Sustained exhaustion is not a rite of passage. It's a mark of stupidity.
Every morning, you wake up with a finite amount of “decision points”. Each decision you make from that moment takes away one point. What to wear, when to shower, what to eat for breakfast, every decision—important or not—takes away a point. So by the end of the day, unless you have habits, routines and rituals to “top up” your points, you're depleted. You might come home from work physically fine but mentally exhausted. But really, decision fatigue has taken over.
And by the time it's your turn to take care of yourself after everything and everyone has gotten the appropriate amount of attention—often at the end of the day—it becomes impossible to even think of some way to care for yourself. You're running on empty. You're floating around in a stupor, making bad choices about food, social media or when to go to bed. Worse, you're beating yourself up about not doing better, even when you know you could. And the pattern leaks into your next day, your next week, month, year. You know it's important to break out of a work routine, but you don't. Why? Probably from experience, you know that if you did actually try, you'd be lost figuring out what to do next.
One immediately obvious reason is that writing—by hand—can be an especially effective tool for creative people who need the “space” to incubate ideas. Rather than keep it all in your head, you're quite literally creating a space for an idea to become real even in its most raw and unstructured form. Once it is on paper, your brain gives itself the permission to free its clutch over this one and move on to other thoughts and ideas.
THE SELF-CARE PLANNER
This is why the Self-Care Planner works. Not because it forces you to do anything but, in fact, just the opposite. It clears a path and gives you just a few choices of what to do, and how much time to spend on each “ritual”. Every one of these options means you don't have to spend your points figuring out what to do when you take a break. Less guesswork=less decision fatigue. Jot as you go, and track your progress from day to day, week to week and month to month.
One big piece of advice (that seems to work) is: start small, as small as you absolutely need. Drink some water, walk around for a minute, or just stretch—every one of these little things add up to big gains over time. As you get into the habit of stopping and switching gears to a “break activity”, you can plan and graduate to the bigger items. No rush—you have the rest of your life to get there.
Creating self-care habits that sustain us through life’s up and downs is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Being out of balance is what makes you reach for stimulants, unhealthy food and social media. It perpetuates a viscious cycle when a virtuous cycle of reading, exercise, light socializing or meditation can lead to a richer, more fulfilled life.
SO WHAT ISN'T SELF-CARE?
Importantly, there are a few things that come up for people who start out with the best intentions and somehow get stuck. From our own experience, here's what we've found that doesn't work, and how we manage around the obstacles.
Beating yourself up for falling back into old ways
Everyone does it. It's not easy to stick with something new and unfamiliar. When this happens, stop what you are doing and commit to starting again at a certain time, and then stick to that commitment. Until you don't. But if you're getting back on track 4 times after getting off track 4 times, you're still doing it four more times than you ever would have done before.
Feeling stressed about ‘making time’ for self-care
Self-care is not a luxury, in the way that applying a sterile gauze to a wound to prevent infection is not an extravagance. Sleep and restorative activity are necessities. Hydration, stepping away from the screen, stretching...all necessary things. Without the right mix of rituals and habits, you're likely to be more fatigued all the time, aging faster, and performing at significantly sub-optimal levels. Remember, there's so much value in the small tweaks.
Wishing you were different, or had it different
You are who you are and you got what you got. If you work with what you have, it's well within your power to improve it. Wishing for something you don't have has no effect on what you can get done.
Not being honest about our desires and intentions
In other words, do what feels right to you, not what should be relaxing but isn't. Sitting still can literally be a pain in the ass, but hitting a punching bag, going for a run, or watching an escapist TV show might be what works for you to relax. So do that.
Not reflecting on your decisions
Is what you're doing working? After a week or two, you know what works and how much of it you need. A 10 minute nap might be just ok, 15 minutes could make all the difference, and 20 minutes makes you feel even more fatigued. Pay attention as you go, and try new ways and approaches. Look for the Goldilocks amount. When something works you'll know.
Taking on commitments without putting yourself first
It's important to be mindful about what you're capable of on a given day, and in what order. If you're an introvert, there's no glory in doing two back to back hour-long meetings without some break in the middle. Be kind to yourself and take the time to center yourself, as often as possible. You have to happen first, everything else can only follow.
There will be unfamiliarity, maybe some disorientation at first. Self-care is about habits big and small. It's a gradual shift away from quantity to quality. Download the PDF, start with a small thing or two and see how it feels. With a little bit of attention, a fog will lift. You’ll feel more “connected” to yourself and to the world around you. You’ll notice things, find delight in small pleasures, and nothing will seem the same again.
Step with care and great tact, and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act.