Falling off the self-care wagon, does not have to be permanent.

 

You are going to fall off the self-care wagon.  You just are.  Life will get hard, your job will get more stressful, you will be tired or lazy, or any random factor and suddenly you will notice you just polished off your 25th oreo.  Or that you haven’t exercised in weeks.  Or that your self talk has been SO mean lately.  Or that important friendships/relationships have taken a backseat because you are working too much.

This will happen.  And the sooner you recognize that this is all part of it, the sooner you can move on and get back to the very important task of practicing self care.  But perhaps the trick is KNOWING this will happen, rather than being surprised when it does.

What if instead of saying to yourself, “Well you’ve done it again!  All that hard work, and you’ve blown it!”  You said, “Oh wait, looks like I got off course a little bit.  I haven’t been paying attention to taking care of myself lately.  Hmmm ok, well this is not a permanent bump in the road, so let’s get back on track.”  That second approach isn’t allowing you much time to beat yourself up.

In fact, powerful things can happen when you change the way you react to noticing you’ve slipped up.  The less time and energy spent on degrading yourself, ends up working in your favor.  Instead of spending more hours and days berating yourself, your turn-around time is faster. Less time spent in self-loathing mode, is more time spent in self-care mode.

Also when you remind yourself that this is an expected turn of events, you will be less inclined to unpack all the many reasons you have “failed” and are a “loser” (p.s. you are NOT a failure or a loser). Feel free to assess where you went wrong, but don’t give that too much power or time.  I understand the need to want to understand where you went wrong to prevent that from happening again.  But if you’re investigating your motives for days upon days, cut it out, and get back to taking care of you.

So next time you notice that maybe your self-care has taken a bit of backseat to everything else right now, don’t freak out.  Notice it, remind yourself you knew this would happen, dust yourself off, and pick up where you left off.

Take care of YOU.

 

 

Make room for the tender and ridiculous despite the unbearable sadness.

There’s a lot of stuff happening right now globally.  Well, there always is.  But the recent Paris bombings brought a lot to light.

When heartbreaking events are brought to light it’s hard not to get bogged down with unbearable sadness.  If you are an empath, which many caregivers are, you may FEEL things in a way others do not.  You don’t just see the picture of the child refugee, you feel it.  The sadnesses we experience at work and in the news, can make any down time feel anything but restorative.

Yesterday I met a friend at Coney Island for a walk.  While I waited for her to arrive, a 5K was finishing up and I watched a family cheering on all the stragglers at the end of the race.  They didn’t appear to be waiting for anyone in particular, but just rooting these random runners to the finish line.  Each runner kept looking behind them while the family was cheering them on, convinced the cheering wasn’t for them.  Without fail, every time they realized these strangers were encouraging them, their tired faces would light right up.  As did mine.

Thirty minutes later, I watched 50-60 people jump in the freezing cold ocean, as members of the Polar Bear club of Coney Island.  It looked painful, and yet the laughter of everyone jumping in was contagious to all of us spectators.  There were three older gentleman I would estimate in their 80’s that went in together, arms around each other.  I wondered how many years they had been doing this together….

We need these moments.  We need to laugh about the ridiculous and tear up over the moving moments.  We absolute cannot ignore what’s happening in the world, but we need to repair our heartbroken souls too.  We are of no service to others, if we don’t.

So here’s to the tender and ridiculous moments!  No need to feel guilt for indulging in either, we need those to get through the harder moments.

Take care of YOU.

Pay it forward.

I realize that phrase gets used a lot, but frankly I’m thrilled it does.  It has forced people to not keep warm fuzzy feelings to themselves, and instead pass it along.

It encourages us to pay better attention to the humans around us, and the beauty we might be missing.

Lately I’ve been so caught up in listening to amazing podcasts during my commute, that I’ve missed watching the every day human connections all around me on the subway and walking around the city.  Sometimes I need that time to disconnect, but other times I force myself to unplug and just be present.

If you start training your eye, you will be able to spot some snapshots into people’s lives that can be so life-giving.

