Ep. 35: Accidental Self Care: 8 Ways I Not only Survived But Thrived
Back in the day, the Internet was a baby. So, self-help and motivational blogs were not at our fingertips. Many people became overwhelmed with their personal and professional lives and their never-ending attempts to balance them. Although balance is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, there has been a growing mental health movement encouraging people to practice self care. I had no idea what this meant until I realized that I had survived and thrived using my accidental self care actions!
So what do I mean by accidental self care? It means that somehow I managed to thrive and excel while maintaining the highest academic achievements, serving as a military officer, and becoming a wife and a highly involved mother. My journey required a lot of work (and I shared much of it in my introduction podcast), and when I look back over it, it makes me tired! Until recently I never sought to figure out how I did it. But self-reflection is good, so here I am.
All I know is that my work was never done, so I daily practiced what I preach: I just kept moving forward. Slow progress is still good progress, so keep moving.
I hear a lot about burnout these days, especially in my fellow type A, overachieving physicians. Physician burnout is leading to increased suicides and early retirement of talented physicians, and this impacts your healthcare.
Additionally, bloggers everywhere began to freely share the need for self care, whether it was related to your role as a professional or a parent. And I began to wonder how I survived without it.
Upon reflection, it seems I did regularly practice self care! I just didn’t know that it had a name. Because most of what I did was not the recommended “planned” care, I didn’t think it was special and had no idea others weren’t doing it. Some self care posts recommend time-consuming daily planned activities.
This post was extremely relatable but also suggests you make time every single day to do specific self care tasks. I don’t know about you, but I was often too tired to walk the dog or go shopping to buy flowers, even though it might have brought me joy.
Needless to say, I was happy to run across a popular Forbes post that has been shared over 1/2 million times, and you should read it too. This validates my concept of accidental self care. Self care does not have to be labor or time intensive!
My accidental self care techniques were the things I did that allowed me to not become overwhelmed or resentful, and they allowed me to keep filling my plate with more things that I needed to do. Obviously, I could not do well with an overflowing plate.
So, what helped me to manage all of my duties and enjoy the journey along the way? I am now sharing the things that I believe allowed me to be a successful wife, mother, and surgeon. All these parts of my life were important and needed equal attention. Just not all at the same time! Don’t try to balance things, but instead, spend time on all of them on a rotating basis.
Keep in mind that my accidental self care tips were things that became a part of my life. Incorporating some of them into your life may help you reduce stress, anxiety, and burnout.
My 8 accidental self care tips
Considering that I am a physician, I wish I could say my accidental self care tips included drinking water, eating healthy and working out! I really want to say that, but I’d be lying. But to be clear, many self care tips include these things; therefore, it would be great if you included them too!
As I matured (aka got older…) I have improved with becoming an awesome water drinker and eating more healthy foods. I’m still not active enough and appear to be allergic to exercise, but I’m still evolving. So, there remains some hope for me! For those of you who do these, WooHoo! High five for you. These are awesome ways to care for yourself. They just weren’t mine.
1. Self-confidence is your number one asset.
If you don’t believe in yourself why should others? Why would you believe others can do things but you can’t? You might need to work harder, but that’s okay. Hard work will help you win at life.
I remember my father telling me that it was silly for people to think about cheating off the work of other students because you could not be sure that they knew the answers. He taught me to trust myself and believe that if others could learn the correct answers, I could also learn them. At a very young age, I became very self confident which empowered me to work hard to achieve my goals. Things might not be easy, but you must believe that you can succeed before you actually can!
Heard a study somewhere saying the best predictors of success in kids is hard work and perseverance. Not social standing, intelligence, or technical skills in the arts or athletics. But it’s the ability to keep working when things get tough or when repeated failures occur.
Understand that others feel the same as you do; however, what separates you is the difference in how you handle it. Do you quit, complain and whine? Do you lie and cheat and blame others? Or do you just keep working and find another way to win?
2. Recognize no one is perfect.
They might look like they are, but it’s false appearances. Even without social media, people used to loudly “fake” how great they were or their lives were.
That test was easy! I didn’t even study for it and just listened in class. I got an A.
Why would you believe whoever said that? It could be true but also could be false.
People lie. Maybe not on purpose but maybe that motivates them. Some people only feel better by making others feel worse about themselves.
