Make sure you prioritise self care

self care in the workplaceRuth Findlay speaks to mental health first aid instructor, Andy Elwood, about how self care is good for you, your team and your business.

Self care has never been as important as it was during 2020. No doubt this will continue to be the case as we move into the new year.

We will still have to deal with the pandemic itself, its economic and social effects, and undoubtedly more changes to the way we live and work. Yet with so much to do and so much to deal with, we can often feel selfish or guilty about taking time for ourselves.

I spoke to Andy Elwood about what self care really is, why it is necessary and how you can embrace it without feeling bad.

What does self care mean?

Andy Elwood: Self care is part of looking after your own overall health and wellbeing; there is no ‘health’ without mental health as well.

It’s making time to rest, relax and recharge in whatever way works for you. Being your own best friend – particularly when it comes to the way we talk to ourselves, which we all do. And remembering that life is a marathon rather than a sprint.

Why do you think so many of us find it difficult to make time for self care?

Andy Elwood: Life is so often 24/7 with our laptops and mobile phones. As well as the ability to connect to the internet at all times and work remotely from anywhere and at any time.

In that environment it is very easy not to make down time for yourself to rest and recharge.

There is so much to do and we tend to think we have to achieve everything today. COVID-19 has exacerbated this in that it has given us extra workload, different ways of working, different problems to solve and it all seems to need to be done now.

Why is it so important to practise self care for yourself and for those around us?

Andy Elwood: Self care is not selfish; it’s having self focus. Not looking after yourself can easily lead to burnout.

However, if you put your own oxygen mask on first, you will not only be looking after yourself, you will also be more able to look after others, especially if you’re the leader of a team.

We’re always sprinting on a hamster wheel. But really if we slow down the pace, we can focus more and be more productive. Isn’t that what we all really want? To work productively but work less, or at least less manically.

Taking time away from work, even if it’s just having a short walk on your dinner break, frees your mind up. That is often when you have a great idea or find the solution to a problem.

Looking after yourself mentally impacts the shadow you cast as a leader on the rest of your team. This in turn affects the culture of your organisation.

What practical tips do you have to help people practise self care?

Andy Elwood: Sleep is a huge part of self care. Research shows that humans can survive longer without food than sleep. So we need to prioritise having good quality sleep and putting a routine in place.

Self care needs to be carried out regularly, ideally daily but at least weekly. We don’t need to do anything particularly formal or lengthy. But create ‘wellbeing windows’ throughout your day or week.

You can do anything – you just need to find what works for you, and it can be fun experimenting! For some people it’s building Lego or doing a jigsaw. For others it is training for a triathlon or a slow walk with the dog.

Remain mindful. That means staying in the moment and using your senses to focus on what is happening. For example, if you go for a walk, notice how the ground feels beneath your feet. Notice the colours in the trees, the smells around you, etc.

Just take your mind away from the emails, the bills, the difficult conversations and have a break.

Being in the moment is one of the five ways to wellbeing. You can read more about the four other ways in this recent blog:

It’s also important to learn to say ‘no’. For example, if you planned to spend an afternoon doing your self care activity and someone asks you to do something else, have the confidence that what you have planned is important enough for your own health that you can say no.

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