As a primarily work-life balance coach I think a lot about how taking care of ourselves can be integrated into our busy lives. Frankly, there are so many systemic factors working against self-care in American life, it can feel like a fool's errand. But I do know from experience that changing how you care for yourself inside the parameters of your busy life is possible. I also know we need to make some serious changes as a nation on a policy level, which makes this work more challenging than it could be.
I recently gained an insight that has changed how I view self-care in my life. Before I go into it, here's a little backstory to help you see just how much the story I tell myself has changed. I was a serious gymnast until just shy of my 15th birthday. I wasn't at the elite level you see on TV, but I put in 31 hours a week in the gym and traveled around the nation for competitions. Toward the end of my career my version of a workout was striving for excellence at all costs, and pushing past the pain unless I was seriously injured. It has been a hard paradigm to unlearn.
Fast forward 10 years and I've been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had to have my thyroid removed and now remain dependent on medication to replace what my thyroid once did. The medication does its job well enough, but it is no substitute for the real thing. I've never been able to gain back the energy and stamina I once had.
It wasn't until quite recently that I have given up my quest to gain the energy and stamina of my former athlete and pre-thyroidectomy self. It feels so silly to write those words because it is slightly absurd for a 40 year-old to think she can re-gain her athletic prowess at 15. Silly or not, that's the truth.
Fortunately, one of the perks of being a coach is you are surrounded by good coaches in your life. Last spring I was invited by my first coach, Julia Lynton Boelte (who helped me to transform my work life) to participate in the Whole Life Challenge (I highly recommend looking into it if it is new to you), which focuses on seven areas of wellness and encourages participants to make incremental changes to build off of to create a healthier life. It is really doable -- we're talking 10 minutes a day of exercise and making sure you get an additional 15 minutes of sleep than your usual. The seven areas are exercise, hydration, sleep, mobilization, lifestyle, nutrition, and reflection.
I did well enough on my first challenge, but I was definitely still competing with myself, complete with an inner gremlin who heckled at me from the sidelines for being so out of shape. I think he may also have carried a cattle-prod to shock me on days when I was lagging behind.
This fall I have been invited to participate on another Whole Life Challenge team by my coaching certification cohort-mate, Fran Mason, who specializes in wellness for women in midlife. I was fortunate to have some one-on-one sessions with her before the challenge began. She helped me to see that I wasn't a competitive athlete anymore, and that I was engaging in self-are to improve my life, and not make it more miserable. She also gave me permission to do nothing (my version of nothing, at least) on the days when I felt exhausted to the core. Or more accurately, her expert coaching helped me to give myself permission.
And then something clicked. It was a moment of insight at its finest. I was reading the Whole Life Challenge materials before it began -- essentially the same copy as what I read last spring -- and I saw it with new eyes. As I read the website header, What would it be like to take really good care of yourself for 8 weeks?, I realized that I didn't have to compete against myself or cattle-prod myself and crush each of the seven challenge areas everyday. I simply had to rise to the best of my ability to the occasion of caring for myself in each of the seven areas on any given day.
I am beginning to see the building blocks of the Whole Life Challenge as medicine rather than obstacles to overcome. Some medicine tastes better than others, but if it is good medicine, it is going to help rather than harm me.
Today I'm home on the sofa experiencing the change of season cold that my son brought home from preschool. The day will tell which of the challenge areas I will rise to, but I'm already well on my way to meeting my hydration quotient. After I dropped off my kiddo, I stood in my kitchen for a few minutes thinking about the best self-care for the moment. I decided on a wellberry tea, vitamin D, and no ibuprofin (to make sure I don't get a false sense of wellness and overdo it, and in turn not show up properly for my client this afternoon and my family this evening). I may take a gentle 10 minute walk if my body allows it. Time will tell.
Everyone will have their own way of fitting better self-care into their life. I shared my own story to show how the change comes primarily from within.
How is better self-care looking to integrate its way into your work-life equation? I'd love to coach with you on it. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out my website at kaysterner.com to learn more about the process.