Putting care into your self care

The following blog is by Amy Highness. 

Organizing self careSelf-care. Such an obvious, yet seemingly elusive concept. The notion of taking care of ourselves in order to be more effective in our work and personal lives seems pretty straight-forward, yet in the crunch to answer a few more emails, check off a few more to-dos, and simply meet the basics of daily survival, it gets lost. Something needs to change, but the usual advice - go to the gym, eat healthy food, socialize! - feels too vague and perhaps those are things we’ve been doing all along anyway. So now what?

We dug into this quandary at our most recent session of the 2015-16 EPIP-YNPN Leadership Institute, sponsored by the Twin Cities chapters of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (YNPN-TC). The group was not short on fantastic ideas, and there were a few key themes that really stood out to me:

Self-care isn’t just an “after work” activity.

Brief, relaxing activities throughout each day can provide momentary rejuvenation, having a cumulative effect over the long term. Small breaks to stretch, getting some fresh air, listening to music, taking a couple deep breaths, and - *shudder* - eating lunch away from your desk — even simply talking about these things brought a different, positive energy to our group.

Human old past-time made new.

During our cohort session, we didn’t just talk about self-care, we actually practiced it too. The organizers set up multiple activity stations, and one of the most popular was simply taking a walk with others along the river. In our hyper-connected culture, interaction seems like a constant, but much of it is superficial. Reaching out and cultivating new human, in-person connections - even for brief moments - does require a little energy up front, but the return can be quite dramatic.

Sweet, blissful solitude.

OK, yes other humans are great, but I need some “Me Time!” Quiet meditation, a long solo walk, or an evening home preparing a favorite meal just for yourself can be boons to the spirit. One of my favorite summer activities is to rent a paddleboard at Lake Nokomis and just go hang out alone in the middle of the lake. Even now on the cusp of fall, sitting at my desk writing this, that sensation of the warm breeze, the gentle waves, the far-off sounds of people on the beach - it’s completely restorative.

Name it and claim it.

In reflecting on what I do for self-care, I had an interesting realization. There are many activities that, depending on how I approach them, may or may not be adding to my wellbeing.

Prime example: the beloved Netflix binge. It is so easy to come home after a long day and “reward” yourself with an episode of (insert the name your favorite show), which quickly becomes two, three, four, and so on. Before you know it, it’s too late to do anything else productive. We’ve all been there, and the regret is palpable. To reclaim this time (and still get my shows in!), I have been consciously asking myself, “What do I need right now?” Netflix might be just the thing to get out of my own head and problems for a bit, so I claim it for that specific purpose in that moment, getting really clear on the objective of that activity, and moving on to something else when the need is met (I’m still working on applying this to my pistachio gelato obsession…).

Obligation or appreciation?

Identifying my actual need has also helped me reframe a lot of my daily activities as intentional self-care. Staying in touch with loved ones can feel like a requirement, but it is very rewarding when I stop to identify the peace that comes with re-enforcing those bonds. Cleaning the bathroom can be a dreaded chore, but with a good podcast going, I can really stay in the moment, and I’m left with a sense of restoration both mentally and spatially. Cutting out part of my morning routine (like blowdrying my hair) may be a rushed reaction to oversleeping or it can be a conscious decision to let go of that little piece of control just for the day.

The point is that we are already doing many things that can add nourishment and vibrance to our daily lives — all we have to do is identify them and take those few seconds to state the intention.

What do you do for self-care? Any resources or experts you turn to? How do you identify what will best fill your needs? 

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