The current health crisis has upended our lives in so many ways. We may be working more hours than before or far fewer than we would like. At the same time, we must manage our family’s needs as we each experience anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness as we grieve the loss of so many of the “normal” aspects of our lives.
It is natural to feel helpless and occasionally out of control during this stressful time. You also may be experiencing headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and sleeplessness. These common symptoms show us why self-care is more important now than ever before. And, as a professional in a leadership position, making your physical and mental health a priority can be critical to your success – both now and in the future.
What is self-care?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain good health and prevent and deal with illness. The definition includes lifestyle and environmental factors, nutrition, and hygiene.
Practicing self-care means identifying and meeting your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. Professionals who pay attention to self-care can experience increased productivity, higher efficiency, more motivation, less stress, better work-life balance, workplace success, and overall wellbeing and happiness.
A Harvard Business review article suggests that leaders who incorporate self-care into their work-life have improved overall performance and warns that leaders who don’t consider their own health and wellbeing when taking on added responsibilities can suffer physically and mentally in the long run.
How to practice self-care?
I struggle with this topic, so, to help me gain a fresh perspective, I recently interviewed four inspiring women leaders about how they manage self-care.
“Self-care is important. It is about having a healthy mind and a healthy body. So, it means giving the best of you instead of the rest of you,” says Marguerite Soeteman-Reijnen, Chairman of the Executive Board of Aon Holdings and CMO of Aon Inpoint.
Marguerite points out that you must prioritize your wellbeing and keep physically fit to lead a productive life. ”Make sure you have balance in place for your physical wellbeing and your mental wellbeing, as that will further enable financial wellbeing,” she stresses. She maintains that living a balanced life will not only help you avoid burnouts, but it can also help you improve your income.
“Life is not all about proving yourself to people,” points out Marian Spier, founder of FEM-START. “I will advise that during the weekend, you turn off your phone, have a walk, spend quality time with friends talking about something completely different from work, and relax in your best possible way.” Marian also mentions that it is crucial to carve out the time to make yourself a priority.
“As a woman, it is important to understand your priorities and the essential things that make you feel a sense of completeness,” says Aylin Arslantas Bumin, District Marketing Manager/West Europe at UPS. “It would be best if you were very intentional about your self-care routine.”
Aylin also advises women to avoid taking on more commitments during this stressful time. Saying yes to everything can lead to feeling overworked and overwhelmed. “It is important to have your non-negotiables — ‘me’ time — for each day. It can be to have a cup of coffee, chat with a friend, go for exercise, or create some time for some of your hobbies.”
When you plan your self-care routine in your agenda, it helps with actualizing your ideas, according to Aylin.
“Understanding your personal leadership style is also a form of self-care,” says Simone Filippini, President of Leadership4SDGs. Simone mentions that how you handle challenging situations and vulnerable moments is very important. She encourages us to move past challenges, feel empowered again, and reach for our dreams.
What are ways to optimize self-care at home?
Many of us are stuck at home these days with limited options for exercise or other self-care options such as massages or yoga classes. If you’re looking for ways to practice self-care while working from home, here are some ideas.
1. Be intentional about your “me” time.
Regularly plan time for yourself in your busy schedule.
Try setting aside 10-15 minutes in between tasks to do something for you. It can be as simple as taking a short walk, reading a chapter or two of a book or making a phone call to a friend or family member. You also can use this time to observe mindfulness and deep reflections.
2. Make sure you get enough sleep.
The quality of your sleep can have a significant effect on your physical and mental health. Quality sleep helps with your immune system, productivity, brain and heart health, emotional balance, creativity, and vitality.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult needs nothing less than seven to nine hours per night. However, stress can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. If worries associated with the pandemic are keeping you awake, here are a few steps to follow.
- maintain a regular bedtime schedule
- put away electronics at least an hour before bedtime
- limit caffeine intake in afternoon and evening
- keep your bedroom darkened
3. Eat healthy foods.
Did you know that what you eat plays a role in keeping your mind alert?
Aim to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. And don’t forget the importance of drinking plenty of water. According to this article in Harvard Health, there is increasing evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet may boost our mental health. A Mediterranean diet is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and lean protein and low in red meat and unhealthy fats.
Also, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day while limiting your intake of sugar- or caffeine-laden beverages.
4. Exercise regularly.
Another way to make yourself a priority is through exercise. According to an article in The New York Times, we can counteract the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle with brief walks during the day. And, as articles like this one published by Harvard Health point out, even brief periods of exercise can boost your overall health and help you have better concentration and better focus.
If you regularly exercise at the gym, there are many online classes and videos you can seek out for inspiration. Some large fitness organizations, such as Planet Fitness and the YMCA, and even local gyms are offering free classes to help people stay in shape during this crisis.
Also, be sure to take frequent breaks from sitting at your computer. Try setting a timer for every 15- to 20-minutes to stand and stretch. Also, work from a standing position whenever you can. For example, you can stand or even walk around when you are on a voice call. Even small amounts of movement can make a big difference in your physical and mental health.
My final suggestion is to learn to enjoy the process of self-care. As a professional woman, you are accustomed to taking care of others. Taking care of yourself is not being selfish. When you make taking care of yourself a priority, you will be better able to handle all the demands of your busy life.
Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.