There’s some pretty incredible human moments happening all around us, and when we pay attention it makes life that much more magical.  When that magic moment inspires you to lend someone else a hand, the beauty just keeps going and you end up practicing an act of soulful self-care.

Amazingly, it does even more for you when you can pass it on.  Why keep that feeling to yourself, if you can make someone else feel appreciated and cared for.

For me, if I am treated kindly I try to compliment in the moment, or pass that kindness along shortly after I’ve received it.  I am ridiculously forgetful, I won’t always remember later.  Also this allows the beauty of whatever has happened to stay with me longer.

I had an interaction with a patient recently.  He was a kindly older gentleman who exuded warmth and kindness.  I told him he always made everyone around him so much happier for having come in contact with him.  He said to me, “I’m glad to hear that, all I ask is that you pay it forward and make someone else smile.”  Later that day I went to the bodega to grab a snack and noticed the lady ahead of me had left her portfolio leaving against the candy by the register.  I’m sad to admit I had a moment where I almost didn’t run after her. But I remembered the words of the old man and ran outside to see if I could track her down.  I found her two blocks away.  And the look on her face when she realized she had left her artwork but that it was safe, was worth all my asthmatic wheezing.

Write that thank you letter, give that compliment, give up your seat, help that person across the street, offer to help a lost person with directions, open your eyes, unplug, pay attention and by paying it forward you’ll take care of YOU.

 

Complaining effectively.

The word “complain” has such a negative connotation and often goes hand in hand with the word “whine.”  But the truth is those words are actually quite different.

One dictionary definition of whine is “to snivel in a peevish, self-pitying way.”  While complain means “to express dissatisfaction, pain or uneasiness.”

A lot of people don’t want to be viewed negatively and fear that if they complain they will be perceived as a “bitch” or “whiner” rather than someone who has a real concern or complaint.  I know from personal experience this has been a fear of mine, and at times has held me back.  In fact, in my 20’s I got into many bizarre circumstances that would not have happened if I had just had the courage to complain effectively.

Recently a friend of mine shared a story about where her effective complaint got her out of a weird circumstance.  She was out of town for a conference and when she arrived at her hotel she was told by the lady at the front desk that she would be sharing her room (this was a 4 star hotel) with another guest.  After reminding herself that she wasn’t at summer camp, she told the person assisting her that she would NOT be staying in a room with a complete stranger and asked for the situation to be fixed.  Did the front desk staff look at her like she was a nuisance?  Yes she did.  Did that really matter?  No it didn’t, because in the end my friend was able to stay in the room she paid for without a complete stranger in the bed next to her.

Sometimes our complaints will flat out piss people off, EVEN if we phrase them in the most polite and appropriate matter.  But you know what?  As usual, this will have less to do with you, and more to do with them.  People will move on, and you will be healthier mentally and physically when you don’t suffer silently.  In fact, more and more research is coming out about how keeping frustrations inside are negatively effecting your mental and physical health.  

There’s a wonderful book about complaining called, The Squeaky Wheel by Guy Winch that goes into his extensive research about how to effectively complain and how it can improve our relationships and an enhance our self-esteem.

A couple of things to think about:

1.) Are you complaining to the right person?  If not, ask for the person who can help implement the change.

2.) Are you willing to stand behind your complaint?  Be prepared to explain why the situation is an issue.

3.) Do you have solutions in mind?  In the workplace you may find that your boss agrees with your complaint but doesn’t know how to proceed next, having solutions can help the process along.

4.) Try voicing one complaint at a time, so as not to bombard the listener with years of frustrations.  You want them to do something about your concerns, so be realistic in your expectations.

5.) Try to get control of your anger prior to voicing the complaint.  You want the listener to actually hear what you are saying and not be distracted by the vein popping out of your forehead.

“I always wondered why somebody didn’t so something about that, and then I realized I’m that somebody.”

Take care of YOU.

Make and KEEP dates with yourself

One thing I’ve noticed after years of working in the caregiving field, is that I’ve stopped being a person anyone wants to be around if I don’t take some time for myself.  In my case, “time for myself” means alone time that has nothing to do with my job.  For a lot of you, this can mean time that has nothing to do with your job, family and any other responsibilities.

