I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist, yoga guru, or even really fabulous at taking care of myself. I am a person who takes on way too much and says I’m doing great even when my hair starts falling out in my hand and my eye starts twitching.
I know MSP owners face this all the time. You don’t have time to care for yourself and I don’t need it anyway. But everyone needs to. If you are living a life with not enough self care, your body will make it known and will force you to take that break.
I will share with you my story and why I may be able to tell you a bit about self-care. This is a guide for someone who doesn’t want to do this at all but knows they have to and we will take it 5 minutes at a time to get you in a better place.
“I love stress. Give me more to do!” has been my mantra for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t just go to school for one degree; it had to be a double degree; I couldn’t work just one job; it had to be at least three. I’m always ready and excited to take on extra projects. I’m the optimistic one. The one you don’t need to worry about. Until my body forced me to stop.
I had a bunch of opportunities that ended up aligning into the perfect storm of events that left barely enough time to eat. In a time period of 15 days back to back, I held a three day art festival; was part of the small organizing team for a 5,000 person event at the White House, and then led a tour I had organized for 16 people around Southeast Asia. At the same time, I was also finishing my MBA and was a single mom.
Over those days, my eye twitched. My eye twitched a lot. And sometimes it would get so bad that my lip would do an unattractive Elvis sneer. It annoyed me. It would happen at the worst times and I couldn’t get a handle of it. I had no time.
My body didn’t shut up though. It kept trying to tell me to slow down but I was insistent that I was built for stress. I love stress. But when I returned from the trip and my body was allowed to relax just a tad, it refused to be quiet.
I was driving home from work and singing along to “Africa” by Toto and really living my best. When bang, I had the worst pain in my heart. Brutal. It became hard for me to even see because the pain was so horrific. I started gasping for air and looking for a spot to pull over. Thankfully, there was an Urgent Care Clinic nearby.
I didn’t even use a parking spot, which is shocking because I am a big rule follower even when facing death (and I clearly still feel bad for not parking my car). But I ran into the front doors of the Urgent Care and yelled that I was dying, I needed help.
They were wonderful and brought me right in and quickly determined that I was having a panic attack. I couldn’t believe it.
“There’s no way it’s a panic attack. Stress doesn’t bother me that way.”
Well, clearly I was wrong.
I had to take a bit of time off and I found that getting to that point caused some long lasting changes for me. I couldn’t pile on quite as much as I could before. And when I did, I had to schedule time for self care to ensure I would stay healthy.
According to the Cleveland Clinic some warning signs of stress are:
- Dizziness or a general feeling of "being out of it."
- General aches and pains.
- Grinding teeth, clenched jaw.
- Indigestion or acid reflux symptoms.
- Increase in or loss of appetite.
- Muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders.
- Problems sleeping.
- Racing heart.
- Cold and sweaty palms.
- Tiredness, exhaustion.
- Weight gain or loss.
- Upset stomach, diarrhea.
- Sexual difficulties.
When I looked at this list, there were many more warning signs than my twitching face muscles. Do any of these resonate with you?
Here are 7 ways to turn five minutes into a bit of healing for you to keep you from burning out. Bonus, I have found and heard from others that allowing yourself to let go from some of the stress can allow amazing brilliant ideas to come to the surface. I have found that this comes from longer self-care measures but I can share those in future posts.
Before I share these I have a few rules that will apply to all of these five minutes self-care strategies.
You must make these five minutes uninterrupted. No phone. No Slack Notification. Don’t look at your email or quickly check the score of last night’s game. Put a sign on your door that says “Do not enter.” There are absolutely no excuses for this. If you can’t do this because your employees can’t be without you. You must really look at implementing more processes and procedures. (See Eureka Process for help). You don’t want to be in the hospital and be more worried about training someone over the phone to do payroll than your health. Take this time.
You also need to be intentional with this time. I know you have a million things to think of but your self care is for you. This will take practice so keep trying. If your mind wanders, say to yourself, “Not now” and refocus. Trust me, all of those things can wait. But if you have an intentional cup of tea and are thinking about stressful conversations you need to have, you aren’t spending the time on yourself. So be intentional.
7 Five minute Self Care practices:
Sounds really simple. It can be really difficult. But is so helpful. Just slowing down to breathe sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax and can be felt through your whole body. We all have times we forget to breathe and then we forget how to speak or get frazzled. Taking notice and practicing deep breathing can quickly calm things down. You can do a quick guided breathing meditation or you can follow these steps:
- Turn off all distractions
- Sit or lie down so you are comfy.
- Put a hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath through your nose and let your belly push your hand out. Be mindful that your chest doesn’t move.
- Form your lips into a circle like you are about to whistle and breath out through your mouth. Focus on your hand on your belly and how it moves as the air goes out.
- Repeat this for five minutes.
