Lately I have been thinking about self-care and the importance of it in my life, in the life of my friends and my patients too. Well first of all, what is self-care? Is it taking a time out? Is it eating healthy? Is it going to a movie? Is it getting a massage? Is it a yoga class or a run in the park? Is it getting a physical? The answer is yes to all of those as long as it is something you enjoy and/or something that will make you feel better. Self-care is a personal choice as to the activity (or lack there off). It is self-initiated and controlled. It allows you to care for your emotional, mental and/or physical well-being. As my friend Jeanine commented to me, “it can be wearing a smile.” Unfortunately, self-care can also mean getting rid of the toxicity in your life and that may mean saying good bye to a friend or a person that makes you anxious. Or maybe getting rid of a food you like but is giving you trouble. Like I said above, self-care may mean taking a break from an activity or taking some time out. Maybe it is taking a nap in the middle of a Saturday (one of my favorites) or getting extra sleep at night. Recently, a patient discussed a day where she and her husband had a fight, she had an unpleasant medical test, went to her psychotherapist and had a couples’ therapy appointment. In between appointments, she decided she needed some alone, down time. She searched for an activity she can do to relax and ended up with a foot massage. It gave her 45 minutes to just clear her mind.
We often overdo instead of giving ourselves a break. This holds especially true for women. Women tend to be nurturing and caring for others. Recently I attended a women’s networking group. We happen to all be working moms in healthcare. We discussed how our professions are about taking care of others. So, I asked the question: what do you do for self-care? I was glad to hear that everyone had something. Some of the group had daily rituals and others when they could schedule it in. I was able to answer what I did as well, but during a recent business coaching course I was not able to accomplish a part of our self-care homework; within the 6-week course, I was to pick two days to disconnect. I almost panicked at the thought. How can I not look at my email or work on scheduling patients or market for my business? How can I avoid communication on my phone when my kids are asking me for more playdates on the weekends? I late realized how important it is to set time to disconnect.
Why is it that women struggle with self-care? And why, when some women become moms, it seems self-care is put to the back burner even more. This makes me think of the emergency procedure on an airplane. Aren’t we told to place the oxygen masks on ourselves and then onto our children? If we don’t protect and care for ourselves, how can we provide for our children and family?
Many of my patients are moms whether they are first time or third or fourth time moms. Whether they are six weeks or sixteen years postpartum. Our conversation includes what they do for their kids. What their role is in the home. How often they are driving the kids from several after school activities. But these are women who have sought help from a health care provider. These are women who are taking care of themselves. Except, when kids are home sick, they cannot attend their sessions. Or when school is cancelled due to weather or vacation, they cannot have their weekly treatment. They start to neglect the care they need.
Sadly, I believe the lack of self-care begins immediately postpartum. Women who are on leave from work are quickly anxious about their return and the little time they may have to spend with their newborn. They often don’t have the time in the day to care for any issues that may have arrived during pregnancy or delivery. They tuck away their problems. Perhaps it is because they don’t have anyone to watch their child while they care for themselves. Or perhaps it is because they have other children in addition to the newborn. Perhaps they don’t have much of a leave. Perhaps they don’t have the finances to care for themselves. I do believe that most of the reasons are because we lack support. In my recent coaching course, we were asked to write our web of support. I struggled to fill this out in some areas as the support often comes from other local moms. Yes, if there is an emergency, we can back each other up. But how often do you say to your friend: “how about you watch my kids and I will go (fill in your self-care) and next week I’ll do the same for you?”
Last month I decided to do a self-care challenge. I recorded daily live testimonials on Facebook to engage others. But what this also did was make myself accountable. I believe this is an important part of the puzzle. Accountability: giving yourself the push, the homework, the challenge to get it done. Listen, we can delay self-care, we can delay healing our bodies, we can delay being mindful, but things are probably not going to just disappear. In fact, sometimes it may become more difficult to resolve. So maybe you need to go live on Facebook or Instagram to make sure you take care of you. Perhaps writing down in a calendar and making the appointment. I know when someone leaves my office without a scheduled follow up treatment it could delay their improvement. I leave myself notes in my calendar to call for an appointment whether it is for an annual check-up, a mammogram or a haircut.
If part of your self-care is seeing a health care professional, remember they will not be the one to “fix” you. You must participate in getting better which may include making some changes in behavior, nutrition, posture and other home programs. You and your health care professional(s) should be part of a team. Everyone has their role and everyone participates.
So, I challenge you to make an action plan: what self-care do you need? Make a list. Set a time frame of when you want it done. And then get it done. Because it is healthy, it is important and it is a MUST!.