You are the engine for your life. If you don't take care of the engine—and keep it fueled—it will not serve you well. Self-care is what helps you reenergize. It helps you rest. It helps you step away from stressful experiences. It gives you the perspective you need to handle your days. And most important, it empowers you to care for others.
Self-care begins with self-compassion. Habits of self-care are difficult to sustain without a reservoir of compassion toward yourself. Without self-compassion, you tend to unconsciously believe that you don't deserve the care.
You are being compassionate when you view your struggles with a sense of kindness and understanding. You are being compassionate when you give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You are being compassionate when you understand that you did your best.
Self-compassion and self-care have to be an important part of your life practices—individually and collectively—so you can meet the challenges of working and living in stressful times.
Here are 5 practice hints you can use to foster self-compassion and self-care in your daily life.
1. Be intentional about your self-care
In normal times, self-care practices can easily get pushed out of our lives. In stressful times, they can get trumped and pushed even further out. Intentionality—a mindset and plan to take action—gives you a chance to keep self-care as an important part of your life.
Prompt your intentionality by reflecting on activities that fuel you—that bring you joy or a sense of relaxation and refreshment. Then, build those activities into your new routines.
Also, examine your existing mental models about what self-care looks like in your new, more stressful reality. When particular activities, spaces, or times of day aren't available, think about the "how" and "when" of your self-care in new and creative ways. For example, if you like to go for a run at the beginning of the day, your new realities may require you to do it at a time you previously didn't consider an option.
2. Surface and replace negative thoughts about yourself
If you are burdened by a steady stream of negative thoughts about yourself or your circumstances, it is hard to sustain a level of self-compassion and self-care. And if these negative patterns of thinking take root, they can become self-reinforcing in your mind.
The goal is to surface and replace those negative thoughts. Some of them may be at the conscious, everyday-life level. Others may be more of an unconscious subtext to your life. Either way, you will need to engage in deliberate reflection to surface them and build a new, more positive internal narrative.
Begin by being more mindful so you can hear those negative thoughts. Write them down—without editing them—and spend time reflecting on what you record. Then, consciously replace them with more caring and compassionate expressions. Treat yourself as if you were a friend asking for kinder and gentler views. What would you tell them?
3. Actively reframe your thinking and choices
A great example of choosing to see something differently is how a caregiver experiences their work during a time of crisis. Looking in from the outside, we might focus on the risk and burden, whereas the caregiver may only see the courage in the struggle of those they care for. They are choosing to see courage instead of burden.
We can all engage in this sort of shift by asking, "How can I reframe my thinking?" or "What is another view of the situation?" There is always another view. It sometimes just takes reflective discipline and humility to find it.
One strategy for reframing is "Yes. And…" "Yes, it is true I didn't reach my goal today. And I did have some great impactful conversations." "Yes, I am exhausted and stressed with the kids home all day. And we are playing and connecting more than I knew I could." "Yes, he does interrupt a lot. And he is very passionate about the topic."
4. Think of yourself as an explorer in a new situation
A particularly powerful opportunity for reframing is related to how you perceive "failure." When you are doing or experiencing new things, expand your mental model to think of yourself as an explorer. You are trying things. You are experimenting. You are forging ahead through uncertainty, complexity, and the unknown.
With this explorer lens on your life and work, you will more readily accept that a certain percentage of your efforts won't work out as you planned. It's not failure. It's just the nature of being an explorer. Yes, your goal should be to strive and succeed. And it should also be to discover and learn. This is the heart and passion of an explorer.
Reframing your conception of failure to a focus on experimentation and learning will help shift your thoughts about yourself in a more compassionate direction.
5. Co-create a "new normal" around caring
Co-creation is giving people voice and aligning around interests and outcomes. In a high stress time when everyone is impacted, we have an opportunity to co-create a new culture of self-care with our teams, families, partners, and spouses.
For example, step out of opening with rapport: "How are you?" "I'm fine." Instead, co-create a "new normal" of more authentic and empathetic questions: "How are you feeling today? How are you coping with so many balls in the air? How are you taking care of yourself?" These questions step into people's lives versus stepping over with rapport or jumping into action.
In these times, all of us—our leaders, teams, and families—have an opportunity to align around what it means to care for each other and for themselves. We can align around the language of care and self-care. We can align around structures for care and self-care. We can align around accountabilities for care and self-care.
There isn't one right answer for every individual, team, or family. That is why co-creating what care and self-care look like and feel like is essential to actually caring. In a new normal environment, co-creation honors everyone's experiences and perspectives.
Self-care is both an individual and a team sport
Just like our lives, self-care is multidimensional. There is a relational dimension. There is a physical dimension. There are personal and professional dimensions. There are spiritual dimensions. The question is, how can we tease out those dimensions to make sure we're building self-compassion and self-care into all of them?
Self-compassion and self-care should be viewed as both an individual and a team sport. It's something we do for ourselves, for each other, and collectively together—as teams, as partners, and as families.