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The Importance of Self-Care for Individuals and Organizations

A chat with Joyce Odidison.

While self-care should be an integrated part of our daily lives, as opposed to something we focus on separately, with September being “Self-Care Awareness Month” it serves as a good reminder that we need to ensure we take care of ourselves. When researching what made people feel and perform their best, it is no surprise that self-care was one of the 12 factors that bubbled up. I caught up with Joyce Odidison, the founder of Interpersonal Wellness Services Inc., and the creator of the Wellness Improvement System® (WIS) framework. Joyce works with a range of organizations to help them create a culture of wellness and has an upcoming Global Workplace Wellness Summit to focus on wellness approaches, employee engagement in wellness initiatives and leadership, as well as looking at how to take wellness programs to the next level. Since self-care is something that we so often sacrifice – for that work deadline, that meeting, or that other responsibility – yet, it is something that is critical for us to be healthy and happy, I thought it would be interesting to get her views on self-care and how organizations can support healthy employee behaviors.

Let’s start at the beginning, why is self-care so important?

“Self-care is important because it reflects everything about us, even how others perceive us. When we care for ourselves we have higher levels of self-esteem and present ourselves with confidence. When someone meets us for the first time, they make a judgment in a matter of seconds and you can tell when someone is not placing importance on self-care. However, being well on the physical level is not the only important element of self-care, it needs to be holistic and not just physical because that is what people see.

What many people do not realize is that energy emanates from us – it is our energy that will send the message as to our true level of self-care. One of the things that I talk about in my book is “social vibrations”, the energy that we emanate subconsciously, which is generated from internal self-care. This is the spiritual wellness, taking the time to develop an internal balance and feeling good about ourselves, which is all a part of self-care. There is an intrinsic connection between what is happening inside of us and on the outside.

Self-care requires a holistic perspective – internal, external, social, and your environment, are all pieces that will impact your self-care. Not having good relationships with friends and family, or times to socialize or celebrate, will detract from your self-care. As humans, we need to empathize with others, celebrate with others, and socialize with others – our brains need it.”

Self-care is about putting importance on yourself and your relationships.

This is so true! We can put on a “happy” face or act a certain way, however when we do not feel good, or feel off, others can feel it. Our work with people and organizations on developing positively energized cultures has shown us the power of really understanding how mindsets and behaviors play a fundamental role in how productive and engaged people are, as well as how fulfilled people feel. The pattern we are seeing more and more of, is that people are needing to drive greater congruence between their values and everything else around them – from their work to their relationships, to their own behaviors.

Self-care was one of the 12 factors of positively energized people that we had found through our data modeling process, looking at hundreds of data sources spanning decades. We found it went beyond the foundation of nutrition, physical movement, and rest. It included underlying behaviors and ways of thinking such as self-compassion and managing overly harsh or critical inner voices. We also found that it is the thing that is often first sacrificed for other demands – either work efforts, other life responsibilities, or for the needs of others. 

Why do you think people seem to so easily neglect their self-care?

“The most common reason is simple, we get busy. People get busy and overwhelmed. Our task list piles up. But, for self-care to become a priority, it doesn’t just happen. You have to plan it in. 

I remember when I moved from my home office into an office building. I needed to make a conscious effort to plan for self-care. Eating properly and feeding my family healthy, nutritious meals is important to me, so, I had to think about how I could do that now that I had to commute. When you work outside of your home, the reality is different. How could I make sure meals were prepared as I needed them to be? I had to plan them in. I decided to cook meals ahead of time on Sunday’s, when I had the time to plan, to be creative, and had the mental space to think about nutritional balance.

I knew that if I came home tired, dinner would be a hustle of whatever I could find, depending on how tired I was, how I felt, or the type of day I had, which could be very unhealthy. In order to not compromise on how and what my family and I ate, I knew I had to plan ahead. So, I cook a few meals on Sunday that we can eat or freeze. However, it is important to realize that this doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with the plan. Things come up, so you need that flexibility. But, by having a plan and taking action, you give yourself your best chance of healthy self-care habits.

It is about understanding what is important to you. 

For me, eating healthy is something I don’t want to compromise.”

