I was listening in yesterday on a teleJAM between Brene Brown and Lissa Rankin where they talked about health and vulnerability. I have already talked about who Brene Brown is, but Lissa Rankin is also pretty cool. She is a mind-body medicine physician and the author of the book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. Anyway, while I was listening in on their call, I starting taking some notes, and I have kind of mulled over them since then and have some thoughts I wanted to share.
There were a couple of things that I enjoyed about their conversation, but the one thing that I keep going back to is the idea of taking care of ourselves. Brene was talking about how there are things that she must do everyday that are not negotiable if she is going to be her best self. I don’t remember everything she said, but I do remember that two things on her list were exercising every day and getting eight hours of sleep every night. For some reason, this just really made me pause. OF COURSE, there are things that we can do that really represent us taking care of ourselves in the best way we know how. However, how often do we really do them?
There are definitely some things that I could do every day that would fall into the realm of self-care. The first is to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. I would love to shoot for eight, but my body actually seems to be okay with seven hours. When I work my twelve-hour shifts, this means that I need to come home from work and be in bed and asleep no later than 10:00PM (I get up at 5:00AM to get ready for the work). But that is totally doable! Even if I want to watch TV for an hour or read after I eat dinner, I can be asleep by 10:00PM. The second for me is also to get some sort of physical activity in every day. I work at a pretty physical job (sometimes, the majority of my twelve hours are spent on my feet), and I have let go of the idea of fitting in gym time when I am working a full day, but on the days that I am not working, I know my body feels better when it moves. It doesn’t have to be a long run or a multi-hour sweat session, but even getting on the treadmill for 30 minutes and spending some time in motion can be enough.
Some others things have to do with my environment. I have a LOT of stuff (I joke that I have a hoarder mentality, although I PROMISE that there are not dead cats under any of my belongings), and I am not someone who keeps her apartment spotless. In fact, because my bookshelves have so much stuff on them, I don’t dust nearly as often as I probably should. But I definitely am sitting here right now surrounded by clutter, and it definitely stresses me out a little bit. My dining room table is my catch-all, and right now it has on it mail, craft supplies, my lunch bag, a couple of books…you get the idea. Piles of stuff that are waiting for their own actual place to “live.” The dining room table is not where they should live. I also can see into my bedroom and see a couple of pairs of pants on top of my cedar chest, multiple pairs of shoes on the ground, and a stack of clothing that is waiting to be put away. My carpet catches a lot of black dog fur and white cat fur, and I definitely procrastinate on vacuuming. But it would probably take twenty minutes to straighten up all these areas, and I know that my environment would feel more peaceful if I did. This would be an act of self-care because it would bring some calm to my life.
And another thing I should do is learn to say no. I love my job, and I work hard at it, and I often pick up extra hours when I am needed or switch my time from day to night shift, and I love being able to do that. I love that my coworkers know that they can count on me to be as flexible as I am able to be in order to best suit the needs of our NICU. And that is not the kind of “saying no” I am talking about at all. However, there are definitely times when I overextend myself, both personally and professionally. There are times when I plan three nights out in a week after working 48 hours in that week, and I find myself wishing more than anything for a night at home on my own. There are times when the opportunity to join another committee at work comes up, and my instinct is to volunteer, until someone points out that maybe I already do enough. I am getting better at this, but there is still room to grow here. My friends and I just lead such busy and different lives that I never want to be the one who isn’t available to hang out or spend time together. And I believe so fully and strongly in the work we do in our NICU that I want to throw myself into that work and give every last bit of what I have to offer to help make our unit the best it can be. However, sometimes I need to have that same kind of regard for myself and know when to rest and when to take the time to recharge. I am working on it.
One thing I talk to my therapist about is how I have a negative self-talk loop that plays in my head when things are really stressful for me (and much of the last year and a half has been really stressful for me). Often, when emotions get to be too much, I give in to numbing behaviors (food, Candy Crush Saga, channel surfing, trying to find the end of the internet) in order not to have to feel the emotions. It is in those moments that I don’t believe that I am worth the courtesy of these self-care pursuits. After all, when you enter that shame spiral, the message you are giving yourself is, “I am not enough. I don’t deserve better. I am a screw-up. I should not expect to feel any better than I do right now.” However, showing yourself a LITTLE kindness can go a long way toward shutting up that inner mean girl. Getting the sleep you need, getting out and moving, eating fresh foods that taste good and are good for you (YAY for CSA season!), and doing things that truly help you recharge can stop that shame spiral and that negative self-talk loop in its tracks. Caring for myself can take the power away from my compulsive eating and can give me permission to allow people to see me, all of me, the good parts and the bad. I see glimmers of this happening from time to time, although there is still plenty of room for growth as well.
But for today…I slept seven hours last night. I am going to the gym. I enjoyed a healthy and satisfying breakfast. And I have some clutter to clean up so that I can restore some calm to my physical environment. I need to set some non-negotiables, and today seems like the best possible time to start.