Don’t be intimidated by this one. When we are at our keyboards all day or in meetings back to back we end up holding way more tension that you realize. I put a reminder in my calendar for every day at noon to do a bit of yoga. I often do a 5 minute guided yoga but also will just do a few positions from Verywell Fit.
An intentional cup of tea.
First off, intentional is the key word here. How many times do you eat lunch at your desk and you forget you even ate it. When you are in a rush you aren’t even giving yourself the pleasure of tasting your food! So, slow down.
Tea is not a key to this exercise. If you hate tea, go with another hot drink. I recommend staying away from caffeine as it causes anxiety and can cause you to not sleep which won’t help your self-care. I love herbal tea. I have a special stash of tea that I keep for those special intentional tea times. It’s actually from Stash Tea. But, it should be something special.
Take time making the tea. The tea making is part of the meditation time. While the tea is steeping smell the steam and feel the heat of the cup on your hands. Slow down your breathing. When the tea is ready, begin to sip your tea. Don’t guzzle it. Take time to taste it. Let the smell of the tea waft up your nose. Don’t think of other things, if you do, just say, “Not now” and go back to focusing on the sips of tea and breathing in the scent of those herbs.
Take the full 5 minutes to sip your tea. Even if it’s 7 minutes or 9. You deserve it. Enjoy your tea time.
Any kind of exercise is a great way to relieve stress. But we don’t always have the time for a full-workout. (I will go into some tips for exercising in future posts from me, the girl that gets out of breath on the way to the hiking trail from the car.) We do have time for a walk.
First, you know it, no distractions. This can’t be a walk by coworkers stopping you with questions. You should either go outside and have a walk where you can just let your thoughts go for a while or walk around your office.
You can walk fast or slow. Do the pace that makes you feel good. Some people feel stressed going fast and like to slowly walk around and take in the surroundings. Some people would kringe going at a slower pace. Do what is right for you.
Notice the weather (or if inside the temperature of the room). Feel the air on your skin. Breath in deep and smell your surroundings. Feel the ground underneath your feet. Really stay with the feelings of your body and less on your thoughts and your day.
First, the yelling should never be at someone. But sometimes you can get frustrated and you have so much inside of you, you feel like exploding. Well, control that explosion a bit. Find a private spot and yell. This actually takes some practice. We are so conditioned to not let out our emotions that we restrain our yells a bit. Yell. And then try to outdo your yell.
Imagery can help to let go as much as you can into that yell. Imagine all of the stress inside of you as something red and hot inside of you that you need to get out. When you yell, imagine all of the red stress leaving your body and going out into the atmosphere. Get it all out.
When you hold that stress and anger inside it will present itself someway. It can release itself as anger at someone you aren’t angry at like your family or friends. It can also start attacking you as the form of a panic attack, depression, and make you more susceptible for countless other illnesses. So get it out!
I’m messy. There is order in my chaos but sometimes when I feel myself getting frazzled, I pause and look at my surroundings. Then I take 5 minutes to intentionally clean my area. I have been told that some people can’t do this because it would take days to go through all these papers. Well, this is a five minute cleanup and doesn’t include filing receipts for the last year. It is quick. So get some folders marked “Important Papers to go through” and put papers in there. Tidy up and smile while you do it.
Make your space feel nice. Clean. Uncluttered. I always keep some natural cleaner in my office because I like the smell of it. I use Method all purpose cleaner and I love when my office smells like lavender or grapefruit. Yum. It’s a nice treat to sit back down feeling more clear headed and ready to go again.
Again, remember this is intentional cleaning. No interruptions. Just focus on preparing a nice space for yourself. Because you deserve a nice space.
I sometimes share an office with our Marketing Coordinator and when she gets frustrated committing code to our website she slowly melts out of her chair and ends up lying on the floor of the office sprawled out like a star. She stays there for a while just staring at the ceiling and then pops up again full of energy ready to try again.
I have tried this and have to say it works. I think it is because you are pulling yourself away from something difficult and giving your brain time to process instead of just barrelling forward. I also think looking at a problem from a different angle may help, as well. But, splatting works well.
It’s not a very technical thing, I do recommend that you roll onto your side to get up from a Splat. That is gentler on your back. See if that helps you when you are feeling mounting frustration.
These tools can be used all together or apart. You may find only one you like or you may use all of them in different situations. I have found these have made my life more stress free and I hope they help you.
I do have many other items I have worked into my life to help me keep balance and be present in the moments of my life. By being aware and practicing self-care I have found I am more effective at our business, Gozynta, and our family is happy. Most importantly, since I have started incorporating self-care and putting priority on myself, I have not reached the state I was at before.
You are important and self-care should not be something you fit in if you have time. Schedule it and do not move it. Treat your self-care time as you would an appointment with an important client. Because really, you are your most important client.