How are you feeling this very minute?
Take a moment to pause and assess your mind and heart. What is the first word that comes into your thoughts?
Was it good, fine, happy or content? Or was it exhausted, worried, concerned or stressed? It is so important to stop, pause and take a deep breath and assess how you are doing…how you are really doing.
Here is what we know about the child care profession. It is hard work. You are inherently primed to want to take care of others first. You are also very likely to forget about yourself while doing this.
The reality is that if you do not find a way to prioritize you, even if it is for five minutes a day, you will most likely not have the energy to face the challenges at work. To care for others and to be the best version of yourself, you must care for yourself first.
So how do you begin? Here are five tips to start taking care of yourself today.
1. Define your version of self-care. Taking care of yourself comes in different forms. For some it’s relaxation, for others it’s creativity or movement. Maybe it’s simply a much-needed break from work. Take some time to think about what you need to take care of yourself today. Don’t judge it. Sometimes, for me, it’s tacos and a soda. Other times, it’s prayer or stretching. Be aware, too, that it might change tomorrow. Perhaps today you need to take five minutes to relax to music. Tomorrow, it might be the joy of making a new recipe. Finding your right version of self-care might take a bit of a process of trial and error. Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there.
2. Make a plan. Think about what you want to do to take care of yourself and then make a plan of how you’ll fit it into your day. Consider a small goal – one that you know that you can achieve. Sometimes the only time you might get to listen to your favorite podcast is the drive to and from work but that is a start. Consider what usually gets in the way of your plan to take care of yourself. What can you do or who can you employ to help you? For me, it’s usually my kids. If I want to take a walk, inevitably the plan goes out the window because my boys need me. I’ve learned to ask my husband for help by doing an activity with our boys so I can escape for 15 minutes.
3. Consider two known methods of self-care – mindfulness and movement. These may not be your cup of tea but don’t knock it till you try it. You can engage in moment of mindfulness by simply sitting in a quiet space, breathing deeply, focusing on each inhale and exhale. You may choose a word for the day that you wish to meditate or think about. As a busy mom, my word is usually patience or gratitude but pick something that works for you. If this does not sound appealing to you, consider that being mindful does not always include being meditative. You can be mindful sitting outside enjoying a cup of coffee. Consider putting away your phone and listening to what you can hear and relishing that moment.
Exercise can seem daunting to some so I like to use the word movement. That is a word that most people can get behind as it somehow seems less intimidating especially if you are less likely to be someone who exercises. Movement for you might be looking up a short five-minute stretch video on YouTube. Perhaps it’s a short walk around the block on your break or turning up your favorite tunes for a dance party for one. If you’re adventurous, maybe it’s a 15 to 20-minute exercise routine with your kids or partner. Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure your movement goal is attainable. Science has shown that movement naturally releases those fun-loving endorphins that we need to feel better.
4. Take a break from the news and social media. I’ve been known to remove or hide social media apps on my phone so that I’m either forced to take a number of steps to get to social media or better still, stop myself from accessing it altogether. Sometimes social media can serve as an escape for users, but often times, it can be a source of stressors. Consider taking a social media break, even for a day. Likewise, turn off the news if you identify it as a source or contributor to anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed. While some see the news as a way to feel connected to the outside world, often the news can be filled with stories that provoke less than optimal emotions and thoughts. Taking a break from the news may be what you need to take care of yourself.
5. Consider sleep and diet. I am known to stay up late because as a full-time working mom of two boys, my evenings are truly my only solitary time. Also, when I am stressed, I tend to not sleep well. When I inevitably fall short on sleep, I notice changes in my patience and my ability to practice gratitude. Sleep might be one of the first things to go when we are stressed, however it is one of the things we need the most to take care of ourselves. If you have trouble sleeping, make sure that you are limiting caffeine, exercise or using your device too late in the evening. Create a before-bedtime ritual that you practice each night. Consider the use of a white noise app (or a machine), wearing an eye mask and the use of relaxing scents such as lavender. If you are unable to solve your sleep issues, consider a visit with your doctor to see if there is a root cause to your sleep challenges.
Second, consider your diet. I often quip that my boys eat better than I do. It’s likely true, but it’s because of my own choices. Once I completely own my eating choices (not an easy thing to do), I can begin to prioritize my own nutrition. Practice small goals. Maybe it’s to grab a breakfast bar on your way out the door to make sure you are starting the day with nutrition. Recently, I invested in a large water bottle to track my water intake and make sure I am drinking enough throughout the day. Start with one goal to improve your nutrition and then go from there.
For some of you, these tips might seem like a herculean task to begin thinking about. The most important thing is to choose one thing to start taking care of yourself. Choose one thing that you know for sure that you can do.
Do not make more than one goal, and do not make it so lofty that you are likely to miss your goal. Start small and make it something that you are really going to look forward to doing. And if you miss your goal, do not beat yourself up over it.
Consider what got in your way and make a plan so that it’s less likely to happen the next day. If you tried something and it didn’t work for you (I found out that no matter times I have tried, I am not meant to be a guitar player), give yourself grace and move onto another idea.
Remember – taking care of yourself is key to being the best child care professional you can be.
Prioritize yourself. You are so worth it.