The topic of self-care has gotten a lot of press over the last several months. Lately, the articles have been more focused on the lack of time for self-care in our challenging new realities. Pre-pandemic there were articles pushing back on the self-care narrative of spa days and beautiful images of sitting with one’s mug of some favorite tea or coffee with a book and a lovely view. Self-care as consumer rather than self-care as human. Those images clearly situate self-care in the world of women and affluent women at that.
But what is self-care really? The website PyschCentral defines it this way, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.” The blog post continues by defining what self-care isn’t – “It is not something that we force ourselves to do, or something we don’t enjoy doing… self-care is ‘something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.’” https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/
I’ve been doing some thinking about this idea of self-care over the past few weeks as I work on the book of lessons from the Leadership Yoga Workshop. And I’ve come to a, perhaps, radical notion about self-care. Self-care isn’t a spa day or a vacation whether the the style is camping or luxury resort. In writing and exploring about leadership yoga, I now see self-care as a leadership skill. It is an essential skill for leaders who want a long career. It’s critical for people who want to make a difference in their organizations because true change takes time and continued effort. Making a real difference in the world around you takes stamina. And as we all know, responding to a crisis takes energy and an ability to sustain that energy over the long-term. Taking care of ourselves as leaders is part of the work. It’s what allows us to take care of others and to keep coming back ready to lead day after day.
And if self-care is a leadership skill, it’s not one more thing to add to the to-do list. It’s certainly not the thing at the bottom of the list that never gets done. Self-care as a leadership skill is a way of doing our work. It’s developing practices that are healthy for ourselves and for the people we work with. It’s asking for help when we need it, rather than ‘toughing things out.’ It’s understanding what we need for our physical, mental, and emotional health and factoring that into our work. It’s understanding that others will have differing practices of self-care and finding ways to support them. It’s understanding that what this looks like changes over time and that going with the flow isn’t passive, but actively responding to new needs and demands by adjusting how we do our work.
One of my earliest lessons from a supervisor applies here. She was talking about getting projects done when she told me I needed to learn to use small bits of time well. But it applies here. A minute of deep breathing can work wonders. A walking meeting is a great way improve your mood and the content of your meeting – even if both of you are on the phone walking in different neighborhoods. When you are on campus, walk to the next meeting without being on the phone and enjoy the quiet, notice the architecture of your campus or the trees that provide shade.
I encourage you to spend some time considering the idea of self-care as a leadership skill. And like any skill, take a bit of time to think about ways you can brush up on self-care. And it takes practice to get it right. I hope you’ll devote some time to this idea in the near future.