“Self-Care” is a new buzz word these days. As someone who takes care of other people for a living (psychiatrist) my therapist often asks me at some point in session, what are you doing to take care of yourself? It used to feel this was an enormous weight. In addition to running the household, earning a living, taking care of kids, of struggling patients, working out regularly, preparing perfectly balanced healthy meals, all in the middle of a pandemic, there was yet another responsibility on my plate. I wondered often, how exactly is this accomplished? Who are the super women who have unlimited resources to get it all done and more? Seemed like a setup for yet another area I could count on underperforming in the early stages of my self-care journey.
A mentor once told me if struggling with something, break it down, and if still feeling overwhelmed break it down even further. Continue to break things down into minuscule pieces until some of feels manageable, and start there. I’ve applied this principle with regards to self-care and I am happy to report it has been helpful! I’m going to share my evolving mindset and habits around self-care that have served me well in the last few months to get to my best self.
I think its always useful to start with the Why? Pretty quickly, I realized I can’t make self-care yet another checkmark (or unchecked box) on my daily to-do list. I reframed my thinking from “to do” to “a vehicle” to get to my best self (not for anyone else, not so I can be a better mom, a more therapeutic physician, a more productive employee) but my best self—for ME. Simplifying the why of self-care helped me focus back to my authentic rather than productive self.
So next comes the how. Slight trick, before we get to the how lets ask the who. Who can help facilitate more moments for mindfulness in my day. Who can help me create more space for myself in my life? A good place to find those answers is to look around and recognizing who is occupying my space-for me it was my family, my au pair, and my patients. Before springing in to action and coming up with a detailed time-saving and well-measured plan, I decided I was going to take a couple of days to just gather data. I would have to resist the urge to immediately act upon the data, I was just going to gather it and understand better some of the rhythms in my life. I needed to recognize that some were serving me well, and observe the ones that weren’t. These were some of my personal observations (it might be totally different for you but I’ll share my findings!)
I noticed that my kids getting up in the morning at varying times and storming into my room in an unpredictable flurry left me feeling little control over my morning, which set the stage for a chaotic day. I would wake up and listen for signs that ¼ of them were stirring, all while watching the clock and betting with myself how many more minutes I could get in bed before it all started. Starting the day feeling like I was playing Russian roulette I realized, was not serving me well.
Another observation was, while I try to be hyper-efficient, I had childcare ending literally minutes after I was done with scheduled patients. I had factored in time to write notes, to close charts, to send in prescriptions and then reunite with my children so that I could shower them with love and attention that surely they had been deprived of during the day while I was working. This manner of scheduling, not giving myself any wind-down and transition period, was not serving me well and I came to understand was guilt-based. While I thought I was being efficient, it really hindered being able to be present and enjoy my kids as my brain was still swirling from all of the excitement a full patient load brings.
I also noticed I was consistently skipping breakfast because I started my day early with the plan to eat in between patients, but in my busy schedule, that break rarely came. So, rather than immediately tasking myself with solving these conundrums by just doing more, trying harder etc etc I decided to look outside of myself. Who else can help here? Who else that takes up time and space in my universe, can help contribute towards my self-care?
The answers were remarkably simpler than I had anticipated—smaller changes are also less overwhelming to set into motion. I asked my kids to not come running into my room in the morning, they were in no uncertain terms to stay in their rooms or congregate with each other, not me at anytime before 7AM. Did I feel like a bad mom asking them this? Yes. But, that faded away quickly when I realized what benefits it brought. I woke up earlier than all of them anyway. When I woke, instead of playing Russian roulette with a gangle of unruly kids that would appear at different times in different moods, I got out of bed and went to each of their rooms in the morning, saying good morning and giving them a kiss, welcoming them to the day and setting the tone. I didn’t start the day of betting and dreading, I took control of my morning and the routine and it didn’t mean time away from the kids, it was time with them, just on my schedule and in my control.
Encouraged, I wondered WHO else can provide me with self-care. I asked my au pair to start working an additional 15 mins after the end of my patient schedule. I don’t do anything “productive” with those 15 mins. No breathing exercises, “work outs” nothing. I just relish in 15 mins to let my brain “transition” into family life. I notice the guilt comes on strong that I have been separated from my kids the whole day and they must be suffering as a result, that I owe them that time, that I must learn to be more efficient, and instead of springing into action to fix it and reunite sooner, I let the edge of the guilt fade a bit and then let it float away. I try to take a moment to take stock in all of the progress that has been made so far (with patients, with work) rather than allowing myself to think about my perceived time deficit with my kids.
As for chronically running my morning not having eaten, this one was remarkably simple. I just asked my husband to make me breakfast when he made his own and leave it at my door. If the food was already there, it was much easier to nourish myself on a busy day. I had not thought to ask him as my internal makeup has always been so focused on serving others and being self-sufficient. Being properly nourished is definitely not the sexiest form of self-care, but arguably one of the most important. I was pleasantly surprised at the intuitive solutions asking “who” (who else aside from me” and not jumping directly into self-imposed intervention.
So, I would encourage you to sit with not how, but WHO can help along your journey for sustainable and naturally sourced self-care. As promised, we will get to the “how” next… tune in on Friday for more! Feel free to comment. Hope some of this resonated with you today and looking forward to hearing about your journey as well!
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