We’re massive advocates of keeping things real here at Tabono, acknowledging the good days and the bad and looking after ourselves as women in business. So today, we’re lucky to be able to bring you this BRILLIANT guest blog on the self-care paradox, from one of our clients – the wonderful Jennie Radclyffe from The Coaching Studio.
Introducing the Self-Care Paradox
It’s 7am on a Monday. I’ve squeezed myself onto a busy commuter train, some tall bloke’s sweaty armpit just that little too close to my face for comfort. I feel a single bead of sweat trickling down between my shoulder blades and promise myself that tomorrow I’ll be more prepared in the morning; save myself from legging it to the train station having left, as normal, in such a rush I know I’m bound to have left something behind.
I scroll through my work emails, preparing myself for the undoubtedly busy and stressful day ahead. Once again I’ve overpacked my schedule with meetings, not leaving enough time to actually get my head down and finish the various tasks that have been looming over my head for the last few weeks. Every week I learn a new lesson in organisation, productivity, stress, and every week I promise myself that I’ll take my foot off the gas, be more organised, assert some healthy work/life boundaries.
And yet here I am again, my brain whirring away at 7 in the morning going through the same daily list of worries: “Did I reply to that email? Did I confirm that meeting? Or send that proposal? Did I… shit, my lunch, I left my bloody lunch on the side in the kitchen… well there goes my attempt to be healthy today”.
Every day is the same. I feel stressed, frustrated, and knackered.
Can you resonate?
I’ve been there
I spent years as this woman. As a busy working professional, I spent most mornings on autopilot – hitting the snooze button half a dozen times, peeling myself out of bed at the last possible minute, sinking a couple of cups of coffee before I’d even left the house in a desperate bid to feel even vaguely human. My energy levels were so low but I had no idea why (maybe it was falling asleep on the sofa last night mid-way through my fourth episode of that thing on Netflix, finally dragging myself to bed at midnight, having forgotten to put the bins out… again) but now I look back, it really isn’t surprising. The way I was living was burning me out. I wasn’t looking after myself.
What’s your daily routine like? How much exercise are you getting? Are you eating a healthy, balanced diet? Are you getting plenty of good quality sleep? Do you rest? How much fresh air and sunlight do you soak up on an average day? Do you feel connected to those around you? How much of your day is taken up by staring at a screen? Do you take regular breaks away from your desk? Are you drinking enough water? Do you have a healthy work/life balance? Do you feel joy regularly? Jesus… the list is endless, but these are just some of the questions I was confronted with when I started re-evaluating my lifestyle. It was overwhelming. I was failing miserably on all fronts.
In those early days I turned to social media for some inspiration and learned quickly that self-care consists mainly of green juice, yoga and digital detoxes; the ability to replicate a scene from Woman & Home magazine, all pristine white walls and scented candles, perfect skin and just-stepped-out-of-a-salon hair…
Thanks to Instagram (and the media more broadly) self-care has become yet another bloody thing us women think we need to do perfectly, which is why an increasing number of us tackle it with the same all-or-nothing mentality that we do our work (and is probably the same reason we’re nearing burnout). If I can’t look after myself perfectly, if I can’t be the shining example of what health and wellness looks like, then what’s the point? That was my mentality for a long time.
Truthfully, it still is most days. My habitual thinking patterns and behaviour are truly doing a number on me when I can’t even go for a walk round the block to get a bit of fresh air without thinking it needs to be accompanied by a yoga class, 5am meditation, something with kale for dinner and a chamomile tea to make it a worthy exercise. Trying to do self-care perfectly (and failing) leads to more pressure, more stress and more guilt… the irony here is not lost on me.
I struggle with that all or nothing thinking in every realm of my life and my approach to self-care is no different. For us busy working professionals, it can sometimes seem impossible to fit in the things we know will make a positive difference to our overall wellbeing. When your boss is breathing down your neck and you have deadlines looming, that extra half an hour out of your day doesn’t seem worth giving up, does it? When you get home from a long slog at the office and the sofa and a glass of wine is calling you, what kind of sane human can interject, sling their trainers on and go for a run instead? Nope! Not me…
So, what’s the alternative?
Self-care is simply the act of doing something kind for yourself that nourishes your mind and body.
That’s it. But it’s crucial for a long life, especially in this day and age when we’re living through a
never-ending stress pandemic.
The way I see it, there needs to be a three-pronged approach to self-care:
1. Work out why self-care is important to you
What are you trying to achieve and, importantly, why? What kinds of behaviours are draining you physically and mentally? How would you like to feel instead and what behaviours would support that version of you? Do less of the former, and more of the latter if you can, just by 10% or so.
2. Start small
Don’t set your expectations so high you can’t keep up. When you’re used to being a high functioning, high performing individual it can seem a little uncomfortable to think about approaching something ‘half arsed’. “Surely I should be looking after myself 7 days a week? If I’m going to commit to something, I need to go all in!” Well, yes that may be a great way to approach a goal if you’ve got the time, energy and resources, but be realistic… Instead of diving in and booking 3 gym classes this week, why not just try for one and see how you go? Instead of vowing never to drink caffeine again as long as you live, why not try subbing it out for a decaf instead tomorrow morning? Take one day at a time. Remember, doing 1% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
3. Do it on your own terms
Do it on your own terms, and choose those activities that will truly nourish you and your
unique individual mind, body, values, desires and needs (rather than forcing yourself to chug
down a green juice that tastes like soil and leaves you gassy, just because that Instagram
influencer told you to – although if that floats your boat then please crack on… the point
here is to make empowering, authentic choices after all). Do some exploration, try new
things, find out what makes you feel good and do more of it. Don’t let other people tell you
what self-care is, find out for yourself.
Most importantly, approach all of this with curiosity rather than judgement, and a drop of sense of
humour never hurt either…
The moral of the story is this: we could all probably do with taking better care of ourselves and, as
working professionals, its crucial for our functioning and productivity to take the time to invest in
our self-care. Burnout is rife today, I for one have fallen victim to it before and it’s a long road back.
Work on preventative measures, no matter how small. I promise you, it will make all the difference.