NEWS FLASH! We can all feel good at the same time. Not only did I have to learn this, but I worked hard to teach my kids this sad truth. Sometimes one of their peers would lie which made my kids would feel bad about themselves. I didn’t encourage them to call out the lie but just to recognize it.
Let the lie wash over you. Ignore it and don’t feed it by praising it or asking questions. When lies fall flat, they disappear. They need attention to live.
Recognize that your faults are similar to those of the people you know. Some people are just better at focusing on their positives and not dwelling on the faults. Perfection does not exist so why are you working so hard to reach it?
3. Do not whine
We say it to our children all the time: STOP WHINING.
But how many times a day do you hear adults whining and complaining? By the time we feel the need to whine or repeatedly complain, we have reached a point where we need to redirect our energy.
It becomes time to focus on the solution and not on the problem. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of things have gone wrong…or not as planned…in my life. And I was all about the whining, complaining and self-pity. You definitely need to feel your emotions because they are valid. Take some time to do that. An hour, a few hours, a day. But set a time limit and stop saying it.
Focusing on the negative aspects of life can be very exhausting and can wear us down. Find a way to see the silver lining in your life. No matter how bad things are at the moment, there is also something good happening. Dwell on that.
4. Be fully present in the here and now
No regret and guilt. I hear so much about mom guilt and professional guilt; but honestly, I do not recall feeling this. Even after I opened a private practice, I was often present at more of my kids’ extracurricular activities than many other parents. This was not an accident!
My work schedule was superimposed on my kid’s school and extracurricular activity schedule. A lacrosse game was equally important as a monthly staff meeting. They had equal weight and missing either was not an option unless an unavoidable conflict arose. Planning was the key.
My kids’ activities during the week required the most planning, but weekends? They belonged to my girls! As a fully invested surgeon running a practice, I found a way to focus solely on work when I was at work, and on my kids when I was not. I did worry about my kids when it was time to work and by adopting this attitude, I immediately reduced my stress.
When my kids were with my husband, they were fully in his care. I did not worry. This is because my husband learned how to be a dad at the same time I learned to be a mom. He was involved from birth. I have two blog posts addressing this issue with one sharing tips to empower dads and the other emphasizing why you should never say dads are babysitting. They are parenting, just like moms do.
It is important to learn to let go and accept that fathers, family members, teachers, camp counselors are caring for your kids when you are not there. Just imagine all the new experiences your kids are gaining that they can later share with you. You will learn who is not trustworthy to care for your kids and you should change that, but that does not mean the duties all go back to you!
Recently, one of my daughter’s friends is starting a surgical residency and she worried about time with her future kids. She asked my daughter if I was around much during her childhood. That’s a valid question and the answer is a resounding HECK YES! And that’s because it was a priority that I made happen. Parenting is hard and it requires lots of work, but it is very doable regardless of your career.
5. Do one thing just for yourself on a regular basis.
Remember how I said no one has time to do specific scheduled self care activities daily? For most of us, that is true. But you DO need to actually have something scheduled on some recurring basis. Something that makes you happy. Something that only benefits you. On whatever schedule works for you.
Mine was a trip to the hairdresser which explains why I love my hairdresser who I have seen for over 25 years!
Medical school is when I claimed this therapy! Why is it therapy? No one benefits except me. The hair salon was my selfish piece of the world. When I walked in, my brain would shut down. I just relaxed and merged with the bustling community of women from all walks of life and professions.
At different shops, I would sit for hours and read old editions of gossip magazine with pages turn out. Read it like it was a medical journal. Absorbing useless nonsense that my brain made no attempt to process. I rested. I listened in on classic beauty shop gossip. It was silly and funny, and I loved it. While getting my hair washed and my scalp massaged, I would struggle to not go to sleep. This was my me time.
I didn’t know it at the time but it is my main self care activity that allows me to decompress from life and focus solely on me. I thought it was a lazy entitlement since many people cannot afford hairdresser visit. But I have learned that each of us prioritizes money differently. Nails? Fancy vacations? Expensive jewelry? Home artwork and furnishings? Those were not important to me.
My hairdresser time allowed me to put myself first. ((Podcast words: I thought it was practical because I have extremely thick hair which was always much longer than it is now. It took me forever to do it at home and I hated it.)) This was my gift to me and became a permanent part of my budget. Rent, utilities, food then hair. Nothing more important.