But here’s the thing, despite this alone time being crucial to my happiness, I will cancel this appointment with myself at the drop of a hat!  Any number of things can and will come up despite the appointment I made with myself and I will bail on ME.  I am vigilant about keeping plans with others.  VIGILANT.  But I don’t pay myself the same respect.

A couple of things that have helped me keep these “appointments” are picking a specific time and putting it my phone.  For whatever reason, I am much more likely to follow through on something if it’s in my phone.  It makes it more “official” in my brain.  For those of you who have obstacles that are not just yourselves, such as husbands, wives, kids, or co-workers who keep you from this designated time, try a different tactic.  Ask them to help you keep this designated time.  If they are folks who really are rooting for you, they will appreciate your vulnerability and want you to have this time to yourself too.  (If they aren’t rooting for you, stay steadfast with firm boundaries.)  Remind them you are a better version of yourself, when this time is respected.

I personally like to take this time to be alone, but perhaps in your case you want a designated period of time to be with old friends, new friends etc.  It really doesn’t matter if this time is with or without people because it’s all about what you WANT.

Figure out a time (at least) once a week, that is yours to do whatever you want.  I’ve noticed people (specifically families and jobs) will be more respectful of your time if it’s the same day and time every week.  They will get in the habit of assuming you will be “off the grid” during that time.  You will also get into that habit, so when the weeks feel long, you can know there will be time for you to recharge soon enough.

Remember, the world will NOT fall apart if you take a couple hours for yourself every week.  It just won’t.

Make a date.  Put it in your calendar.  Keep the date.

Take care of YOU.

Stop apologizing!

Recently a dear friend of mine sent me an article about words to avoid in an email, as working women.  Turns out I was guilty of writing all of the things they tell you NOT to write. http://www.vogue.com/13362056/things-working-women-should-never-email/

And it really got me thinking…How many times have I heard women apologizing for things that require no apology.  Or more specifically using the word “sorry” unnecessarily.

I remember playing soccer as a teenager and hearing all over the soccer field, “Sorry, oh sorry, sorry, you ok, sorry.”  The parents even commented about how the girls were “so nice.”  But we weren’t.  There were some really mean girls on my team.  No SERIOUSLY.  So why were we apologizing?  When did that become an expectation or a norm?  When did we think we had to apologize for taking up space in the world? I’m not sure. But I also don’t think this is doing women any favors.

Now as an adult, it’s a real struggle for me to NOT apologize in every email or conversation.  I have to be super conscious of it and stop myself, and ask if the interaction actually requires a “sorry” before saying or writing it.  I’m curious how my face must look as I almost spit out the word “sorry”, and then quickly bring it back in and regroup.  Quite honestly, I’d rather have a weird look on my face, than diminish my personal power by apologizing for no reason.

I realize there are some men who fall into this category as well.  But primarily if you start to listen for it, women can’t stop.  But we need to.  For so many reasons.  None the least of them being we aren’t saying what we actually MEAN.  If we expect to be taken seriously, we must stop apologizing prior to asking for what we need!

“I’m sorry but would you mind…”

“I’m sorry do you have a second…”

“Sorry, can I just get by….”

It’s everywhere and it’s going to be a struggle to remove it from your every day vernacular.  That, I can promise you.  So maybe start by just noticing when you say it. Then ask yourself if an apology is necessary in that situation?  Start slow and do NOT beat yourself up for saying it.  Be kind with yourself, this is going to take some practice.

The good news is that when you start removing the word from where it doesn’t belong, you will start to be received differently. You words will have more weight for you and for others.

You’ve got this.

Take care of YOU.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

We start young.  We compare ourselves (and are compared by others) to our siblings, cousins, classmates, parents, artists, soccer players, popular kids, nerdy kids and on and on. This gets so ingrained in us early on, that it’s no surprise that it’s hard to let this go as adults.  In fact, you may not even realize how much you are doing it.  But chances are, if you think for just one minute, you will EASILY come up with various people in your professional life (and personal life) you have compared yourself to.

