Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s probably not actually Valentine’s Day when you’re reading this, but that’s when I’m writing. And that’s also why I wanted to spend a little time talking about self-care (aka: self-love) for business leaders. You might be thinking: “I don’t have time for that!” If so, I’m hoping I can change your mind with this article.
I found two great definitions of Self-Care, and this seems like a great place to start.
The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
This one is a pretty broad definition and can include things you’re (hopefully) going to do regularly, like sleeping and brushing your teeth. It also encompasses regular check-ups, exercise, wearing your seat belt, healthy eating, and much, much more. These are all important habits, and I hope you have established great routines for them. Plus flossing, also very important. However, while there’s some crossover, these aren’t the practices this article is about. Which brings us to the second definition.
The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
Now we’re talking! The key word here is stress. If there’s anyone who has their fair share of stress, it’s business-owners and business-leaders, amirite? You have an entire business or nonprofit relying on you to make the right decisions, create a great culture, deliver the best services or products, and support your staff. That’s a lot on your shoulders! And those are the reasons that self-care is so important for leaders.
In working with leaders for quite some time now, I know that there are many who hear the words self-care and think one of three things:
It’s for the weak. Tough leaders don’t need that new-agey crap.
I’m too important for that kind of indulgence.
It would be great, but who has the time!
If you fell into one of these categories when you first started reading, consider this. You know when you fly (or used to fly, pre-pandemic) and the flight attendant tells you to put your own mask on first, before helping others? As I’m sure you know, the reason for this is because you cannot help anyone else if you’re incapacitated. The same thing goes for leading your business. You’re going to be no good to the company, clients/customers, or staff if you’re too stressed out or exhausted to lead effectively.
The arguments listed above are rooted in the assumptions that leaders shouldn’t be vulnerable, important people don’t need to manage their stress, and leaders can’t take time for themselves. The reality is that self-care is an investment in your personal productivity and effectiveness. It can improve decision making and mental clarity. It most definitely improves mood, which can benefit relationships both inside and outside your company. With self-care you’re able to focus better, have more energy, be more productive, and find more creative solutions. These are just a few of the many benefits that come from “taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”.
The self-care industry has boomed from $10 million in 2014 to over $450 million in 2020. There are millions of products and services out there and everyone thinks their solution is the best. All of that can make self-care seem confusing and overwhelming. I am not here to promote any product or service. In fact, I believe the best options are free and simple. I also believe that self-care is as individual as fingerprints. You need to find what is right for you. My recommendation is to start out with things that are free or super low cost, then add or change as you find what works best for you.
As a business leader, you certainly don’t want to add something to your day that is going to make life more stressful. While a day at the spa would be fabulous, it’s probably not realistic (at least not on a regular basis). So here are some ideas of things to start with, that won’t break the time-bank.
You’re going to breathe anyway, right? Take one-minute, two or three times a day to focus on breathing. There are several different techniques you can use. If this is something that appeals to you, a quick google search will give you lots of options. Here’s one you can try right now:
Sit in a relaxed position and close or downcast your eyes.
Take a deep (belly) breath in for a count of four.
Hold for a count of four.
Let out for a count of four.
Hold for a count of four.
Repeat for four breath cycles.
Breath is life. Focusing on your breath can lower your pulse, lower your stress, help you relax, and refocus your attention.
Journaling can seem intimidating. What will you write? Why will it matter? What’s the point? If this is something you would like to try, but don’t know how, here’s an easy way to get started. Just finish these three statement every day:
I will let go of . . .
I am grateful for . . .
I will focus on . . .
This is a really great way to start the day. If possible, do it first thing in the morning. Consider making it the first thing you see when you open your computer.
Set a goal to have one 5-minute, non-work conversation with a different team member every day. Human interaction does wonders for reducing stress. Mercy Medical Center says that social interactions are good for brain health. It can improve mood, lower the risk for dementia, and promotes a sense of safety, belonging and security. And the really great thing is that by incorporating this practice, you’re not the only one to experience these benefits.
Go outside and mindfully take in what you see. Check out the breeze. Listen for sounds. Observe the colors and movements around you. Again, as little as 5-minutes can reap so many benefits. Exposure to nature is known to reduce anger, fear, and stress; as well as reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. This is so easy to incorporate into your day. Park at the far end of your parking lot and spend the walk being mindful of your surroundings. Walk for lunch or just take a walk around the building. This has the added benefit of physical activity, a little vitamin D, and setting a great example for your team!
This goes right along with the previous practice, but can be done while doing literally anything. Practicing mindfulness for as little as two-minutes a day has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and mental reactivity. This can be done while you brush your teeth (one of the self-care activities from the top of the article). While brushing, think about the tiny circles you make with the brush. Think about how the floor feels under your feet. Think about your posture. Think about how you’re feeling. Notice everything about the process. Then guess what? When you’re done you have at least one-minute of mindfulness practice under your belt for the day! Spend a full minute focusing on what you’re eating at lunch. Examine the taste, texture, temperature, and how the food is making you feel. Chew twice as long as you normally would. Think about that process. And when you’re done – Boom! You’ve got your two-minutes of mindfulness in for the day!
Those are just a few ideas to get you started, all of which require very little time and no cost. Here are some other suggestions if you want to dive a little deeper into practicing self-care:
Physical exercise – yoga, walking, biking, strength training. Whatever you pick, start small. Commit to less than you think you will do, like 5-minutes a day. When that is a regular part of your day, consider expanding.
Healthy eating – you are what you eat, so consider what you put in your body. Shoot to make one small change. Be it smaller portions, mindful eating, reducing processed foods, healthy snacks, etc. Change one small thing, and see how it goes for you.
Routines – creating a routine or ritual is great for stress reduction. Wake-up routines, bedtime routines, get-to-work routines, end-your-day routines – routines reduce stress and can provide you with more time.
Quality sleep – everyone knows the benefits of a good night sleep. Coincidentally, the biggest deterrent to quality sleep is stress. As adults, stress can really wreak havoc on our sleep. Many of the self-care options in this article can help you improve sleep.
Still, there are many more ways to manage stress and take care of yourself. These are some good ones to start with, but you can also do your own research. Try different things. There is no right or wrong (despite what “experts” might say) that works for everyone. Find what works for you, then tweak it as you go along. And every once in a while, feel free to treat yourself to a spa day.
Need help managing stress? Email me at email@example.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how we can help you Calm the Chaos and find time to focus on what’s important to YOU.