I first learned the phrase “self-care” in college when I was training as a self-defense teacher. My then boss, at the end of a grueling day of both physical and emotional exercise, sat the trainees down in a checkout circle and said, “Go home, get some rest. Practice a little self-care.” She then went around and, to hold our feet to the fire, asked each of us what we planned to do. Our answers ranged from hydrate to sleep to catch up on TV. I went home and did all three and felt ready(ish) the next day for round two.
Because I learned about self-care in a professional context, I assumed that the concept had origins in workplace management. But, if you even occasionally engage with the digital zeitgeist, I bet that you’ve noticed “self-care” floating around the blogosphere ad nauseam. Lately, it’s offered as a prophylactic for burnout, a balm for a bad day, a recipe for renewal. In the past couple of years, especially as the race to the White House neared a fever pitch, I noticed more and more internet sources suggesting self-care as relief from the onslaught of news (how about a digital detox? they asked). So where does self-care actually come from, I wondered? Did the internet co-opt it from good managers?
Curious, I did a little digging and learned that self-care has roots in healthcare, particularly preventative medicine and mental health management. Origins aside, I’m personally an advocate for reasonably integrating self-care into daily life. I say “reasonably” because I, like others out there I’m sure, am wary of the Goop-ified self-care that has taken the internet by storm. Most people that I can think of, especially young women hustling at their first or second jobs, don’t have the time or the means to take a day off work for a bubble bath or carefully prepare the slew of anti-stress recipes out there (all of which seem to call for something expensive, have you noticed that?) or head to a remote yoga retreat to reclaim balance.
All of that being said, I think self-care is a really valuable component in maintaining work-life balance. Take my initial example—if I hadn’t created space to rest and recover that night, the next day of my training, which involved simulating dangerous situations and learning the vocabulary to support young girls that had been through similar things, would have left me depleted and unprepared to do my job. Even at my job now, which is less physically demanding, I still search for balance.
I propose that we leave the flashier tactics for another day and try a more integrated approach, which is something I’ve been working on for about a year now. I practice self-care on a daily basis in some of the following ways:
Make sure I cover The Basics: eat well, get good sleep, and exercise. This one is the obvious stuff. Take a vitamin and drink some water while you’re at it.
Spend a little time alone and a little time connecting. None of us is a perfect introvert or extrovert—we all have tendencies from both, even minimally—so I find that I’m better with people if I spend even 20 minutes alone each day. The opposite is true as well; if I clock a little alone time, I’m even happier to see friends or colleagues.
Get some sun and take walks. Fresh air, even a few minutes of it, can be as invigorating as a cup of coffee.
Be mindful at least once. If that just means taking a break from my computer while eating lunch, that’s enough sometimes. Often, though, I find myself taking deep breaths on the last few minutes of each commute—an odd place, maybe, but I’ve noticed that if I wait to be alone in a candlelit room, I’ll never get to it. If full on meditation is more your speed, try that!
Be gentle with myself. Sometimes I don’t even make it half way down my To Do list. Being kind about it to myself usually results in a more productive tomorrow.
Trying to keep those general tenets of behavior in my life has made such a difference in how balanced I’ve felt in the past year. By following that list, even if I don’t get to everything every day, the 3 p.m. slump doesn’t feel as hard, and I feel more energized and able to do things that I care about on evenings and weekends.
To rewind momentarily to the subject of self-care at the workplace, friends and acquaintances have mentioned the concept of “community care” to me recently, a concept some organizations are embracing lately as a way to foster community and hold each other (and management) accountable for each other’s work-life balance. While this practice might not ring true for a lot of groups, I think it’s an interesting concept. Whose responsibility is it, ultimately, to make sure that you’re available to do your best work and live your most balanced life at the end of the day? Would you explore this where you work?
As a communications professional and lover of words, Priyanka is committed to helping people find their voices. She’s a studio fitness enthusiast and aspires to one day owning a first edition Edith Wharton. Join our blogger community today to share your story!