I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day, and noticed a post from a friend who said “I feel like all this self-care is a second job I need to support my day job.” I paused, reflected on this for a few minutes, and then commented “then you’re doing it wrong.”
Let me explain. Yes, self-care can FEEL like a second job, and is often treated like it in discussions. “Stressed about work? Just go home and take a bubble bath, get 30 minutes of exercise, balance your budget, get a haircut, and find time to go to the dentist. Easy.” This starts to feel and look like the same to-do list I have on my desk, you know, the one I am trying to de-stress from. It also implies that self-care only happens on your own time, and is only your responsibility, which is also wrong.
Here is the thing though, self-care should be incorporated into every aspect of our lives, so that it happens naturally. Like any habit we form, it takes notice and attention at first and then becomes second nature. Going for a walk everyday feels like a chore until it becomes part of my routine. Balancing my budget made me want to scream until I started doing it regularly for a couple minutes a day. These things just make us healthier people, and are good habits to get into.
Secondly, self-care is not only on your own time, but it may it make look different at work. It may mean taking 2 minutes to step outside and enjoy the mountain view when you are feeling stressed, finding a task that does not involve a screen for five minutes to give your eyes a break, or scheduling to take a mental health day next week. You can set boundaries and limits collaboratively with your supervisor. You can set one day a week to not eat your lunch at your desk and avoid the doughnuts in the breakroom. There are plenty of ways to incorporate self-care at work, it can just be hard to see when we are in the thick of it.
Self-care is also a community responsibility as well as an individual one. We are all responsible for creating a safe, caring environment, and part of that means taking care of each other. We can check in with each other and offer to help out with a task or two. We can be there to vent to and problem solve with. We can teach each other new skills to streamline processes and celebrate success with each other. This alone can ease the burden of the message “if you are burned out, it is because you are not doing enough,” and change the message to “I see you are struggling, what can I do to help?” We work in a system that sometimes overlooks the individual, making it more than ever our responsibility to look after each other.
So yes, if self-care feels like a second job, you are doing it wrong or viewing it wrong. Let’s just all agree to take care of ourselves and each other… okay?