I’m working on a new podcast with some friends of mine, and our topic for yesterday was the idea of “self care” and what it means. One of them mentioned that she hadn’t even heard the term “self-care” until 18 months ago, and while it was more familiar to me, we did delve into the idea that had it not been for the pandemic, we didn’t think it was something that we would have come to reflect on as much.
As someone with a MAJOR type-A personality (ask anyone who knows me), who is a wee bit of a workaholic, my idea of self care has always been things like guiltily scheduling a massage during one of the hours I get to myself during a work conference or not checking my email while with family (I live alone, so…that’s not very often). This might sound noble, but I assure you, it isn’t.
Psychology Today defines “burnout” as
a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.”
This is most often caused by work, but it can also be caused by other things going on in your life. While it’s not a medical diagnosis, says the Mayo Clinic, there are job-related symptoms you might notice, such as:
- Becoming more cynical or critical at work
- Feeling like you’re dragging yourself in or having trouble getting started
- Becoming irritable or impatient with colleagues or clients
- Lacking the energy to be consistently productive
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Lacking satisfaction from your achievements
- Feeling disillusioned about your job
- Using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or not to feel at all
- Changing sleep habits (less or more)
- Troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints
If you had an “oh sh!t” moment while reading this list, you might be suffering from burnout. And frankly, with the way we’ve designed the legal profession, praised the martyrdom of working until we die at our desks here in the US, and the pandemic itself, it’s no wonder.
But does the idea of stepping back and taking care of yourself better fill you with dread, because perhaps your firm or your clients will suspect that you’re not as valuable to them, and you certainly can’t let that happen in a pandemic year?
Great news…or bad news, depending on how you look at it – being a workaholic doesn’t actually make you more productive or better at your job. I can already hear you complaining to me, because I also know how the legal industry works – sometimes, it’s less about BEING a workaholic, and more about APPEARING to be one (this is why so many of us want to kill the billable hour dead). But more does not equal better.
So many studies point out that workaholism has a negative effect – from Inc. we learn that:
- There is a 67% increased risk of developing heart disease for workers who put in 11 hours a day versus 8 (and while yes, you should worry about your own health, if you want to be cold and calculating about it, from a business perspective, you want healthy employees who will be continuing to contribute to the bottom line).
- Those who work 50-plus hours a week are three times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse problem.
- Fifty percent of employees are less productive as a result of stress. (FIFTY percent).
- Twenty hours without sleep is equal to a 0.1 blood alcohol level, which is the equivalent to five or six drinks, for people who weigh 160-180 pounds). Consider that you may be asking yourself, or your colleagues, to be focusing on important client work while effectively sleep-drunk.
These effects are awful on us personally, and they’re also terrible for business – imagine how much better advocates and advisors for our clients we would be if we were well-rested, peaceful, and fully engaged in our day? I’m not trying to make you laugh, but to offer a true business case for taking better care of yourself.
So, how do you do it?
Self-care looks different for everyone, and it may be different for you day to day.
- Give some thought to what is important to you and what isn’t important to you, when it comes to the areas of your life, such as physical, social, emotional and spiritual (by spiritual, I don’t necessarily mean religious – this can be spending time in nature, being grateful, supporting charitable causes, or meditating. Again, this is entirely based on what rocks your socks). Identify which of these areas feels currently well supported, and which could be better attended to.
- Break these out and look at what activities you do in each of these areas currently that you’d consider to be self-care, and what might be blocking you from doing more.
- Give some thought to what you need more of – is it connection, health, relaxation, comfort, expression, rejuvenation? What things might fit in each of those areas that you could do more of?
- Break that down for yourself for a yearly, monthly and weekly basis – look at what you can realistically do, and how often. Do you want to do more meditation? Is that something you can do daily? Do you want to go fishing once a year? Once a month? How can you ensure that that happens?
- Create your ideal morning and evening routines – what does a truly peaceful start and end to your day look like? If that ideal start and end happens, how long does it actually take? (This was an eye opener for me – I really had to start getting ready for bed much earlier than I was so that I could get the sleep I needed). Can you implement those?
- Note when you become stressed throughout the day – what was the preceding stressor? How did it make you feel? What was your reaction? Is it something you have control over? If you do, how can you change it? If you don’t, how can you change your response to it?
I highly, highly recommend the simple self Self-Care Planner (credit for many of the above suggestions to them). As of this writing, there’s a waitlist for this planner, but it’s a true gem. In the meantime, simple self have a number of other planners that are also fantastic. They give you guidance and suggestions which will help you to develop your own self-care plan. And as I always do, I will highly recommend finding a good therapist that you connect with who can help you navigate your personal stress minefields – a good therapist is invaluable. A great place to start is by looking at Psychology Today or by asking your primary care physician for a recommendation. And if you don’t feel that you click when you meet them, that’s okay – move on to the next therapist!
Self-care is unique to each of us, but we all need it – and our practices and businesses need it too. Particularly in a pandemic year where the lines between our professional and personal lives have blurred more than ever, the ability to take care of ourselves so that we can show up as the best version of ourselves for our clients and colleagues (and families and friends!) is essential.