Why self-care is imperative for success

By Alison Hill

In this world of 24/7 responsiveness, it’s easy to become weighed down by ‘busyness’ — feeling like we’re at everyone’s beck and call, reacting rather than reflecting. And this has a huge cost on our health, because the first three things to go downhill when we’re working at a rapid pace are sleep, nutrition and exercise. Funnily enough, these are the very three things that we need in order to have the energy to keep going.

This is a state of self-harm, not in a harsh brutal way but rather in a subtle, martyr type of way. We lose sleep worrying about the tough conversation we have to have this week, we toss and turn about getting that project back to the boss, and where is the creative inspiration going to come from in order to nail the kids’ costumes for book week? We wake up, pour coffee on our worries, grab food where we can and eat it on the run — fast and nasty are usually the choice — and the most exercise we get is running to catch the elevator to our next meeting. Our sleep, nutrition and exercise drop off despite the fact that these are the three things needed for sustained energy and vitality.

Self-harm versus self-calm

From a physiological perspective, when we are in a self-harm state our bodies respond through our sympathetic nervous system (responsible for our body’s ‘fight, flight or fright’ response). When it kicks into gear we are alert to our environment and ready to respond. Our adrenaline is pumping and then cortisol kicks in for good measure. This concoction leaves us feeling ‘on edge’ and while this is actually an ancient defence mechanism, when this response becomes chronic it can impact our bodies in various ways, including an increased risk of heart conditions, weight gain, reduced immunity and ongoing fatigue. All this creates a fertile environment to engage in further self-harm; which is code for a packet of Doritos and wine by the bucket. While we can be getting a lot done, true success comes through finding a way to turn up the best versions of ourselves.

Self-calm enables us to shift from our sympathetic system processes into our parasympathetic system. Our parasympathetic nervous system is the calming response in our bodies, responsible among other things for our ‘rest and digest’ response, and regulating down both blood pressure and temperature. The parasympathetic response slows our heart rate, conserves energy, and kicks into gear activities that occur when our bodies are in rest, such as effective digestion. From a brain response perspective, our ability to think rationally, make clearer decisions and view a situation through an optimistic perspective is heightened when our parasympathetic response is in control.

Being switched on to making decisions, being present in conversations, and being able to motivate action is so much easier when you’ve slept well, eaten what nourishes and looked after your mental wellbeing. So it’s time to be self-kind, self-supporting and self-caring.

Be purposeful about pausing

The busier you need to be during the week, the more important it is to carve out moments of downtime now. Don’t delay them till later. Be purposeful about pausing, and be realistic about the little moments that help you reset.

If you sit in the sun and read a book for 10 minutes, the balls you’ve been juggling won’t come crashing down. If you have a nanna nap on a Saturday arvo, no-one’s going to talk about you (or if they do it will only be out of jealousy). Just remember that it’s not the person with the most leave entitlement that wins. Stop waiting till later to address overwhelm. So breathe, carve out space and relax with the same ferocity you work. Your body, your productivity and your peeps will appreciate it more if you stop delaying the downtimes.

And remember — turning up refreshed, revived and the best version of yourself is the greatest gift you can give to the people around you.

Alison Hill is a psychologist and co-founder of Pragmatic Thinking, a behaviour and motivation strategy company. An international and in-demand keynote speaker, Alison is also the best-selling co-author of Dealing with the Tough Stuff, and Stand Out: A real world guide to get clear, find purpose and become the boss of busy (Wiley $27.95). For more information visit www.alisonhill.com.au or contact info@pragmaticthinking.com.

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