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December 22, 2020

Why We Suck at Self-Care (and How to Get Better at It) - #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie

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Many of us are good at keeping busy, looking after others, and juggling responsibilities. But when it comes to self-care we often... well, suck! In our latest #MTtalk, we chatted with our followers about how to get better at self-care.

"Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what's left of you."

Katie Reed, American mental health advocate

A few weeks ago, we talked about To-Do Lists and To-Don't Lists in our #MTtalk Twitter chat. During the chat, a theme started to emerge: almost all the participants (including me) felt that their self-care wasn't good enough. We seem to be fantastic at being busy, but our self-care sucks.

As a result, we decided that our "Reflect, Recover & Reset" series would not be complete without talking about self-care.

5 Obstacles to Self-Care

In preparation for our chat, I asked some of my colleagues – and some of our regular #MTtalk participants – the following question: "Why are you not as good at self-care as you feel you should be?" Their insightful responses highlighted some persistent obstacles to self-care.

1. Feeling Guilty

Megha Mathur (@letusthink2) generously shared many of her insights, particularly around guilt. "Often when we engage in self-care, we think that we are taking time away from our family by focusing on ourselves," she said. "Many people also fall in the trap of thinking that by giving themselves the time they deserve, they are taking time away from things that could be completed either on the professional front or the home front."

2. What Will "They" Say?

Craig Kaye's (@TheCraigKaye) comment will probably resonate with many. "I feel a sense of presenteeism," Craig admitted. "An internal worry that I won't progress with my career if I'm off poorly, take annual leave, or not seen as staying late to ensure all my tasks are completed above and beyond."

I'm sure Sizwe Moyo's response will also sound familiar to some people: "I suck at self-care because I care, perhaps too much, what others will think about me."

Similarly, Vandana Singh (@Singh_Vandana) told me that she believes we often strive to live up to other people's expectations of us, and put their needs over our own.

3. "I'll Do It Later"

Joana Sousa (@JoanaRSSousa) nailed it with her comment on pushing self-care to the back of her priority list. "I think it is natural to think that we are always in time to sleep the hours that we do not sleep, to drink the water that we do not drink," Joana told me. "We do not listen to our organism as a whole. The consequence of ignoring what our bodies say will have an effect on our health."

Teodora (@emapirciu) echoed similar sentiments: "I'm not good at self-care because I'm not consistent. I have weeks when I exercise, eat well, sleep enough, put on makeup, give myself a day off. Then I get lazy and break good habits."

4. Learned Behavior

Tom Reid (@TheTomGReid) said, "What I am willing to confess openly is that as a youth I never developed great eating or exercise habits. Everyone in my family is quite on the 'large' size, so perhaps there is a genetic component... On the other hand, I do try to feed my mind, body, and soul/spirit positive things every day."

Nguka Oduor (@NgukaOduor) also mentioned the role of social conditioning: "It was never taught and it's not even talked about in our community. Not in schools or churches. I first learned about self-care two years ago while in a coaching class and I have been trying to make my system conscious about it since then."

5. Feeling Unimportant

Many people made a comment about their own importance and sense of worth.

Lillian Lake (@llake) said, "While my self-care practice is generally good, I tend to put other people first and forget my best intentions toward myself. I don't appreciate the value of my well-being as much as I should, or I would always make self-care a priority."

Midgie Thompson (@Midgie_MT) said, "I plow through work stuff just to chase the sense of achievement and to feel 'on top of my workload.' Underneath all of that is the idea that 'I am not good enough,' and I have to push on to prove myself, even though I do know that I AM good enough and that I am doing the best that I can."

The response I got from George (not his real name) brings us right back to our previous chat about self-shaming. His response shook me because it felt a little too close to home. "Why am I rubbish at self-care? Because at some level… I don't think I deserve it," George said.

"The internal thoughts go: I don't work as hard, as long, or on such important things as other people (in my opinion), especially as I'm not a parent, and I live a very privileged life. So I shouldn't need self-care, I should just get on with things and stop complaining. And on a very dark day, I'd even be thinking I actively deserve to suffer. I'd be horrified if someone said that to me about themselves..."

Your Self-Care Opinions

Last week's #MTtalk Twitter chat focused on self-care. Here are the questions we asked our followers and some of the most insightful responses.

Q1. Why isn't self-care valued?

@LernChance I suspect because it's not directly measurable. In business, we are used to benchmarking everything. Maybe there is no immediate effect when not taking care of oneself. But in the long run?

@NeViNShCe1 Because most of the people I know only become aware of self-care when they hit rock bottom with their mental or physical health.

@MicheleDD_MT From a business perspective – it is viewed as a personal issue, although this perspective is changing. COVID has brought self-care to the forefront.

