It’s a phrase I have used dozens of times. There is an assumption, often in style-led magazines, that self-care is limited to taking a little time out to pamper yourself (because you deserve it girl!).
Self-care is about more than a bath with Epsom salts although it’s a good place to start
The women I talk to are smart. Crazy smart, ambitious, driven, dynamic professional women. These women can, and will, change the world.
They are often type-A personalities, driven by high standards and even perfectionism. They expect much of themselves and others.
I want to be clear, that is no bad thing in and of itself.
But for us, the women who have become exhausted, who see our resilience start to disappear and find overwhelm a common occurrence, those high standards can turn inwards and can become toxic.
You might call it high standards, obligation or trying to be a good person.
However, I found that my high standards became toxic. My thoughts became darker and more sharp: if I couldn’t be perfect, there was no point even trying. I expected ever more of myself and my inner narrative was ruled by lists of ‘must, should, ought to’. I wore my busyness and stress as a badge of honour, as if to say ‘look at how capable I am, please think well of me’ when it was eating away at me.
Looking back, I can see that struggle to achieve more and more was nothing more than a desperate attempt to control the areas of my life that I could and punishing myself for the myriad things that I could not control. You see, I also made a direct link between all the bad things that happened in the world and my so-called failures.
I took responsibility for everything. It was my fault that my mother’s health was failing. My fault that a case didn’t go the right way even though the evidence simply wasn’t there. My fault that people were upset even when I had had absolutely nothing to do with it.
It’s exhausting being that much ofa scapegoat and a martyr.
Coming through my burnout I learned just how much of my pain was self-inflicted. Burnout isn’t just about overwhelming responsibility, endless tasks and shitty situations.
It’s about how you handle them.
How you respond to them.
What your inner narrative is.
These days I have a new mantra. It’s one I use to remind myself that nothing is so important that I need to beat myself up about it. It’s also a mantra that makes me smile, as I am a child on the inside and swearing makes me feel naughty. It’s ‘zero fucks given’.
Now, of course I care. I love my community of women, my clients, my colleagues in the office, my friends and family.
But it’s a mantra. It stops me for a beat. It makes me smile (because: profanity) and it removes me from the situation I am in just long enough to allow me to regain clear-sighted judgment on how far I should take responsibility and most importantly, allows me to remember that caring about doing a good job does not equate to my self-worth as a human being.
That is ultimately what self-care is about.
Caring for yourself means you set boundaries, both professional and personal. It means you consider your own health as well as the health of others. It means you want to nourish yourself; physically, mentally and spiritually.
Today is Sunday and I have cared for myself in so many ways today;
· Cooking breakfast and indulging in Sunday morning television with a gorgeous cup of coffee and my even more gorgeous family;
· Getting my hands dirty in the earth and growing green things;
· Prepping nutritious breakfasts and lunches for the coming work week;
· Catching up with one of my amazing, awe-inspiring friends;
· Taking moments to simply sit, breathe and admire the beauty around me.
There’s plenty of things on my to do list today. But I have approached each from a place of caring for myself, making life easier on myself and enjoying myself, rather than from a place of busyness, anxiety and self-reproach.
Ultimately, I am more kind to myself than I was before and during my burnout. And that’s a far more nourishing and sustaining form of self-care than a single bubble bath.