One thing I have seen otherwise talented and successful leaders do poorly is self-care. Often with the demands of a busy organisation, leaders- whether a business owner or manager- will work extended hours and take work home, leaving little time to do much else than work. While I have heard this justified as necessary, especially when you’re the boss, I truly believe that the success of a business hinges on the success of the leader. If we don’t look after ourselves, not only will we personally begin to suffer but so too will our team and our business.
The term ‘self-care’ may conjure images of bubble baths and face masks, and while this can certainly be a part of self-care for some, self-care goes far beyond the bathroom. Self-care is about emotional and mental rest as much as it is about physical care. No matter how rested a body is, if the mind and emotions are not . Ever wondered why you are still exhausted even after a long sleep? If your mind doesn’t rest, then neither does your body.
Studies have shown that people who take time away from work to rest are more productive and have greater longevity than those who do not. While many of us have the good intentions to fit some ‘Me Time’ into our schedules, the demands of our roles can often push these intentions to the bottom of the priority list. When was the last time you actually spent some time on your own, doing something you love? Whether it be a walk around your neighbourhood, reading your favourite book or a day trip to the mountains or beach, it is vital to set time aside to get into your own space, get away from electronics, and breathe. Personally, when I have had the busiest seasons of my year is when I will emphasise taking time out- generally on the weekend- from everything and allowing myself to relax. I don’t view time-out as a time to slack off but rather a time to debrief from the previous week and reset myself for the next. This time has been incredibly valuable for me, and I have noticed the difference in myself, my interactions with others and even my physical and mental capacities between the weeks I have taken this time out and when I haven’t.
Exercise is not just good for your physical health, but also your mental health. Exercise promotes better sleep patterns, allows you to disconnect from distractions, increases oxygen absorption, and of course, releases endorphins- that amazing happiness chemical! Sleep is also the time that our body restores and repairs itself, so of course we want to be engaging in activities which promote our sleeping patterns. Any good business person knows that they want to work smart, not hard. Through exercise, the work you put into one area contributes to many others. A lack of exercise in a person’s routine can cause them to feel more lethargic, gain weight and decrease their muscle strength. This can lead to feeling more sore in general, and even put you at greater risk of physical injury. But the more often you exercise, the better you feel and the more you are able to do. Exercise is truly a form of self-care that gives more than you do, and once you develop a good routine both you and your work will benefit.
Eat a Home-Cooked Meal
Especially when we’re on the go, we are more likely to pick up processed food instead of taking the time to prepare and eat a wholesome home-cooked meal. The benefits of making a meal of our own is not just so we can see exactly what is going into our meal and avoid ingredients which do not promote our health and well-being. The time it forces us to slow down and concentrate on something other than work- whether it’s making the meal itself or sitting down with others to eat it- is also mentally beneficial. There’s also a sense of accomplishment which goes with creating a meal- and creation itself is a form of therapy. Set a night every week and make it your ‘home dinner’ night for that added boost of nutrients and self-care.
Contribute to Charity or the Community
Giving to others is a two-way street- not only does it provide care for others, it’s also a fantastic way to care for yourself. Studies have found that when people are involved in charitable organisations their life-satisfaction actually increases as we develop a greater sense of accomplishment, according to helpguide.org. Whether your time, resources or finances, contributing to a local charity or community group has the added bonus of being an excellent way to boost your spirit! Care for others is also care for yourself.
Connect with Loved Ones
The stressors of running a business or team can heavily impact us, and we may find ourselves feeling discouraged or defeated. While a personal pep-talk may get us through a rough day, there is truly nothing more heartening than connecting with those who believe in and love us. Our closest friends and family are the ones who know us the best, and this closeness also allows them to encourage us to look after ourselves. So whether it is a phone call on the way home or a home-cooked dinner with a loved one (for double self-care points), checking in with your loved ones is a simple yet effective way to implement self-care.
Spend Time in Nature
Even if it’s just the backyard on a week-end or a local park on your lunch break or on your way home, spend time in natural surroundings! The benefits of nature have been shown by many researchers, and they’re not just physical- or for hippies! There are also mental and emotional benefits associated with the outdoors. Minimising technology like emails, messages and alerts relieves tension and allows our minds to relax. Vitamin D is vital for our bodies, as is fresh air (don’t forget, trees clean the air, so even with air pollution, being around nature is definitely better than breathing in the stale air in our offices). Interestingly enough, after I had begun to notice my own greater mental health when I spent at least a few hours a week at the beach, I discovered the theory of ‘grounding’. Researchers have found that physically connecting with nature actually helps us heal from the strains and pressures of modern work and lifestyles (this article provides a good overview on grounding). Even if you aren’t of the ‘grounding’ persuasion, being away from technology and enjoying a different- and beautiful- scenery is still good for your mind! Ensure that you take some time out to get into the outdoors and connect with nature as often as you can to implement self-care in an adventurous way.