3 Surprising Reasons that Self Care is Actually Selfless



Self care is not just a buzzword, and it goes far beyond massages and manicures/pedicures. It’s this concept that we need to care for ourselves in order to feel happy, fulfilled, and better able to care for our loved ones. It goes beyond the self and is about being our best selves so we can better contribute to the teams we’re a part of and be a better child, spouse and/or parent in our families so we can be fully present. Our lives deserve our best and we can only achieve that when we are maintaining ourselves by doing things that energize and fulfill us on a daily basis.

You will serve your clients more effectively

We hear all about the ideal of “work-life balance” but the reality is usually very different. We have so many conflicting obligations and priorities that balance can seem like something impossible that “other people” seem to have. While I certainly fall into this trap as well, I don’t think it’s impossible. But it definitely requires some strategic planning as well as daily commitment to self-care. As business strategist Racheal Cook MBA says, “Balance is a verb.”

I see so many of my colleagues and friends who are continuously burning the candle at both ends. In the healthcare field more so than other fields, this is seen as a necessity. Residents work at least 80 hour weeks, nurses work 12-16 hour shifts sometimes five days per week when all of our research shows (here,  here, and here) that anything more than 8 hours puts patients in serious jeopardy. Not only is this not healthy, it’s not productive for the people around us.

This culture of always being busy is not only hurting ourselves but our productivity, mood, and overall sense of well-being suffers. Even though most of us have realized by now we are not at our peak productivity and are better able to get things done when we walk away from it and are refreshed, the prevailing attitude of always being busy and filling the time with menial tasks can make it hard to establish those boundaries. It’s not just for your own self, but if you are in any health or teaching profession, it’s a matter of being able to care for others better with more clarity in your decision making.

It Improves Energy and Creativity

The phrase “I’ll sleep on it” is starting to have research backing the idea that sleep and time away actually allows us (or specifically, our subconscious) to solve problems that puzzle us. This is true not just with sleep but with any time we’re taking time away from work.  Most creative or innovative people describe their best ideas coming to them not in a meeting or brainstorm session, but taking a walk or doing something that we would consider unnecessary to the creative process. Thought leaders like Mannoush Zomorodi and Juliet Funt are starting to bring into our consciousness is that we need technology-free “whitespace” or “daydreaming” time to actually perform better at work.

This is allowing your subconscious to take over on projects while your conscious mind is doing something else. I have started to coin the term “self-maintenance” over self-care because I think the term self care has in some ways been taking over by needing consumer goods (where the manicures, pedicures, and face masks come in). It’s not just about #treatyoself but it’s about taking steps to allow our brains to unplug from the task at hand. Just like you don’t keep your computer or car running all of the time. You give yourself a break and it allows your creativity to work in the background.

It’s easy to feel guilt on taking a step back from work. Who hasn’t felt the overwhelming sense that the minute you leave is when everything is going to start going to hell in a handbasket?  But this is generally not true other than those of us in emergency or trauma fields. The reality is that most everything we do will still be there after a break. If you’re skeptical, consider every time during the day you start to tired or bored, get up and walk around for 5-10 minutes. For me this typically happen 3-4 times per day. It prevents me from having to rely so heavily on caffeine

Your Loved Ones Deserve You At Your Best

Can you remember when someone in your life was in bad mood and snapped at you? This could be a teacher, parent, boss, or friend. Rationally speaking, everyone has bad days now and then or may act out due to a lack of sleep or factors that may have nothing to do with us. But at the time or even much later, we still remember those wounds. And eventually even our opinion may even change if it happens often enough.

My question is: do you want to be seen as that person? When you don’t put the time in to care for yourself, you end up running on an empty fuel tank. This typically leads to mood and irritability issues. And it’s not just you having a bad day, the people around you suffer as well. I prefer to think or self-care as work I put in to keep myself functioning normally which improves my relationships.

And another point: is that how you want to model your behavior? If you have children, supervise employees, or are seen as role model to others (teacher, therapist, coach, etc.), is this the behavior patterns that you want these people to adopt? Usually not. We want others to give themselves room to breathe and care for themselves, in fact I know many people (including myself) who heavily advocate for this but still neglect that in themselves.

We are our own worst caregivers. We give attention everywhere else and it’s an issue that’s so widespread we all just consider it a normal part of modern life. It doesn’t have to be this way. And when asked most people see their colleagues, friends, and significant others living in this perpetual state of overwhelming physical and mental exhaustion and want better for them. How many times have you told someone, “hey you need to take a vacation” or “You deserve a break”? I would imagine often. But why are we the last people to do this ourselves?

It truly comes from what we see when we are young. I’ll try not to go too Freudian here, but if our parents overwork themselves without recharging, we are far more likely to do the same. On a personal note I saw this time and again with my mother who is a nurse and a chronic workaholic who worked so much overtime growing up her relationships truly did suffer. And as far as my adult life, I started to do the same exact thing. At one point I myself worked 10 12-hour shifts back to back on a consulting project. I was asked to do 5 more but even I eventually had to say no. It takes awareness of the issue and practice on establishing boundaries as well as having a daily ritual in place to keep making yourself the priority.

Okay, so maybe you’re realizing the far reaching impact that self-care activities have to your career and relationships. But the implementation piece is hard when appointments and obligations continue to stack up. As you may know from previous blogs, I’m a proponent of starting small and consistently. In the case of self-care, I find having a short ritual to signal to myself I’m ready to unplug for the day, usually as I get ready for bed (or even after work). This could be journaling, reading fiction, listening to relaxing music, pretty much whatever you decide it to be. But for it to be a habit it has to be something you can commit to daily.

I know a lot of us see Youtuber’s elaborate morning or evening rituals and you may aspire to that as well. But it comes with one ritual/habit change at a time. When I want to do anything elaborate I pick a day and make it “my day of rest” where I resolve not to touch anything related to work and spend a few hours on weekly self-care tasks. This isn’t necessary to start but it is nice to place boundaries on yourself, especially if you’re someone who works from home and the temptation to continue working is there. Like for me.

I think that the major way I turned my self-care (or as I prefer to call it, self-maintenance) is when I reframed how this actually benefits and serves others. Which for some people, can sound counterintuitive as many argue that we shouldn’t need it to benefit others as long as it’s helping ourselves feel better and help with our stress levels. I’m not saying I disagree with this line of thought, but when when our appointments and to do list continues to stack up, self-care will almost always become the first thing that gets put on the back burner. By remembering the benefits in our career and relationships, hopefully this gives you pause.