As I sit on my couch reading my book to relax after a few days of being very ill, I realize that I am struggling with being present. My mind is rapidly shifting from thought to thought–Shame on you! You should be at work! My mind is dictating at me. This forced relaxation comes at my doctor’s order of no work for 5-days, regardless, I feel a knot in my stomach full of guilt for not going immediately back to my busy work schedule.
As I sat there, I began to reflect on how consumed my days were before getting sick. Days filled with over-scheduled work weeks, exhaustion, very few breaks– sometimes none at all, and poor eating habits were what a week looked like for me. While ill, I felt incredibly helpless, weak, uncomfortable, sore, and mentally drained. In some way, my body was turning itself inside out and relocated what my internal symptoms were –mental and emotional signs of illness, and communicating them outward in the form of physical symptoms and spiritual thoughts. If I felt so deathly ill and going to work could potentially risk passing it on to my colleagues, why then, did I feel so guilty about being home? My theory is my lack of self-compassion.
This philosophy is something I’ve recently learned from my therapist, who shared an intriguing article on the topic by psychologist and researcher, Kristin Neff. The report, written by Neff titled “Self-Compassion: Why it Makes Us Happier.” If a thermometer for self-criticism existed, my reading would be at the very top. I over criticize myself for things that have little or no importance to others. I struggled with accepting the fact that being at home and recuperating sickness meant that I would still be considered worthy and capable of doing my job well. And, that my boss will continue to have confidence in my work abilities to perform at my best. Instead, what was going through my mind was, “you should be working right now.”; “you being sick is such an inconvenience,”; “you left so much work unattended,”; “someone else will take over, and you will fall behind.”; “you will get replaced by colleagues who are capable–you can’t miss any days.”; “Keep up! Keep up! keep up!” In conjunction with those negative thoughts going through my head were also those reminding me that I needed to get better.
I don’t work at a company that stringent rules on taking breaks, isn’t sympathetic to one’s health, and doesn’t allow sick days. Instead, it’s the complete opposite. A support system of work-life balance, personal days, and good mental health and stamina to do our best are all accepted, if not encouraged. I know that not all employees are so fortunate to work for the type of company and in an environment that isn’t abased or dehumanizing. For you, I say, remember, you are human, and you are doing your best. My piece of advice to you is if your commute to work consists of a bus or train ride, a walk, or driving a car, use that time for you. I, too, have days when getting to work feels draining, and it’s as soon as I get out of the car and walking the quarter-mile from the commuter lot to the office, I take a few minutes to breathe in some fresh air and remind myself that everything is okay. Your mental clarity and wellness matter. When you’re feeling alone, and if time permits, take a look outside and know that you’re not alone. There’s a vast world out there that wants you and needs your contribution.
From personal experience, self-compassion doesn’t come easy. It takes work to know when to push through the challenge that comes with reminding myself that I am doing my best, and then take time to slow down and the time to exhale. This past week was the first time in a long time that I allowed myself to do that. To you, reader, I ask, please, don’t wait until you’re too ill to function, and appreciate your health. Whether it’s 5 minutes or five days, it’s your time, so take it and own it. Use that time to give your body and mind the kindness to remedy and recharge.
Tips for Using Your Self-Care Day:
1) If you’re like me, and experience guilt for taking a day to recharge, begin by reminding yourself that you deserve it. You will be a better colleague and employee by giving yourself the time to recharge.
2) Taking a day to yourself doesn’t mean you have to stay home in complete silence if that is not what relaxing means to you. Do some house chores, go for a walk, take that workout class you’ve always wanted to try, or cook that recipe you’ve had bookmarked in your web browser for the past six months.
3) Take five minutes to reflect on what the day was like for you. How did taking that self-care day make you feel?