Self-care starts with healthy self-respect
One of the key discoveries I made as I recovered from a shattering burnout experience in 2007 was how little I was used to prioritising my own self-care. Others can help with this, but we each must take responsibility for our own self-care. For me this related back to my underlying lack of self-respect. My lack of self-respect was the reason I did not learn to say ‘No’ often enough. It was why I did not set clear boundaries around my personal world (my well-being and personal relationships). It was the reason I often gave up my personal time out. Serving someone else seemed more valid than doing something for me. I found out I did not respect myself enough to prioritise my self-care.
Self-care is not selfish
I am still committed to helping others. I am happy to sacrifice some of my time off to serve others. But I have learned to respect myself enough to prioritise and implement self-care strategies for myself and my marriage. Boundaries are important to look after that which is precious – this includes my health and well-being, as well as my marriage and family. I do not need to be or want to be ALWAYS ON DUTY serving my clients or the people and organisations to which I belong. In fact, I am better equipped to serve others well if I do consistently make self-care my priority.
The lines between work and home have become very blurred
Since the first iPhone was released in June 2007, the lines between work and home life have been blurred. Now, with so many people working from home, the line has become invisible. Last year, for the first couple of months working from home was a novelty and people embraced it strongly. The longer-term effect has not been so positive. Into the 3rd month of Sydney’s second lockdown, many people are tired. Productivity has slipped. Many are working longer hours to get work done. Mental health and well-being issues are on the rise.
Allianz research of 1000 employees has reported that 70% are struggling with work-life balance. 69% have not had a conversation with their employer about their mental health since the start of the pandemic. Psychological injuries have increased 5% in that time and likely to increase. Finding Balance in the Modern Workplace, Allianz (September 2021)
Creating a Third Space
I like this idea from Dr Adam Fraser, who authored a book on the concept. This idea is one way to improve mental health for those struggling working from home. Fraser says, the first space is “what you’re doing now”, the second space is “what you’re about to do”, and a third space is a “gap in the middle” that allows employees to transition between the first two. This is the space that you used to get travelling to and from your office. A chance to stop work, refocus and prepare mentally and emotionally for life at home.
Fraser’s research showed 45% of employees now say there are fewer boundaries between their personal and work lives, and they feel the weight of expectation to work beyond set hours. The challenge is to help everyone working from home to learn new ways of implementing a self-care strategy that works for them.
How to prioritise self-care during lockdown
Some tips that I have tested and found helpful include:
- Listen to music or watch TV in between work projects or to break up the workday.
- Go for a walk (dogs are loving lockdown) or do a short workout
- Do a 30-minute stint in the garden
- Use housework tasks as a form of pomodoro technique – every 45 minutes wash the clothes, hang out the washing, vacuum the carpet, wash up, bring in the washing, start to prep dinner, etc
- Plan 1 or 2 calls during the day that are not just work related – with a family member or friend. They can hold you a accountable to looking after yourself if you feel the pressure of being ON for work all the time.
Other things you can do with negotiation with your business
- Turn off your email notifications and phone volume after work hours
- Do not respond to emails after work hours
- If you are an employer, do not send an email to your team or call them after work hours (unless it is an absolute emergency)
- Take a holiday at home (either a 4 day weekend or a week off). My wife and I did this recently and were pleasantly surprised how well it worked.
This is not just a lockdown self-care strategy
The world of work will be different into the future. Many people will be working from home at least part of each week. Flexible work is here to stay. The danger is that we NEVER SWITCH OFF and work dominates our minds and our lives in increasingly unhelpful ways. We all need to learn how to create our “third space” during each day, to bookend our work day, and to create restful short or long weekends.
My philosophy is that I work to have a life, not live to work. Increasingly this philosophy is in danger of being lost as we seek to fit our lives into the small gaps remaining after we have finished our work. We will always be working or thinking about work. That is a recipe for a mental health pandemic.
What self-care strategies have you implemented to make sure you have healthy margins in your life?