Q2. What are the stories we tell ourselves about self-care that keep us from doing it?

@NeViNShCe1 I will do it later. Something other is more important at the moment. I am in a hurry. It isn't that important. I have no benefits from it right now. Other people need me so I can't do it right now.

@cherie15305 How can you even think only of yourself and how you may feel better when there are so many people that suffer, and don't have even the basic goods?

Q3. What does self-care look like? What would you do/not do if you practiced self-care?

@PG_pmp Giving time to self... nurturing self, taking care of mental health.

@ColfaxInsurance Forgiving yourself for making mistakes. Taking care of your body and mind. Cutting out toxic habits/people. Learning to say "no" to unhealthy habits/people/ideas. Enjoying things you love to do for the sake of doing those things.

Q4. Why don't you deserve that?

@TwinkleEduCons Weirdly, I REALLY believe I do! But AFTER I've tended to business and the home. And, inevitably, it tends not to happen! Ironically, if we don't look after our well-being, having a business and home is ultimately futile!!

@carriemaslen IMO, a huge message is: we are all deserving of goodness, kindness, care. Seeing ourselves as worthy is a key first step.

Q5. Who is standing in the way of your self-care?

@MarkC_Avgi For most people the person standing in the way of their self-care is themselves. Only you can really control how much you are going to push yourself and you must figure out when you are pushing yourself to that breaking point.

@emapirciu I could blame work, or chores, or the kids, or homeschooling. But it's just me. I stand in the way of my self-care.

Q6. What would help you to make self-care a higher priority?

@Midgie_MT When I finally solve the core issue of "I'm good enough!" Even though I have done lots of work on myself and I know the benefits of doing self-care, I still do not practice it.

@MapDorcas I find having a routine helps. Setting aside times... Planning with folk who are positive and motivating in that way... When I lose routine (as is the challenge of this year and the COVID-19 upheavals) it becomes more challenging.

Q7. How can you be more accountable to yourself with regard to practicing self-care?

@MicheleDD_MT Find an accountability partner to help you to stick to your plan. Book a date with a friend to go to the gym, do a fun activity. Once booked, it's harder to back out.

@JKatzaman Start with self-care by genuinely caring. Not liking what you see and feel about yourself won't mean a thing unless you commit yourself to change and stick with it.

Q8. How well do organizations promote self-care?

@ColeenWarden I think a lot of organizations say you should do self-care by taking time off or putting a meeting on your calendar for whatever you need (etc. etc.) but it doesn't happen because people feel guilty for utilizing it – because no one else does!

@ZalkaB Generally, it could be better. There's a vast variety of support/empowering your employees to do self-care and to mind their health/mental well-being. Taking a mental health day, or sometimes needing a slower pace, is normal, not something that should be "fixed."

Q9. As a manager, at what point might you intervene to help someone? Is it your responsibility?

@Yolande_MT The person might not see things that you see from the outside. You have to intervene and make them aware before it takes a toll on their health.

@JKatzaman Managers should be attuned to their people's wants and needs. They should also know how to consult with trained experts if they think someone on the team has a self-care issue.

Q10. As a manager or friend, what can you offer someone who is not taking care of themselves?

@MyFunnySpeaker Never start with an "I know better" attitude. Make it an obvious choice, with more convenient access to incremental improvements. Persuasive people don’t pounce.

@letusthink2 You can offer them a hand and say, "I'm there for you, just let me know what you need." That sentence is enough to uplift a friend, a team member, to know that they are NOT BEING JUDGED.

Finally, these two comments pack a powerful punch – may we all take them to heart!

What does self-care look like? According to @SizweMoyo "...taking a break from requiring perfection from myself."

And @temekoruns reminded us that, "Planned wellness can prevent an unplanned illness."

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up...

On January 1, we'll publish an #MTtalk blog as part of the Mind Tools "Reflect, Recover & Reset" series. We're going to talk about what we learned in 2020. So, in our poll this week, we'd like to know what 2020 taught you about working from home. To see the poll and cast your vote, please click here.

Self-Care Resources

Meanwhile, here are some Mind Tools resources to help with self-care. (You'll need to be a Club member or a Corporate licensee to access them all in their entirety.)

What Are the HALT Risk States?

Dealing With Guilt

"Yes" to the Person, "No" to the Task

Getting More Exercise

Creating a Healthy Workplace

How to Relax After a Hard Day

Managing Your Boundaries

Boosting Your Self-Esteem


Building Self-Confidence

Rest, Relaxation and Sleep

Physical Relaxation Techniques

Finding the Right Work-Life Balance

Managing Working Parents

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