What do you gift to yourself?
6. Decline things
A nicer way of saying no. Many things are presented as great opportunities and you are flattered to be asked. If it’s your job, then you are not actually being asked and you just have to figure out how to do it. But when it’s extra, understand it’s optional. Don’t be that person who can never say no.
You don’t want to disappoint others? What about disappointing yourself? Afraid to hurt others feelings? Why would this hurt someone? You should always be respectful but clear that it won’t fit your schedule.
We all have extremely busy schedules, so when you add extra things on your plate, you are making room on someone else’s plate. No is a complete sentence. Use it.
7. Get more sleep
As a chronically tired surgical resident, I remember being told that whenever I had the opportunity to sleep, take it. And I have lived with this gem of advice ever since. Waiting until “later” or “tomorrow”, the opportunity may not come back. Take it now. And enjoy it no matter how long it is. Learn to appreciate the break you are giving your body.
My husband used to tell me that you cannot catch up on sleep. Once you lost it, it was gone forever, but I never bought into that. I might be sleep deprived for a week, but then when there was a chance, I would sleep as long as I could to recharge myself. I call it refilling my cup. There is a cliche saying that “you cannot pour from an empty cup”. It’s true. You will have nothing to give your family or your job and your lack of productivity will impact your self-esteem and confidence.
Sleep deprivation is a silent killer.
A killer of dreams and ambitions because you are too tired to think. But it also a real killer because it is a serious underlying cause of many health problems. Check out this post to learn 10 surprising effects of lack of sleep.
Potential extra sleep hours you might find:
- Sleep when your child sleeps (not doing chores or cooking…sleep)
- Turn off electronics after dinner to reduce the stimulation that impacts sleep
- Teach kids to play quietly on weekends until a certain time! Even when they cannot tell time, they know when the hand touches the 8, they can come in. When they wait that long, you have more energy to do things with them. Otherwise, you may not have the energy to go to the park or play some of the games they want. (Speaking from experience, this was a game changer!)
- Establish a day, perhaps once per month, where spouse, significant other or family member takes kids somewhere on a weekend morning and you get extra sleep. Mark in on calendar and look forward to it.
8. Delegate things.
At home and at work. Of course, you are the bomb.com and can do all things just the way you like them. But since when does everything need to be the way you like it? Let go.
I say this daily to moms who bring their kids to me. Dad doesn’t know how to change a diaper, comb hair, or make dinner. Guess what? Neither did you and you learned. And remember how I said no one is perfect? That includes you. You are not the best, you are ONE of the best!! Your way is good, maybe even outstanding, but other ways are good or at least acceptable.
I still laugh at the memories of my hubby getting our girls ready for school. Outrageous clothes. Hair brushed so tight that it pulled their eyes backward and made their head hurt. He also accidentally rubbed hair cream on their body instead of lotion, and when we ran out of ketchup, he made the kids eat hot dog or hamburger with cocktail sauce.
Each event made me gasp. Of course, I would have done better.
But after the story was shared, the girls moved on with their happy lives. In the end, what was the harm? Did anyone die? Was there any permanent damage? Then let it go and teach your kids the same resilience. My kids learned to read and recognize labels to prevent mistakes and also became very good at loosening tight braids. Problem-solving was a skill they needed to learn.
Things happen. Just move forward. Many moms would react to non-perfect events by doing more themselves. That only adds more unnecessary stress. Some of the events I described above happened on my surgery days when I needed to be in the operating room by 730am. I would have had to wake the girls extra early to potentially avoid things that caused no harm. Nope.
At work also delegate. We have staff and coworkers for a reason. Do not try to be Hercules and carry everyone else’s load. Allow others to do their job and allow them to make mistakes. They will learn from their mistakes and you cannot shoulder the burden for everyone else.
In closing, you may notice that my accidental self care tips are things that you can and should do lifelong. At home and at work. Even on vacation. Life can be hard, but we often make it harder on ourselves. So, get some sleep and begin empowering yourself with a more positive outlook and acceptance that everyone is overwhelmed. Find your way to accept it and move on without as much angst.
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips, so be sure to consider subscribing to my podcast or to my blog to avoid missing a post!