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Authentic Self-Care

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I used to do what many others do — I would think I was stressed out at work and the cure was to go hang out with a girlfriend, get our nails painted, and eat a meal and that would make things better.  But it didn’t. I would be just as tired the next day, and although in the moment it would be fun, and the catching up was fantastic, it wouldn’t genuinely help my stress levels.

Running a business is hard. Having kids is hard. Living life is hard.  Stress comes in all different forms and no matter what kind of lifestyle you have, stress will show up somewhere. We can’t eliminate all the stress from our lives.  Sure some you could get rid of, but not all of it.  Instead we need to look at how we manage our stress.

Saying it and doing it are two completely different things.  I read tons of articles about lowering stress, and how stress is killing us, and I THOUGHT I was doing it right; until I took a Psychological First Aid course.  It was the first time I filled out a checklist of what my stressors were.  It was the first time I had to categorize how I handled stress, and I started to realize that I had a lot more stress than I thought.

  1. I was ignoring the source of my stress, and downplaying how much stress there really was in my life.
  2. I was ignoring the result of my stressors and not realizing the kind of person it was turning me into (and that was not a person I was happy with!).
  3. How I handled my stress was lopsided, and wasn’t going to help me all the time.

I walked away from the course with a few thoughts and a single focus: I had to do better.  I had to start finding ways to make meaningful change in my life to lower that stress and recognize my stress sooner.

Step one – Stop working Sundays. 

I thought this wasn’t an option, until I decided it had to be.  Then suddenly it was happening.   I prioritized myself and said I needed to have one day a week with my family and it worked. Sure I break this new rule every now and then, but for the most part I have barely worked Saturdays this entire year, and it feels great.  I can look forward to my weekends, knowing that I get to spend extra time with my kids, and see my husband for more than a few minutes at a time.

Step two (this one took some time) – Set Boundaries for Work

Setting boundaries at work meant a few things: if I received an email late at night, I didn’t HAVE to immediately respond and fix all the problems.  I had to start realizing that work could actually wait for work hours.  If something major happened at work that I couldn’t change, then I started to shift my focus, take a breath, and think ‘There’s nothing I can do to change this. I can only decide how I handle this’

Step three – Improve my communication with my family

Home life can be my stress relief and sometimes also the source of my stress. When I identified that home was part of the cause, I started to look at things closer and started questioning myself a little.  I realized that I couldn’t expect someone to help me out if I never established that I needed help.  I started learning to ask for help with specific tasks and little jobs around the house. I realized I was expecting my husband to read my mind and when he didn’t I was getting upset. I was communicating to him but the communication method I was using was not effective, and it didn’t cross my mind to try a different method.

It took time, but after awhile I noticed that I was feeling a little more relaxed; I was yelling less at my children; I was handling changes at work better.  I really noticed the positive impact of my new stress-reducing techniques when something major happened at work over the Christmas holidays.  Something that I could have let ruin my Christmas break, but instead I took a breath and said ‘there’s nothing I can do about this now, so I am going to focus on enjoying the holidays with my children and come back to this in January and deal with it then’.  And I did.  I took a breath, and said ‘Wow, this really sucks.  I have no idea what we’re going to do, but I can’t fix this, so I am choosing to not worrying about this now’. Even better – the calm approach I took to handling the situation helped to solve the problem in the end (double win!).

I am a unique person and my situation is unique.  So are you.  We all are. That doesn’t mean you can’t make these same changes in your own life, you just need to rethink a few things. For starters, when you consider using the phrase ‘self-care’ ask yourself “Is it making me feel better in the moment, or will the benefit have a lasting impact”?

Forget, just for a moment, about what is possible and what isn’t, and think ‘what change can I make in my life to lower my stress level?’. What are my life goals? What do I need to do to reach those goals?

Sometimes you have to first look at what you need, then make it a priority and keep that focus in your mind before you will find the solution. Sometimes the answer is easier than we realize, but because we kept saying ‘it’s not possible’ we can’t see past our own negativity. 

Maybe you’ve already heard this before, but HEAR it now: it’s time to start prioritizing YOU.  What good are you to your family, or your job or your career if you’re constantly tired and just tapped out?  Don’t wait until the Empty light comes on! Refill your cup, and keep it full.  Today! Everyday! 

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