The memo came on a Friday.
My close friend – let's call her Beth – worked 12-hour shifts as a hospital screener in the early stages of COVID-19.
With a busy and stressful job, an energetic 2 year old, tension at home, and the intense emotional upheaval of a global pandemic, Beth was completely exhausted.
Her schedule was full to the minute. The days were fueled with coffee and the evenings with wine. "Sleep" meant throwing and spinning in fear. Exercise felt impossible.
Beth used to be a runner and climber and hardly recognized herself. It felt like she'd aged a decade in just a few months.
On this particular Friday, Beth came home after a particularly busy shift, parked the car, and sighed.
Trying to summon the energy to get out of the car, she grabbed her cell phone and used the autopilot to check her email.
And there it was: a well-meaning memo from your employer who offered his stressed employees self-care strategies. It concluded:
"Use your time at home to relax and recharge."
Beth threw down her cell phone. Her head sagged to the steering wheel and tears stung her eyes.
"Relax and recharge?" she mocked when she later told me about it.
“In my free time, I look after my child, cook, clean, take the cat to the vet, and do a million other things. I'm lucky if I get a few hours of sleep. Home is not a place to recharge. It's job number 2. "
If you are looking to smash your phone with advice on self-care – in anger, sadness, or shame – we are with you.
Now more than ever, people have more responsibilities and duties than they can possibly handle.
Advice like "put your feet up with a good book" or "schedule a massage" sounds mundane or even absurd when you're trying to answer emails, empty the dishwasher, and keep a daring toddler from falling off one Overturn bookshelf.
People still want to prioritize their health and wellbeing, which leads to a frustrating paradox where self-care feels more necessary and impossible than ever.
"For the people who find a way to take their time, the difference is remarkable," says Pam Ruhland, Precision Nutrition Coach.
What we've seen coaching over 100,000 clients is that even people with the greatest obstacles and toughest schedules can end up succeeding: move better, feel better, look better, and generally work more like the person who is they want to be.
If you're having a hard time taking care of yourself, or if you're coaching someone to be, here are three strategies we've seen – in real life.
Self-care challenges aren't just personal. They are systemic.
Self-care is more difficult for some than for others.
For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the stark disparities in people's occupational safety, workload, and flexibility that affect time, energy, attention, and other resources available for self-sufficiency.
And we know that women bear the brunt of the domestic, parental, and emotional work; are paid less on average; and often work more hours to build professional credibility and seniority.
COVID has made this situation worse: data suggests1 2 that, regardless of their employment situation, women spend more hours on housework and childcare than before the pandemic.
In addition, people from marginalized groups – including racialized people, people with disabilities and mental health problems, and people on lower incomes and less financial security – face additional barriers to taking care of themselves and their health.
We'd love to cover all of these issues in this article, but let's focus on what we do best: helping coaches and individuals improve their health.
We can't solve the systemic problems all at once, but we can recognize them and offer solutions that you and your customers can use today.
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3 strategies for prioritizing self-care, even if it's really, really difficult
Strategy 1: Start with just 5-10 minutes a day.
I recently spoke to another friend whom I will call Laura. She is currently enrolled in multiple certifications, runs her own consultancy, works part time at an animal shelter, and has two children and four pets. (Oh, and she juggles all of this during a pandemic, of course.)
Laura complained to me that she usually wakes up, grabs her phone, and dives into her company's Instagram feed before she even gets out of bed.
I asked her if she would take some time in the morning to say read a book.
"Sure," she said. "I would love to wake up every day and read, meditate, do yoga, and have a leisurely breakfast with my kids … but it just doesn't happen."
Laura's reaction may seem comical – what was the effect of reading in a few minutes? – but so many of us can get caught up in an all-or-nothing mindset.
"I try to encourage customers to concentrate on activities that are really feasible for them," advises Ruhland.
“This can be anything that moves you forward: a five-minute meditation; If older children help out in the kitchen, you can read an article. Adding an extra vegetarian serving to a meal; or do 10 minutes of online yoga. Whatever gives them a taste: "This is for me."
Five minutes a day doesn't seem like enough time, but it can help you show yourself off (it also helps family and friends get used to it).
And when you're used to doing nothing, just doing something can feel surprisingly good.
How to try:
- Make a list of small 5-minute activities that you can use to check the Self Care box. Select ONE to try them out every day for a few weeks.
- After that, consider adding more minutes or other short self-care activity to your routine.
- Remember, self-care is not just about diet and exercise. It is also about your emotional and mental health, the people around you, your surroundings and your general outlook on life. (We call this "deep health." Learn more about it here.)
Strategy 2: Embrace the Three Ds: Delete, Delegate, Do Less.
It's 6 a.m. and your alarm goes off.
Suddenly it's 6 p.m., the kids need dinner, the dog has to run, your boss is waiting for these TPS reports …
Where the hell was the day
If it is you, PN Coach Dominic Matteo recommends grabbing your schedule and a sharpie … and getting reckless.
(Friendly nudge: this may mean reassessing your limits with loved ones and / or asking them for help.)
How to try:
- Make sure you understand exactly how you are spending your time. Note! Use PN's "Planning and Use of Time" worksheet (or keep a diary for a day) for a detailed illustration. Now you can check it out.
- Delete one or more activities. Are there any obligations that are actually not necessary? Habits (TV, TikTok) that actually no longer serve you? What would happen if a certain task didn't get done at all? What could be the worst result?
- Delegate whatever you can. Look at each task and ask yourself, "Who else can do this?" Could your partner pack the lunches? Could a neighborhood kid cut the grass? Can your kids fold (um, fold) their own clothes? What's the worst that can happen?
- Do less. Challenge yourself: What is “good enough” for this cause? If you're used to shooting for A +, what would an "A-" or a "B +" look like?
Strategy 3: Separate your "shoulds" from your "kings".
Funny thing: Sometimes we're so used to thinking about what to do that we forget what we really want or need.
But unnecessary "shoulds" simply steal our time, waste our energy and prevent us from feeling healthy and fulfilled.
If we look more critically at our "shoulders", we may find that they are not all that necessary:
"I should let my children help with breakfast, even if it takes longer."
"I should put on make-up before I go to the post office."
"I should listen to the education committee meeting."
"I should fix the leaking pipe myself."
Sure we could do these things. But should we? Are they really the most valuable use of valuable time?
Similarly, there may be some erroneous "shouldn'ts" such as "I shouldn't let my child watch TV" or "I shouldn't pay extra for pre-cut vegetables" or "I shouldn't go home when my staff is still." sitting at their desks. "
How to try:
- Note and name. The next time you hear that little voice in your head that says, "You should do this …" – take a break. Notice it. Name it: this is your "should" vote. Decide if you want to keep this "should" or let go of it.
- Duke it out. Realistically, you will always have more valuable activities to choose from than the time of day. Do you want some help? Try this "Tournament of Priorities" worksheet, which will guide you through assessments of what is more important to you at any given time.
Remember: you are responsible for what you prioritize and what tradeoffs you want to make. Ultimately, you can decide what is most important to you.
It's time to put YOU back on the list.
Click here to view the resources referenced in this article.
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