Accessible, not Cringy, Self-Care
By: Dr. Laura Groth, Senior Partner
Sometimes when I share that my company includes “self-care” as an official corporate value, the response is almost a cringe. At first, the idea feels a little too soft, a little too gooey, a little too warm and fuzzy and unicorns and sunshine to hang out with other corporate concepts like SYNERGY or EFFICIENCY (not real Lumen values).
Initial reactions aside, I have worked at many companies where self-care was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, and I am here to tell you that building it into your company’s values makes a big difference! No one wants to work at a company of bots and cogs – we are whole, mortal humans, and even our professional selves deserve to feel cared for!
Self-Care is Not . . .
But first, let’s address a couple key misconceptions I often hear, so that we can be on the same page about what self-care is not. Self-care is not about other people – not your partner, not your neighbor, not your kids, not your parents – it’s something you are doing for YOU. That other stuff — attending your kid’s school event, driving a partner to an appointment, helping a neighbor with a chore – that might make you feel warm and fuzzy, but it’s for someone else, not for you.
Similarly, self-care is not about achieving maximum productivity. Instead, it is actually the demonstration of CARE for oneself. It is not a chore. If you need to take an hour out of your work day to frantically finish your taxes, to negotiate with the plumber, or to run to the store for coffee beans, that falls under what my friends and I call “life admin.”
Self-Care Is . . .
Self-care is what you do to take care of yourself as a human being, beyond your basic needs. It is making time and space to prioritize what brings you contentment, peace, or joy on any given day. Self-care is something that makes YOU feel like YOU, so when you show up for work you are showing up as a whole human being.
“Well, crap”, you might say to yourself. “If I’m working a full time job, taking care of a household, being a supportive member of my community, and generally functioning as a grown up – what else do you want me to do? Is it all life admin and capitalism until I die? When on earth am I supposed to find time for this mythical self-care?”
The good news is you can introduce habits of self-care into your daily rhythms, and it is not sacrilegious to build self-care into your work day. It doesn’t have to be a full PTO day or vacation (though it can be!). There are many ways you can practice self-care as part of your daily routine, and it may be more realistic and impactful to schedule a short break into your work day than anywhere else in your life. That’s why I would advocate that teams talk explicitly about the importance of self-care for employees. Work is probably the only activity you do for eight (ish) hours straight most every day – and for many of us it’s the most predictable (ish) and structured (ish) part of our day. So, scheduling short workday self-care breaks can be a sustainable habit that makes everyone happier and healthier.
Important note: Self-care is for your “self”, but that doesn’t mean it’s selfish. Remember the term was first coined not by a bougie wellness company, but by activist Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Particularly for folks doing the hard work of teaching, leading, and working in America’s schools today, imagine the impacts of this concept!
Actually DOING Self-Care
I did a rigorous (ish), unscientific poll of some random neighbors and got some great ideas for how to take self-care from a lofty ideal to a real, daily possibility for actual mortal humans. It boils down to this: Figure out what most brings you joy, what makes you feel most human – is it taking a break with some silence? Is it connections with loved ones? Fun and adventures? Luxury and relaxation? By getting down to the root of what makes you feel whole, you might find diverse ways to build that self-care into both your life and your work.
Here are some examples:
- If self-care feels like connection – chats with colleagues, co-working with a friend, volunteering in your community
- If self-care feels like creating space – a phone-free walk around the block, short meditation or mindfulness session, or just staring out the window for several minutes
- If self-care feels like an energy surge– make that walk around the block a quick jog, or Google short free workout videos
Here’s the bottom line: You are a human and you deserve to be cared for, radical as though that may seem. But I think you’ll find that the residual effect of this kind of care impacts others as well. People who are well cared for have more space and grace to give themselves and others. What kind of impact might you make if you took the time to be intentional about implementing one of the small practices above to actually do the work of self-care? What amazing impacts might you have space for?