How to include self-care

I know a thing or two about the ‘at all costs’ high achiever way of living. It got me to the Olympics after all, but what I’ve also learned is that it can have significant costs, to mind, body, health and relationships. Avoiding burnout means finding a balance that includes self-care regularly. So how do you actually do that and why is it so important? Let me share what I’ve learned through experience as an athlete and as a life coach.

Why self-care matters

Self-care rituals give you an opportunity to do something good and healthy for yourself, that isn’t focused simply on success or achieving what ‘has’ to be done. Whether that’s for the high achiever demands we place on ourselves or feeling caught up looking after others’ needs, self-care matters. It matters for both physical health and mental health, and creates the space and energy to give to others meaningfully.

What happens when you put yourself last

Caring for others is often a mask or a false self we create in order to fit in, to be loved or feel like we belong. As humans, of course we crave that feeling of belonging. But what happens when it’s draining the bank and not being refilled?

Recently in a coaching session, a client of mine felt that every time she did something, she needed to think about how her actions would affect others. I asked “what about how your actions affect you?”.

The silence after the question was the moment of realisation for her, that constantly looking after others had caused her to forget how to look after her own needs. That’s a recipe for running low on energy, motivation, health and an ability to be present and give the care that you really want to. Somewhere in the equation, there needs to be balance where self-care and care-of-others is mutually healthy.

5 easy ways to incorporate self-care into your day

  1. Drink water. If there’s one way to simmer down the threat of burnout from running on empty, it’s with water. Before you get side tracked by what you’re going to achieve today or who needs what from you, start your day with water. Our beautiful bodies do so much for us, without hydrating we end up dehydrated which can cause feelings of overwhelm, fatigue, headaches and irritability.
  1. Move regularly. Moving is often one of the first self-care activities to go when you’re focused on being successful and doing all-the-things. Our body requires movement to create energy, release ‘happy hormones’, and to improve our overall physical and mental health. Make it a priority at least three times a week for 30 minutes, and bonus points if you do it outside in the fresh air.
  1. Eat nourishing food. As your body approaches burnout, digestion is relegated to a forgotten function. Our gut hosts an ecosystem of bacteria, that amongst other things assists our immune system and brain function. Eating healthy food feeds your gut health, directly having an impact on cognitive function and how you feel about yourself. Start with focusing on one meal each day, where you take the time to prepare nutrient dense food and allow your gut, mind and body to be nourished with healthy ingredients.
  1. Self-compassion. The high achiever in you is always pushing and always ‘on’. So, this self-care tip can feel like a challenge, but it’s worth it. Simply offer yourself words of encouragement, perhaps in the morning before the stopwatch seems to take over. Practice daily self-acknowledgment for things you are proud of that you have accomplished. Because you are enough.
  1. Mindfulness. If there’s one strategy that can be mind shifting to go from burnout to breakthrough, it’s mindfulness. And it requires only you. Take some time for “you”, sit down, be still, quiet your mind and stay present. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, release for 5 seconds and hold again for 5 seconds. Repeat for 2 minutes and increase to 5 minutes over time. Observe what’s going on within your body, any sensations that arise and focus on your internal world. In stillness we connect to our ‘inner magic’.

How to make self-care a priority

Think you don’t have the time or patience for these self-care tips? You actually have the skills within you, whilst still achieving all of your goals (in fact, here’s a hint, they’ll actually help you achieve your goals).

The key is to make self-care a goal of equal value to the others you are driven to achieve. Start off by doing one of the self-care tips each day this week, and add one more once you have made the first one a daily routine. Observe how it feels to look after yourself and acknowledge yourself for doing so. Achievement with self-care is a well balanced, more fruitful and satisfying process than burnout, guaranteed.