Self-care and self-compassion in the modern working world – why we need to prioritise it right now

smiling woman at laptop
May 13, 2022

I am interested in workplaces becoming more responsible and invested in worker wellbeing, and truly exercising compassion and care. But the truth of the matter is that this likely still isn’t happening as much as it should be. And alongside our workplaces caring about us, the equally important question to ask is, do we care enough about ourselves?

What’s stopping us?

Sometimes we don’t prioritise self-care or extend ourselves self-compassion because we think this is for other people who have more time than we do, or who are ‘more into that stuff’, or because it’s seen as weak or self-indulgent. Or we may think that our own needs are less important than serving the needs of our partners/children/other significant people in our lives. 

It isn’t uncommon for many women in particular, to side-line their own needs. As Glennon Doyle points out,  women of our generation were largely raised to cater for others’ needs, and not our own. Many of us aren’t even aware we do this. Dr Shefali in A Radical Awakening also speaks of this.  

What price do we pay?

Over time, if we are not prioritising self-care, our need to re-connect with ourselves will surface. Our energy might feel low, our relationships might be suffering,  we might feel overwhelmed, we might catch colds or other illnesses. It is not selfish to prioritise time and energy for ourselves, because the more content we feel in our own mind and bodies, the more this radiates out to those around us. We can be more present with our loved ones, we can thrive instead of get through the day. 

How can we find what’s right for us?

I have been on a path the last few years of figuring out how to identify, and meet my needs for self-care and self-compassion. I have read many books, and tried many things. You may already know what works for you, and huge congratulations if so! Or you may also need to experiment and see what makes a difference to your wellbeing. Here are some thoughts/ideas to experiment with:- 

1.     Nutrition

What we put into our bodies, our gut health, really does affect how we feel on a daily basis. Cutting down sugar and processed foods, cutting out any foods that you might find you are intolerant to, eating regularly to maintain blood sugar levels, having a nutritious breakfast to start the day. It is worth investing in seeing a nutritionist to boost your diet knowhow and get yourself feeling energised by the foods you eat. 

2.     Sleep

It seems so obvious, but good sleep health and routines are also so key to our mental and physical wellbeing. Switching off all screens an hour before bed and stopping caffeine at midday were the simplest tips I have stuck to over the last few years. I used to be emailing late at night or watching TV and now I know that those things keep my brain going and unable to switch off. Matthew Walker has some great sleep advice in his book

3.     Regular breaks away from the desk and screen

We are more productive, and less stressed, if we have regular breaks. 

Regular cups of tea/coffee/healthy snacks, doing some household chores, having a walk, all help to keep us moving and take us away from the screen for a while. You could set a timer on your phone every 40 minutes to an hour to enforce the habit, if you are prone to being tied to the desk.

4.     Fresh Air

Vitamin D, natural light - we should get out as early as possible and take in that natural goodness. Opening the door first thing and stepping out into the air, a morning walk or lunchtime stroll- it’s easy to let busy life derail us from getting outside enough. 

5.     Signalling the end of the work day 

Having a little routine to signal the end of ‘work time’ really helps make the transition to ‘you time’ away from work. This could be putting all work items in another room and shutting the door, making a cup of your favourite tea and just focusing purely on that for ten minutes with no distractions. Lighting a candle, doing a meditation. Going for a short walk around the block.

6.     Breathing

There are so many breathing exercises out there now, from Pranayama, to Wim Hoff. Have a research and try a few and see what works for you. When I feel anxiety setting in, I often reach for a simple method of 4 deep in breaths, hold my breath for 2, then breathe for 6 or 8 out breaths, and repeat this for 5 minutes. I find Pranayama super relaxing too. 

7.     Movement of the body. 

If you are feeling a little anxious or stressed, moving the body, and literally shifting around your energy and releasing energy can make a huge difference. If you have suffered trauma, yoga in particular has been linked to trauma therapies. Anything that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system will be useful (this can include time in nature, massage, being immersed in a hobby).

8.     Joy  

Think about the activities you love (or used to love as a child) and how your body and mind respond to what nurtures or stimulates you. You can make a list of activities that touch you on an emotional level and immerse you into a ‘flow state’ fully focused on the activity. Maybe it’s writing creatively, painting, drawing, playing a sport, going to the theatre with a friend. 

9.     Checking in with ourselves in the present moment- 

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear”- Rumi

Try some meditation at a time of day that feels best for you, and try to tag it to an activity that you already do, so that it becomes a routine. For example, setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier or after brushing your teeth. Meditation can be done in many different ways, but if you are a beginner, a simple way to learn is to focus on your breath. Each time you find your mind wandering in thought, you can bring it back to your breath and focus on the feeling of your stomach moving gently in and out. You can count the breaths in your head to keep you on track if you like – chanting ‘one’ on the in breath and ‘two’ on the out breath. Our minds are meant to wander, do not worry or berate yourself for ‘monkey mind’! Mindfulness is not just about meditating, it’s about being present in our lives and not stuck in our thoughts. You can try having a mindful cup of tea – really focusing on the process of making it and sitting down to enjoy it, or a mindful walk where you listen to the sounds in the woods, the crackle of leaves under your feet and the birds in the trees. The benefits of mindfulness are well documented now, from increased productivity to greater feelings of wellbeing, improvements in our relationships to self and others. There are many apps out there to try too from Headspace, Calm, Sam Harris.

10.  Self-compassion 

What is this? In its basic form it is being kind to ourselves in our heads – speaking to ourselves gently like we would a best friend, offering ourselves comfort, love and care. Many of us often speak to ourselves in a critical way, and if we tune into this more (which mindfulness helps with), we can become conscious enough to challenge it when it happens. The most important relationship of our lives is the one with ourselves – we speak to ourselves in our heads more than we speak to anyone else! If this is of interest to you, you can read books by Kristen Neff and Chris Germer who started this movement. Self-compassion is not purely the soft ‘yin’ stuff, it is the ‘yang’ ‘fierce’ kind of compassion too. The voice that tells us not to  pour another glass of wine, to apply for that job; our champion and our cheerleader. There are mindful self-compassion courses available too, e.g. https://www.londonmindful.com/.

11.  Time out for ourselves  - a retreat, journaling, life coach, therapy

How often do we take quiet time to reflect on our lives, with a birdseye view? A powerful and free way is to journal – to write straight from the brain onto the page without stopping or editing and seeing what comes out. Mornings are a good time. Another great way is to work with a life coach. Therapy is a wonderful medicine if we have deeper seated issues holding us back, wounds that need healing or simply to get to understand ourselves better. Retreats (whatever form, whether yoga/meditation, exercise, hiking) can be a wonder drug –supportive environments  to take time out for yourself away from the hum drum of life, which can sometimes prevent us from looking deeper, and further. 

12.  Finding a Tribe 

A sense of belonging is so key to our wellbeing. Belonging to a community, a religion, an exercise group, a group of friends. Sometimes when we feel a sense of isolation it might be because we haven’t connected with our tribe for a while, and we know we need to go and do that to feel that we belong. 

13.  Pampering 

Because we deserve it! Yes we do! A hair appointment, massage, facial, nail appointment, reiki or reflexology, whatever makes you feel nurtured. For some it might be as simple as a quiet hour with a book on the sofa, a hot chocolate or a swim outdoors.
Women of the 2-3 days community, I encourage you to put some time in your diaries for a good dose of self-care and compassion and see the results after a few months in how you feel. It will be worth it!

 

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