Now look, sometimes comparisons can be used as a healthy goal of what you want to achieve based on the role models around you.  But obviously this isn’t always the case, otherwise I would have nothing to write about. Of those people you have compared yourself to, how many times have the comparisons served you well?  I legitimately don’t know the answer to this.  I’m asking you.  What I can tell you, is in my case there is a difference between comparison and admiration.

When I admire a colleague for their abilities, I don’t leave feeling worthless, because it’s not about me.  It’s about appreciating the gifts they have.  When I compare my abilities with a colleague, self-loathing starts rearing it’s ugly head, and suddenly it becomes all about my deficits.

At this stage in my nursing career, I know my strengths.  I love my strengths.  They serve me well as a nurse.  And yet, I still compare myself to others who have strengths I do not. This always feels awesome….Okay fine, it actually feels horrible.  Because instead of appreciating and admiring how a community is made of unique individuals with various strengths, I beat myself up.  Unnecessarily.  And the self loathing starts…and let me tell you, it’s not pretty.  Iyanla Vanzant has a wonderful quote about this, “Comparison is an act of violence against the self.”  Doesn’t it start to feel like that?  Borderline violent?

Meanwhile, as I’m making all these horrible comparisons and feeling inadequate, are my strengths still shining?  Of course not.  My strengths get pushed to the side so I can make more room for dis-empowering- makes me feel like crap- self hatred.

When I admire others for their abilities, I get to reap the benefits of their gifts while also allowing my strengths to shine.

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it, it just blooms.”

Remember you have been given gifts that make you strong in both your personal and professional life.  It does you no good to spend your time comparing these gifts to others.  We need your gifts.  We need you to  BLOOM.

Take care of YOU.

The entertainment we watch…

The other day I was talking with a friend of mine from work.  I was curious what type of shows or movies she gravitated to.  She told me that she “kept it light.”  She said she had been hearing and experiencing other people’s trauma all day every work day for the last 10 years.  So when she went home, the last thing she wanted was to hear or watch more trauma.

Now, I think I touched on this briefly before, but I want to expound on this a bit.  I 100% understood what she meant by this.  For the past 15 years, I’ve heard just about every horrific story you can imagine.  I’ve also heard many incredibly beautiful stories as well. But regardless, when you hear and experience story after story of trauma, are you taking care of yourself by watching more on your free time?  Nobody needs 24 hours of trauma input.

I realize that some people are more sensitive than others.  On the sensitivity spectrum, I’m off the charts sensitive. But, this isn’t about comparing you or me to others.  It’s all about what YOU need to decompress.  Keep in mind, there are many people out there who have jobs that are not emotionally taxing and who aren’t hearing or experiencing trauma stories…EVER.  Chances are they will have a higher capacity for certain types of entertainment. Good for them.  But before you jump into the next TV series with your significant other, be honest about what you want to get out of it.  Try being a little more deliberate about what you want to watch on your down time.

As caregivers we rarely have a say in what we are going to see.  We have to treat and serve everyone that walks through our doors, as we should!  But when we’re off duty, we get a say!  So really think about what will help you recharge effectively.

Personally, I cannot watch Law and Order SVU anymore.  If I see one more episode about a woman getting raped living alone in NYC, it will officially do my head in.  I refuse to watch anything that induces fear in me.  I also can’t watch another movie about HIV.  I know there are amazing movies out there but I work in that field. After I watch movies that focus on the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s, I’m a wreck.  Done. Spent. We need these movies.  Absolutely.  It does my heart good to know that they exist.  But on my down time, I cannot.

I want to feel joy, I want to laugh, I want to watch a show that has nothing to do with the medical field.  I want a….break.  I need a break. So do you.

Take care of YOU.

“Outer order creates inner calm”- Gretchen Rubin

Is it an act of self-care when you eliminate clutter?   A lot of people seem to think so. There have been a slew of books lately that all correlate tidier homes with happier more fulfilling lives.

I personally can relate to this idea.  I find whenever I’m feeling frustrated by life, my apartment almost always reflects those frustrations in the form of cluttered chaos. However, once I start clearing away the clutter I can almost feel clarity re-establishing itself in my brain.  I’ve found the simple act of decluttering makes room for ideas, creativity and solutions to things that had confounded me previously.

