One key, recurring theme is that individuals have varying success at looking after themselves, but when they do, negative feelings become easier to manage; they regain perspective, they find their reserves of resilience, and are able to be hopeful and realistically optimistic about the future, even in extremely challenging times.
Self-care is not selfish!
So if you’re planning how to emerge from lockdown - whether it’s you and your family, or how your team and colleagues will adapt, I would like to invite you experiment with this 3-step strategy for self-care: Intention, Attention, Reflection.
Self-care is really difficult. It sounds simple, but it is not easy. The times we would most benefit from practising self-care are the times we are perhaps least likely to do it: “I’m too busy / my colleagues are demanding too much of my time”. I encourage you to start now and, like any skill, to practise.
Step 1: IntentionWrite down the answer to the question: “I want to look after myself because …”
Perhaps you want to create safety and well-being for the people who rely on you? Perhaps you want to be a compassionate leader? Perhaps you want to have the energy, presence and resilience to deal with the stresses you know you’ll face from your colleagues?
When you veer off course from your why, come back - purposefully and intentionally - to what you wrote down.
Your “why?” and your purpose, will re-focus on your deeper motivations to look after yourself and be present and available for the people - family, friends, colleagues - who rely on you.
Step 2: AttentionYou and your colleagues will be adjusting to a new working environment, one that’s familiar, but markedly different than they were used to.
They may react in ways that trigger you. You and they might make assumptions about what you and they are thinking. They may be answering telephone calls all day with impatient and angry customers or colleagues.
What’s important is to pay attention - to observe and be aware of - these patterns, and choose how you want to deal with it.
Here are three practices to experiment with.
1. Pay attention to how you and your team are feeling
Make it a regular practice - perhaps every morning - to invite yourself and your team to express how you are feeling.
eg “What’s on your mind that’s urgent or important?”
Responses can be framed, for example, in terms of a weather forecast. “Today, I’m feeling sunny with intermittent showers.”
There’s science behind naming your feelings. Brain imaging studies have demonstrated that recognising and labelling emotions reduces activity in the emotionally reactive regions of our brain.
As a leader, creating the space for individuals to express that they are anxious, or fearful, or optimistic, or hopeful allows you to create a strong, empathetic connection with your team and colleagues that builds connection, security and community.
2. Pay attention to moments of gratitude
Say what you and your colleagues what they are grateful for.
Simply expressing your gratitude, or inviting your colleagues to express what they are grateful for calms you down.
In a 2016 pilot study of patients with heart failure, the patient group who did gratitude journaling saw a decrease in inflammatory markers (CRP, TNF-α, IL-6) and an increase in heart rate variability, which corresponds to a decrease in the stress response.
3. Put self-care in your calendar
A day of meetings and demands on your time can pass by in a flash, squashing your desire to pay attention to your self-care!
Experiment with setting aside time in your diary for self-care. It’s important, so treat it like an important meeting.
Write down your list of things (like walking outdoors, chatting to a friend) that relax you, and store it somewhere easy to come back to. When your scheduled time comes, pull out your list and choose one to do.
When we’re stressed, our pre-frontal cortex - the thinking part of our brain - is hijacked, and it becomes difficult to come up with ideas in the moment.
Step 3: Reflection
We humans are learning creatures. As a coach, I know that insights are the most powerful pieces of information that lead to lasting behaviour change.
So, as you experiment with your own self-care and support your colleagues and your teams, ask yourself and jot down answers to these questions.
- how are you feeling?
- what worked?
- what didn’t work?
“Failure = information”! If something didn’t work, ask yourself “what have you learned from that?”
I hope this 3-step strategy works for you to support your own health and wellbeing and those who rely on you. If you want to find out more about me, and how I support busy, successful professionals to thrive naturally, whilst keeping their brains healthy and happy, I invite you to explore bumblebeewellbeing.health.