It’s Women’s History Month, and I want to take this time to remind all of you incredible women out there that it is not only perfectly okay to take some time for yourselves, I would argue it’s a necessity. There is no need to feel shame that you require some TLC. Whether for you, self-care takes the form of mindfulness, meditation, exercise, or healthy eating, I hope you can notice if you’ve been holding yourself back and find a way to do the things that help you feel strong, healthy and whole.
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The caregiver trap
Women are always concerned about others’ well being. We worry about our children, our partner, our parents, and our friends. We carry a mental load of everyone else’s problems along with the belief that we have to take care of all of that first before we can begin to look after ourselves.
I see so many women feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, saying things like, “But there just isn’t any time,” and, “Who will take care of the kids?” or “I have responsibilities at work.”
If you want to take better care of yourself, like getting more sleep or being more active, make sure you give yourself time to work on it. When we push away thoughts of doing something for ourselves “just until we have more time” we find that time never comes. And we suffer.
What if we acted like a man?
Why is it that if we see a man go to the gym in the morning, we applaud his stamina and consistency, but when we see a woman do the same, we wonder where her kids are?
If you feel like there’s pressure on you to be the one supporting your partner’s self-care, I want to gently challenge you: what if you fully supported you? I don’t want to take for granted how challenging it is to raise a family, run a business or to live your unique life. Every woman has her own reasons why it’s hard to get time to herself. But she also has strength, flexibility, and creativity. And often a community and loved ones who would be honored to support her.
What would it look like if your self-care was non-negotiable? What resources could you call upon to help you find a way?
What does self-care look like?
There are a few things that I’ve always instinctively known were important for me. They are non-negotiable if I want to live healthy and happy. Recently, through other women’s voices I’ve learned even more about these things and how universally important they are, so I’d like to share them with you.
Connection & Engagement
I’ve always known that social connection was as important for humans to be healthy. Recently in a course called Life Camp, instructors Star Rose Bond and Ruby Head put into words what I’ve always known in my gut. They said, “As a relational species, healthy connection is a necessity for our survival and growth.”
Feeling part of a group, helping others, and spending time with people who embrace us can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems.
This kind of connection doesn’t always have to take place in intense one-on-ones with family and friends. You can feel connected by saying hello to a stranger, making eye contact with your neighbor, and even smiling at your pet. All of these can release the feel good hormones serotonin and oxytocin in your brain.
Mindfulness is anything that helps you feel grounded and connected to the present moment. Many people practice mindfulness with breathing techniques, meditation, journaling, and gratitude exercises. Others practice by giving their full attention to a particular experience: eating something slowly and savoring the taste, sight, and smell; listening to music, birds, or the sounds of the commuter train rolling over the tracks; or performing a repetitive activity like washing the dishes, going for a walk, a jog or a swim.
Mindfulness practices can increase our ability to regulate emotions and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.
Keep it Fresh
Psychologists call this novelty, and they say it’s key for your mental health. I didn’t know the importance before, but I’ve always liked to built freshness into my life. As a kid, I would take different routes to get to school to not get bored of the same old path. At home, I like to regularly rearrange my plants and even furniture so I’ll be surprised about something when I enter a room.
In Life Camp, I learned that there are plenty of other things you can do to shake up your usual thinking patterns, like brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand or balancing on one foot. As Star Rose and Ruby say, “Novelty supports neuroplasticity, stimulates the development of new neural networks and initiates the process of synapsis pruning.” In layman’s terms, that means that novelty helps you break out of old ruts in your thinking, makes you more creative and flexible, and helps your brain function more efficiently.
Sleep & Rest
Years ago, I read The Promise of Sleep by William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., who researched sleep at Stanford for 45 years. It convinced me that sleep is way more important than we give it credit for. Since reading the book, I’ve noticed more signs of how critical sleep is for our well being.
Research shows that most of us need between 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal brain health. Because all the good work you do during the day to grow and change can’t build new physical pathways in your brain until you get a good sleep.
Research shows that most of us need between 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal brain health. Ruby and Star say, “Synapses are marked for change during learning, but the wiring together of new pathways only happens in times of sleep or deep rest.” That means that all the good work you do during the day to grow and change can’t build new physical pathways in your brain until you get a good sleep.
I always say this—drink plenty of water and stay away from processed foods. Not only will it help your body feel better, train harder, and recover more efficiently, but proper nutrition is also essential to help your brain function properly. An unbalanced diet, with too many refined carbs, for example, can lead to depression and problems with memory.
Obviously, this area is especially important to me. Physical activity helps you stay fit, avoid pain and injuries, and feel good about your life. Even a little bit of movement boosts your health and mood, and promotes better sleep. It can also be fun to challenge yourself and find out what your body is truly capable of. When you work hard and make progress you get a confidence boost every time you get to celebrate a milestone.
If that nagging voice is telling you that you can find the time to take care of yourself, or that making time for yourself is selfish and shallow, please tell it to kindly get lost.
It’s time for all of us to take ownership of our happiness and our full potential. Today’s women are CEOs, philanthropists, scientists and every other role under the sun. We’re capable of everything, and can decide what’s best for ourselves. I just want to remind us that while we’re conquering the world, we have every right to devote time and energy to our own well-being.