I recognize that when you have children sometimes cleaning the house of clutter seems like an endless task.  But if you could make one area of your home or apartment clutter free, what would that feel like to you?

I try to keep the area where I write this blog, clear of clutter for a couple of reasons. First, I am very easily distracted.  If I see other things around me that I need to attend to my focus will be anywhere but in the writing.  Second, I enjoy writing and look at writing this blog as an act of self care.  So if clutter is getting in the way of allowing me to focus on what I like doing, then the clutter is not serving me.

Gretchin Rubin author of The Happiness Project  writes that “Outer order contributes to inner calm.”  She developed the “one-minute rule.”  It just takes one minute to do a couple of things in your home that will make life easier later on.  Instead of dropping your coat on the couch, not putting items back in the refrigerator, not cleaning that one dish you just used, she recommends you just do it. It only takes one minute and it keeps your house tidier for longer. For those of you who are naturally neat this may seem like a no-brainer, but for me, I’ve often operated under the mantra “I’ll do it later.”  Meanwhile my apartment starts accumulating clutter and my “inner calm” becomes anything but calm.

In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up she writes, “Although not large, the space I live in is graced with only those things that speak to my heart.  My lifestyle brings me joy.” I love that!  So whether you have roommates, a house with many kids, or a tiny apartment, what would it look like if you carved out a space for yourself that gave you joy and was free of clutter?

If removing clutter feels like an insurmountable task, start small.  For instance, make your bed every day.  Perhaps having one area of your bedroom neat may be the baby step you need to start to create order.  It also may make space in your brain for other things.

Take care of YOU.

Ask for what you need.

When it is your job to anticipate the needs of your clients, patients and customers, it can hard to turn down that switch when you’re off the clock.  In fact, it can often hinder you from getting what you want.

Allow me to explain…

When I am at work and a patient tells me they feel fine, but their body language, vital signs or affect are telling me differently, I MUST read between the lines.  Often times, the ability to do this will extract more info than perhaps the patient felt was necessary and proves useful in the end to both the patient and medical provider.

Now let’s take this scenario off the clock.  Recently I signed a lease for a new apartment. I did not have the money to pay for movers and absolutely needed the help of friends in order to pull this off.

Prior to asking anyone for help, I made an inventory of all my friends and came up with reasons why asking them for help would be inconsiderate of me.

“This guy has had a bad back, but he won’t say no to me, so I won’t ask.”

“That one just had a move themselves in the last few months, the last thing they need is to help with my move.”

“This one I don’t know that well, but they did offer, but…I don’t want to take advantage of their offer.”

Isn’t that intense???  I made an excuse for every single one of them (before they even had a chance to weigh in). By anticipating the “needs” of everyone I literally had no one left to help me.  So in the end, I was forced to ask people for help (something I, and many caregivers HATE doing. WE are the helpers.  Gross, let’s lose that martyrdom, shall we? Or is that just me.  Okay fine, I will work on that).

Here’s what I learned…

1.) I wasn’t factoring in that some, in fact perhaps ALL, were happy to help

2.) Almost all of the “needs” I was anticipating were not accurate or applicable anyway

  • Bad back guy? Was totally taking care of his back and knew what NOT to lift
  • Person who has just moved?  Knew how stressful moving can be (thanks to their recent move) and was glad to help
  • Person I didn’t know that well who had offered their help?  I got to know better, and became a better friend!

3.) I needed to trust that my friends would have appropriate boundaries and if they couldn’t do something, they WOULDN’T!

4.)  I had to remember, that friends are not my patients so it is NOT my job to anticipate their “supposed” needs.

5.)  And finally I learned that not asking for help was about my own fear of not being independent, appearing needy etc and had actually VERY little do with others….

In the end, I had one of the most seamless moves I’ve ever had.

So if you’re like me, and it’s hard to ask for what you need because of all the reasons I’ve given…take heart that you will most likely be delightfully surprised by the responses and results.

Take care of YOU.