For several weeks I’ve been blogging about retreating, which I define as taking a break from your daily grind to do a little self-care. I’ve offered tips on how to retreat affordably, how to create your own home-based retreat, and expectations for going away on retreat. I’ve also touched on the benefits of retreating, but lately I’ve been reminded through my own experiences why regular self-care is important. And not just regular care, but habitual care; that is, making self-care routine, not a luxury that you’ll get to when you have time.
So today, from the Department of Do As I Say and Not As I Do, here’s a little confession: I’ve been neglecting my own self-care for a long time. I blame it on the “Life Happens” mantra, which is really just an excuse because life always happens. There is no life doesn’t happen except when you’re dead. It follows, then, that there is also no “right time” to start doing self-care so it is pointless to wait for one.
Finding the “right time” to make important changes in our lives that promote self-care keeps us in the rut of habits that don’t lead us where we want to go nor help us feel better about ourselves. Nor to get you through those Life Happens Moments. You know the ones I’m talking about. When the big-ass fans of life blow doo-doo everywhere; when a droplet of rain turns into a typhoon; when you’re up the Suwannee without a paddle—or even a boat!
For 3.5 years I worked for Multinational Household Name, enduring not only a hostile coworker but a sociopathic manager. Manager regularly talked smack about team members and customers during our weekly one-on-ones. One minute she’d say how much she loved Elvis and Jesus and the next she’d go into a rant about a fantasy she had of stabbing to death her ex-boss from a previous company. I am not making this up.
Systematically, she persecuted everyone she didn’t like. I was number five on her list. Working with Manager and Coworker was like being stuck in an endless season of Mean Girls High School. Their behavior infected the whole team—across the continent and overseas.
I had good days, but overall I suffered from anxiety, self-doubt, and paranoia. I started losing sleep, my blood pressure rose, and I snapped at my husband all the time. My self-care routine of getting up early to meditate stopped because I needed to squeeze every ounce of sleep I could out of restless nights in order to endure another day of nastiness. In fact, I gave up on meditating at all because quieting my mind became more difficult; it kept wanting to replay the latest episode of Mean Girls Multinational Household Name. The job was killing me in many ways, and I stopped doing self-care when I needed it the most!
Gradually, I started meditating again to calm the nerves and praying for a better job. Eventually, Manager left me no choice but to quit. So why did I put up with it for so long?
- The pay and benefits were good, and I falsely believed I wouldn’t find a better job
- I kept hoping the abuse would stop
- I kept waiting for the “right time” to leave
Here’s what I learned in hindsight:
- Nothing is worth suffering bullying at work, especially when your employer doesn’t care
- It would never stop because those who dished it out saw nothing wrong with their behavior
- See paragraphs two and three at the beginning of this post
No amount of money is worth prolonged and immense suffering for. I know that millions of people work crappy jobs, or multiple jobs, just to pay the bills. But seriously, is risking your well-being worth the mortgage or rent? That is somewhat of a rhetorical question because when you have to choose between having a house roof over your family’s head or a Toyota Camry roof over your family’s head, most people would choose the house roof. How we got to this point in our humanity’s evolution for those to be someone’s only two choices is too big a topic for this blog.
My point is this: Whatever your situation, taking even ten minutes a day to breathe deeply, pray, meditate, go for a stress-relieving walk, or whatever else you need to care for yourself is essential for moving toward a more happy existence. This has knock-on effects.
After quitting my job, I spent three blissful months unemployed, during which I re-developed my self-care habits of meditating, walking, and writing. I started a new job with better pay and benefits and coworkers who respect and appreciate me. I strongly believe that getting back into a self-care routine helped my emotional body know that I was worthy enough for something better.
But because I became a LOT happier, I stopped practicing self-care again. Who needs it when you’re happy? I got out of the habit. Then BAM, Hubby has an accident that leaves him unable to work for several months. Now I’m running him to doctors and physical therapists and caring for his needs and doing a lot of the things he normally does around the house because he can’t at the moment. I’m not resentful. I love him to bits and I signed up for this at the altar. I just get exhausted sometimes. Once more I find myself out of the self-care habit when I really need it!
One of the inspiring e-newsletters I subscribe to is the Atomic Habits guy, James Clear (highly recommend). Last week’s included this:
New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results.
In other words, setting goals for self-care isn’t the right approach. Building self-care into your life as part of your life, part of you daily routine, is. Building the better habit of self-care is what transforms us, not waiting for the right time or treating it as a goal to reach.
Self-care is HARD WORK because everything worth having can be. It’s only hard, though, until we succeed at building better habits. Then it becomes routine. But not just daily-grind routine; self-affirming-self-compassion-because-we-all-need-and-deserve-it routine.
We must keep showing up for self-care, even when the mornings are cold and dark and getting up to meditate or pray or exercise doesn’t sound fun. Sure it’s easier to lie in bed, but my entire life would be easier if I got myself out of bed every morning to meditate.
The right time to start your self-care was yesterday. The right time to leave an abusive work situation is after you’ve tried to address things with the appropriate persons and they fail to support you. If you are unable to leave a bad work situation, at the very least, find those ten minutes a day—longer if possible—to care for yourself. If you are in any kind of abusive relationship, please seek help in removing yourself from that situation now.
Whatever you’re waiting for—joy, satisfaction, happiness—is largely your responsibility for creating. So really, life doesn’t just happen; it’s made. If you show the universe that you’re worth self-care (and you are), the universe will respond in kind. Show up for your self-care every day, whatever that means practically for you, especially when you think there’s no time. It will carry you through the easy days and the hard days. And it may just transform your life in ways you never dreamed of.
For links to retreats and other resources, visit my Resources page.
Read my memoir about a two-year retreat I took in Scotland.