and agree to disagree respectfully.
  • Journaling – Use the pages to explore your truths, values, fears and hopes.
  • Counseling – Regard your therapist as a partner. You can choose the right one for you and fire therapists that are not a good fit. You don’t have to accept just anyone

Let it Begin With Me

If you always put yourself last, chances are that many of the people around you will follow your example.

It is possible to take care of self without being selfish. Is there any area in your life where you can occasionally practice putting yourself first? Write about why, where and how you will make it happen. If you cannot think of any place in your life where you can at least occasionally be the priority, what needs to happen so you can? What you will do to create these changes?

Who Do You Think You Are?!

Maybe the question looms large each time you try to step outside your box. Or maybe it is yet unspoken. Lodged deeply in your subconscious mind and blocking any bold ideas before they form into actions. No matter where the question is, for many of us it is there. Finally answering it may be just the encouragement you need to free yourself from the burden of unrealized potential. So…who do you think you are?

Write it now, loud and proud. Claim your gifts as well as your flaws (know what you are working with and what you want to work around). Not sure what to write? Ask someone you trust who knows you well enough (and is emotionally healthy enough) to give you some useful feedback. Embrace the promise within the part of you not bound by doubt, fear, criticism or the voice of the ever vigilant and critical inner commentator. Maybe she does make you feel safer, but she also keeps you away from what is possible.