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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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.

Care for yourself

Care for yourself at least as well as you care for your cell phone. Plug into a source that restores you every day. People need to be recharged, too.

Keep New Year’s Resolutions

We are coming up on another round of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe the annual ritual of hopefulness doesn’t feel so hopeful because it reminds you of all the times you’ve promised to get in shape (save more money or some other goal) – but didn’t. Don’t fret, it is okay to feel hopeful in spite of past failures. This is a brand new year, give yourself a break. Besides, you are unlikely to do better by making yourself feel worse. Instead, forgive yourself for past failures; set small, measurable goals and begin again. You can do this.

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.

Ten things to do with a tax refund

It is nice to splurge when you have a little extra cash. It is important to save, too. Decide to use a portion of your refund to make your financial life a bit more secure. Here are some ideas:

  1. Create an emergency fund. Put at least $500 ($1,000 if you can) in an account that you never touch unless there is a dire emergency – as in rent, utilities or repairs on a car you need to get to work. Add something to the fund – even as little as $2.00 every time you get paid. You can also open a retirement account. Start saving with myRA, a retirement savings account from the United States Department of the Treasury. No costs or fees, no complicated investment options, no risk of losing money. Don’t worry, you can withdraw your money without penalty if you need to. Learn more at myra.gov.
  2. Pay down debts – if you have outstanding utility bills, medical bills, student loans, etc., now is the time to negotiate with creditors. Ask if they will accept a smaller, lump sum amount to pay the debt off so it doesn’t get in your way later. If you have a lot of debt that you do not realistically expect to be able to repay, consider using the money to file for bankruptcy. Talk with a credit counselor first, ClearPoint, formerly CredAbility, is a good resource – credibility.org. You may also qualify for an income based student loan repayment plan. In December of 2012, Obama signed into law a federal student debt relief plan called Pay As You Earn — PAYE for short. The program limits your monthly payment to 10 percent of your discretionary income. You may even qualify for loan forgiveness. Learn more at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/paying-for-college/repay-student-debt/
  3. Invest in your car – if your vehicle has been needing work, get it done now so you don’t find yourself on the side of the road later.
  4. Pay off any evictions – This is really important because you will be in a stronger position to rent when you are ready. Ask if you can pay a reduced amount. Get payment documentation in writing. Check your report for free at annualcreditreport.com to be sure derogatory rental history has been removed.
  5. Pay off fines – pay off or catch up any tickets, fines or probation fees.
  6. Buy a washer and dryer – trips to the Laundromat can be a drag. This may be the time to invest if your home has connections.
  7. Pay your car insurance in advance for the year. You might also make rent or car payments ahead, just be sure the creditor understands your intentions and credits the payments properly.
  8. Invest in your health – maybe you have put off visits to the doctor or dentist because you didn’t have insurance. Use a portion of your refund to have your body and teeth checked out.
  9. Invest in yourself – maybe you have been wanting to get your CNA, GED, or learn to be a bartender or hair stylist. Now is the time to get trained and licensed.
  10. Start a small business – do you crochet, make plates or jewelry? Use a little money to invest in some supplies. Use the proceeds to buy a few more. Get a PayPal account and sell your goods on Etsy, Amazon or eBay.

 

 

 

  

 

Self help for self care

About self help

Whether you are completing exercises in a workbook, reading the latest self-help book or article, or organizing a peer counseling/support group (may also be called a sister circle), you are engaging in self-help strategies. Self-help is a powerful emotional health tool because it requires an active, ongoing choice to face and work through challenges you are facing. Choosing self-help is like saying to a problem or challenge, I am still in charge of my life.

Take Action! Set up your own sister circle

Choose 2 or 3 other women and decide together what your circle will be like. Some ideas to discuss:

  • Shared values around confidentiality and trust
  • Meetings (when, how often, where, how long)
  • Group goals (will your circle focus on a particular topic or problem like getting out of debt, parenting, or will it be more general)
  • Expected commitment(s) from group members, etc.

You may need to revisit the values conversation periodically until you find just the right group groove. Sister circles are a great way to invest in your well-being, be accountable for your choices and goals as well as be heard.

Why not give it a try?

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.

 

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.