Maintaining self-care throughout our career - Louise Mercieca

 

Throughout our lives we go through many personal and professional changes. We might change jobs, move house, get married (and sometimes divorced), we meet new people, try new things, learn, grow and, sometimes, get a bit stuck along the way. But there’s one thing that remains constant throughout all of this, whatever changes life brings us, and that one constant is ourselves.

Our lifelong relationship with ourselves is the most important relationship we will ever have.  When we consider that fact, we could assume that looking after ourselves comes naturally.  We know that taking care of ourselves makes us better able to look after others and perform well, but often, self-care doesn’t come naturally and, in fact, sometimes it doesn’t come at all! 

By reflecting on the frameworks we use in our professional work, we can consider how to apply them to support our own personal, social and emotional development. And a good place to start when looking at and applying these frameworks is  the early years.  Indeed, within the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework (EYFS) it’s set out that;

  • every child makes good progress and no child gets left behind
  • learning and development opportunities are planned around the needs and interests of each individual child
  • applying anti-discriminatory practice ensures that every child is included and supported
  • Safeguarding and welfare requirements cover the steps that providers must take to keep children safe and promote their welfare

Within the EYFS it is recognised that we are all individuals who need a stable environment from which we are able to feel secure enough to form relationships, grow and develop. It acknowledges that learning isn’t just academic, but that it is very much linked to social development – the importance of forming friendships and common interests.   What happens to this emphasis along the way though? Do we still adhere to these basic principles as we go through life?

Our basic needs as humans don’t change just because we grow up! We still need to feel all of the things laid out in the EYFS framework, it’s just that now it is our personal responsibility to adhere to them and support others by living our lives in a way that encourages this. 

Kindness and Health

There’s been a lot in the media lately about ‘being kind’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to make grand gestures or one-off gestures such as buying a gift.  What it really means is that we should continually be kind in all that we do -  it is very much the small things that can make a big impact.  There are many small ways we can show kindness that can have a big impact on someone else’s day: 

 

  1. Letting a car out at a junction with a smile and a wave (obviously when it is safe to do so)
  2. Smiling and saying ‘hello’ as you walk past a stranger (and in the current climate giving them a wide berth to make sure they feel safe)
  3. Paying someone a compliment
  4. Acknowledging someone who does a role that can often be ignored, such as saying thank you to the Postman/Binman.  Talking to the person at the checkout/the bus driver.  Making someone else feel seen and valued.
  5. Letting someone know you’re thinking of them

 

They may seem like small gestures, but we know that kindness can have a significant positive impact on others, and, conversely, being unkind can have a significant negative impact.  Those small unkind things may just be the thing that ruins someone’s day or they could be the ‘straw that broke the camels back’.  We will never know what others are going through but we do know that being kind can do no harm whereas a harsh word truly can.

So how does this link to self-care?

There are  more benefits to being kind than simply making someone else’s day- being kind to others is actually beneficial for our own mental health and well-being. It can make us feel good which reduces stress and improves our own mood. But being kind can even lead to a longer life!*

Source * Journal of Experimental Social Psychology “Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor”

It’s Good to be good: 2014 Biennial Scientific Report on Health, Happiness, Longevity, and Helping Others. Int J Pers Cent Med. 2014;2:1–53.  

Our overall outlook on life can create many physical and mental health benefits. A positive outlook helps to elevate mood, reduce anxiety, lowers blood pressure and even impacts on how well we sleep and what foods we fancy.  But how can we achieve positivity if we are struggling with ‘life-issues’?  These could be financial, business/work, social, family, relationships, general worry and anxiety over the world or generally feeling overwhelmed.

We need to start by remembering that no matter what life throws at us, our most important relationship is our relationship with ourself.  If someone we cared about was experiencing the kinds of issues we were, how would we advise them? How would we be kind to them and show them that we cared about their issues and wanted to help?   Now we need to take those thoughts and transfer them to our own self-care.

