5 ways for busy people to practise self-care

In a year marked by global change and upheaval and concerns about health, the concept of self-care has come into sharp focus. For those in leadership and high performance roles, managing the demands of daily life is nothing new; but as this year unfolded, the challenges of working from home, professional and personal isolation and uncertainty over the state of the world will no doubt have taken a toll. To help you move forward into the new year and a positive new phase, consider these expert tips for meaningful steps you can take in the interests of self-care.

1. Make it a priority to make time

Nothing is more worthy of carving out time than your own wellbeing. You may have heard about the concept of ‘golden hour’ after the Wall St Journal reported that 4am is the most productive hour of the day. Business leaders such as Richard Branson are said to swear by the daily practice of waking up at 5am to achieve greatness; while Apple CEO Tim Cook is known to start his day at 3.45am.

But Jay Shetty, the former monk, renowned podcaster and purpose coach, suggests a less drastic approach by easing into a wake-up 15 minutes earlier than usual, building up to 30 minutes after a week, then an hour. “Don’t pick up your phone for at least those bonus fifteen minutes,” he advises. “Give your brain this time to set a tone for the day ahead.”

“Once you’ve created space in the morning, it is yours alone; nobody else controls how you use it,” he says in his book Think Like a Monk. “Given how much of our time is controlled by our obligations — job, family, etc — this free time is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves… How will you choose to spend it?”

2. Nourish yourself

When it comes to self-care and a fresh start, focusing on your health and nutrition can make a huge impact — especially if you’ve been relying on quick fixes without a lot of consideration towards how you’ve been fuelling your body.

Singapore-based health coach and chef Elika Tasker sees how sub-optimal nutrition manifests. “The brain and gut are directly connected through chemicals and hormones such as neurotransmitters. What we eat directly affects the bacteria in our gut and therefore can be sending wrong messages and impacting our mental and emotional wellbeing, she explains. “For high performers to have high cognitive function it’s imperative that they have a healthy gut. Small symptoms such as brain fog, belly bloating and digestive unease can all be symptoms of an unhappy gut and connected to an unhappy mind.”

Elika says common signs of fatigue and burnout symptoms include disturbed sleep patterns, poor digestion, skin breakouts or poor memory. “I look at stimulants that could be affecting sleep patterns, such as late afternoon coffees, blue and white lights after sunset… and I look for nutrient deficiencies and allergies or intolerances to food groups and recommend a genetic-customised diet,” she explains.

But the first, basic step you can take, Elika explains, is to find a way to incorporate green vegetables — the most nutrient-dense foods — into every meal. “Think spinach at breakfast or a green smoothie; broccoli at lunch; a green superfood sachet or some moringa stirred into some coconut water as an afternoon pick-me-up,” she suggests.

For ongoing support, a coach can provide the accountability and expertise to help you achieve meaningful change. “The best at what they do always have someone to highlight their strengths and support their blind spots,” shares Elika. “You are making a personal investment in yourself so that every part of your life can be levelled up, from work, relationships to self-care. It also allows you to save time in trying to find the answers to the aspects of life that you don’t have expertise in.”

Tips for self care: focus your energy. Stretching and exercise help with stress.

Self care is about managing your energy wisely. What energises you and what areas in your life would benefit from more recovery?

3. Tap into the 60-second reset

No matter how time-crunched you are, you will have a minute to spare to help you reset, if you need it. Ariana Huffington’s Thrive Global platform, dedicated to improving resilience, health and productivity, has developed the concept of the 60-second Reset to help people manage stress and regain motivation.

“I use my reset many times a day; it takes 60 seconds,” she told The New York Times. “You basically put together the things that are joy triggers. It could be photos of people you love, pets, quotes, landscapes, music you love, a breathing pace.” This micro moment, that you take to focus on sources of happiness and contentment can help bring you back to centre or a place of calm. “Gratitude is the greatest antidote to stress,” Huffington said.

Consider compiling quotes that give you perspective, or artwork that inspires you as part of your own 60-second Reset to revisit throughout the day and keep you going.

4. Understand how your energy makes an impact

“Performance, health, and happiness are grounded in the skilful management of energy,” says Dr Jim Loehr, performance psychologist and co-founder of the Human Performance Institute (HPI). Originally a training course to help elite athletes and military special forces to perform at their peak, HPI has evolved to help high-level professionals retain focus, understand their purpose and commit to their physical and mental wellbeing — no matter how stressful the situation.

The key, according to HPI, is managing your energy through strategic recovery. This could involve getting up to move after a session of serious focus, or dealing with a complex task. Or doing something that gives you pleasure after a stressful day, such as reading a book or going for a swim in the pool. Coaches at HPI prompt participants to consider: Where in your life do you need more recovery? Skilfully investing energy — not just time — in things and people you care about can create harmony and fulfilment in stressful times.

5. Consider new ways to protect yourself against stress

Stress in unavoidable, but it doesn’t need to guide your life or affect who you are. You may have already explored meditation, or discovered that some intense exercise helps you de-stress. But have you considered the instant impact of reaching out to hold someone’s hand? Dr James A. Coan, who specialises in psychology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia, conducted an experiment during which he found that the simple act of holding someone’s hand can ease stress in a threatening situation (in this study, a mild electric shock) — and the results were stronger when the participants in the study were holding their partner’s hand. When you’re in need of some care, never underestimate the power of human connection.

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