“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
– Anne Lamott
Take care of yourself. We hear that a lot, right? But how many of us really prioritize it and make it a consistent part of our daily routine. I’m not talking about getting twice-weekly massages, as nice as would be. I’m talking about making our self-care part of our regular routine, how we live.
Most of us have families, we have work responsibilities, and we may be involved with community or church as well. Our lives are full. And, because of that, we can easily slip into neglecting those things that are essential to health and a sense of well-being.
It has always astonished me when I talk to people who say they have no time for even the basics of exercise, eating healthy, and getting adequate sleep. It is precisely because we have full, active lives that taking care of ourselves is so vital.
All the research I’ve read on performance and productivity points to healthy self-care as being an essential component of efficiency and focus in our work, and of being at our best. Throw in our fast-paced society and demands on our time and energy, and you’ve got a stress case in the making.
The American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America™ survey found “that significantly higher percentages of adults than last year  report that stress impacts their physical and mental health. For example, a substantial number of individuals report physical and mental health-related symptoms, such as headaches or feeling anxious or depressed.” Chronic stress over time can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, overeating or over-drinking, and speed up aging.
Our bodies and minds are entwined and each affects the other. Because of our often fast-paced culture, it’s easy to look at basic self-care practices as extras we don’t have time for, when the reality is that these practices can help us to function at our best, saving us time and extra energy in the long run.
Taking good care of yourself doesn’t have to mean hitting the gym for two hours five times a week, or going full vegan (unless you want it to.) What I’m really talking about here is maintaining a healthy daily routine that focuses on the basics.
Sleep. William Dement, a pioneer of sleep research, says: “We are not healthy unless our sleep is healthy.” About 2 out of 3 people in America are sleep deprived, according to recent studies. Healthy sleep practices help us to be more focused, have more energy and foster better resilience, the ability to bounce back readily from difficulties. Most adults need between 7-9 hours a night, and we function best when we go to bed and wake at regular times. Pay attention to what your body needs.
Exercise. By the time we are adults, most of us are fully aware of the importance of exercise to body and mind. Knowing and doing are often two different things, however. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, exercise also benefits our brains, our moods, and our energy levels. Often, we consider exercise as something complicated or time-consuming that we have to fit into our already busy day. Brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, is the basic cardio recommendation from the American Academy of Sports Medicine. Most of us walk anyway, and there are ways to fit it into our day seamlessly if we look for them. Pick up the pace on your daily dog walk, or walk to and from work, or the train station if you commute. Take a brisk walk with your partner or a friend at the end of the day as a way to catch up. It’s all a matter of priorities. – if you make it important, it will happen. If walking doesn’t appeal, find something that does. The point is to move.
Nutrition. I’ve been a proponent of healthy clean eating forever, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. With new information coming out all the time about what to eat or what not to eat, it can be hard to know where to start. Here again, it’s good to stick to the basics – almost all nutrition advice includes fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, particularly fish and chicken, whole grains, low fat dairy (if you can tolerate it) and plenty of water. No-no’s are high sugar and high fat foods. Keep it simple. Consult with a nutritionist or health coach and design a plan that works for you that you can stick with.
Mood. Positivity is powerful. Those among us with a strong sense of wellbeing are typically healthier and more successful personally and professionally. They have stronger immune systems, and are more resourceful and resilient when challenged with life’s ups and downs. They have a strong sense of purpose and work that is meaningful to them. Cultivating a healthy, positive mindset is a buffer against stress and helps us build our inner resources. Taking the time to become familiar with your strengths and values, and incorporating them into your daily life, pays big dividends. Close family and/or friend relationships, recreation and downtime are essential to maintaining a sense of balance and a stable mood. Prioritizing self-care and relaxation increases our wellbeing and enhances our performance. And, when difficulties come, they choose to see them as opportunities to become stronger and improved versions of themselves.
Most of us realize that maintaining work-life balance is a work in progress, but it’s our daily choices that make the biggest impact on our life and work. Find a daily routine that works for you and notice the difference!
To the best version of you.