Self-care isn’t selfish

Self-care isn’t something to fit in when we have the time – it’s not a ‘nice to have’. Self-care is essential and should be practiced daily.  The most important factor is to take things slowly so that you don’t feel overwhelmed with a self-care ‘to do’ list.  Every one of us can incorporate some small changes and increase these as we are able to. Here are some examples of daily self-care rituals we should all embrace – however, unless you are able to please don’t try them all at once as you may put too much pressure on yourself adding to your stress levels rather than alleviating them!

  1. If you are able to take a daily walk. If you are not physically fit start with just ten minutes and build up each week. Try to walk near natural green spaces if possible, even if that’s just a small city park, as being exposed to nature is a very good stress reliever ; https://www.cachealumni.org.uk/Public/News/Articles-folder/Health_Green_Space.aspx?WebsiteKey=f50a7342-ef7c-4741-9b60-1983d5c33bab
  2. Turn off your phone at bedtime. Try to avoid late night scrolling as this can disrupt the quality of your sleep. A good night’s sleep is critical for our physical and mental health.
  3. Eat well. This sounds simple but it’s easy to reach for the wrong foods when we are under stress or unhappy. Good nutrition can really impact on our physical and mental health and disrupt our mood too; https://www.cachealumni.org.uk/Public/News/Articles-folder/Nutrition%20for%20a%20healthy%20smile%20and%20happy%20mood.aspx?WebsiteKey=f50a7342-ef7c-4741-9b60-1983d5c33bab
  4. Do something each day that makes you laugh – laughing is incredibly good for your immune system and is a brilliant way to reduce stress
  5. Maintain social connections. It’s been tough during the pandemic and many people are not ready to rush back into physical socialising, but we humans are designed to socially interact and our health suffers when we are isolated.  Phone a friend, take a walk with them, sit in a park and have a coffee. Take small steps one at a time - there’s no need to rush into a group setting if you’re not ready.
  6. Keep your mind active. Read a book, do a crossword or a puzzle, even a jigsaw - something that distracts our mind from any worries and negativity. Mindful colouring books for grown-ups are also a great way to do this.
  7. Allow yourself time to ‘do nothing’.  This can be a tough one, in such a busy world we can feel guilty if we are not continually busy, but every day for at least 5 minutes (ideally build this up to longer) just do nothing.  It can be very noisy in our environments and easy to always have something to do.  Every now and then just take a moment to breathe and do nothing else.  You could sit in the garden and listen to the birds or stop on a walk and just take in the view.  Doing nothing is good for us, we will feel our breathing slow, our blood pressure decrease, and our tension ease (if we let ourselves!)
  8. Stay hydrated – preferably with water. Staying  hydrated helps to keep us healthy, focus and can even eliminate cravings for unhealthy foods
  9. Take a bath or a shower with a relaxing or uplifting essential oil
  10. Try to be as active as you can.  Along with walking try an appropriate exercise for you.  Exercise strengthens the immune system, is an excellent stress reducer and releases ‘feel good’ chemicals such as endorphins that make you happy and help you to sleep better.

It can be hard to allow ourselves the perceived ‘luxury’ of self-care, but looking after ourselves is not a luxury, it is an essential.  If you consider the situation on an aeroplane where you are told to fit your own oxygen mask first before you can help others; we can apply this to our daily lives.  We need to look after ourselves first so that we are well and able to look after others. Whether it’s our job to look after people or whether we have a family or carer responsibilities, we are better able to help others when we help ourselves.  Self-care isn’t selfish.  Please start to make time for yourself today and introduce small acts of kindness to others; helping you and helping others.

Louise Mercieca is a Nutritional Therapist, Consultant, Author, Presenter on Early Years TV Food, and Founder of The Health Kick, a business driven by the mission of providing understandable, practical nutritional advice, in a world driven by diet culture and convenience eating.

Louise is influential in early-years health, making an impact that can influence the next generation’s eating habits. She is the author of ‘How Food Shapes Your Child’ and is hugely passionate about spreading the message that kids can make healthy food choices.