Very true, especially with the always on and connected world we live in. The to-do list is never-ending. We also find that some people tend to feel guilty when they spend time on themselves rather than doing that piece of work or doing something for someone else, which can easily lead them to neglect their self-care efforts. However, there is truth to the saying – to be our best for others, we have to be our best for ourselves. Just like placing your own oxygen mask on first in a plane before helping others, by feeling good and energized yourself, you will have more to give and can better support others. When we are emotionally drained, or are burned out, or don’t feel good about ourselves, we don’t have anything else to give to others. Planning can help you make space for each of the areas that keep us happy and well – helping others, professional satisfaction, taking care of ourselves, and nurturing relationships that matter to us.

Even knowing this, people still find it tough.  Why is it so easy for people not to plan?

“It goes back to commitment. Often, we think of things we “have to do” rather than what behaviors align with what we are committed to. When I go on the treadmill every morning, I think to myself “this is my medication”. I don’t feel like it, however, I am committed to being disease free. You need a cause you are committed to.

If you are committed to the right thing, cultivating the right habits will become easier. Very few are committed to eating lettuce and veggies all the time, so you need to find something strong enough to be committed to. For me, I am committed to not having a lifestyle-related chronic disease – and my habits support this commitment.

Another point is that self-care should not be left up to feelings. One thing we work with people on is an emotional cleanse. The understanding that our emotions are not us. Just because I have angry feelings, I don’t have to become angry, I am still Joyce. Joyce may experience anger, but Joyce has a choice in how to respond. This understanding, combined with planning ahead, can help keep self-care on track so that we do not sacrifice our own care when we experience negative emotions or find ourselves rushed.”

This also correlates to our findings in two areas. Firstly, the benefits of reframing behaviors as something that enables you to achieve a goal, or as something aligned to your values, rather than something you “should” do or “must” do. When we think we have to do something it can cause us to think of the behavior as a burden or cause us to feel pressured by it, which can cause us to feel heightened levels of guilt when for some reason we don’t do it. This brings us back to your point about planning but being flexible. Things will come up, that dinner with clients, a birthday dinner, or a late work night for a deliverable so you that can’t make it to the gym…in these moments it is important to not dwell in guilt. When you are trying to engage new, healthy behaviors, it is important to check in with yourself, see how you are doing, and seeing how you can make it easier for you to engage the new behaviors. A part of self-care is compassion for yourself and not beating yourself up as you work to create lasting habits that lead you to a healthier, happier you.

Secondly, leaning into your emotions and navigating moments in which you find yourself in a negative space can help people move past challenging situations. Identifying your triggers, understanding when you are experiencing frustration, anger, or disappointment, and being able to process it, enables you to respond in the best way, rather than being reactive or end up working against your self-care – whether that be overindulging in sugary foods, drinking, or ruminating and worrying so that you don’t sleep.

These are great insights for the individual who wants to place importance on their self-care, however, we spend so much time at work – what does self-care mean for organizations?

“Because organizations are made up of diverse people, this will have a diverse picture. However, every organization should have a culture of self-care and wellness. One way to create this is to make sure that self-care is built into the decision-making processes within the organization. 

While many organizations have some wellbeing standards, such as healthy food options, or fitness initiatives, many people come to me with difficulties during times of change, stress, conflicts, or because they are experiencing resistance. It is important for organizations to support their people through difficult situations. For example, if there is a merger, rapid growth, or down-sizing, it is important to plan for the self-care piece. Say you know there will be tighter deadlines, then you need to think about what decisions you have to make as an organization to make sure people are not burning out. Maybe you need to make sure people are encouraged to take some extra breaks, maybe you need to make some staffing decisions or rotations, but it comes down to asking yourself what you can do to keep your people well?

It is very easy to get focused on a project or some work you are doing, and just sit there for hours on end. But that isn’t good for your brain, your body, or any part of your anatomy! While people can take actions to help them implement wellness activities – for example, I have a reminder at set time intervals to remind me to get up and stretch or do some movement – organizations have to encourage the behaviors. As an organization we can build these pieces into our workplaces, however, it has to come from leadership too. If employees see their leaders walking around and moving while taking a call, stretching, or taking a moment for a break, then they will emulate this. 

Leaders have a responsibility to ensure self-care becomes a part of their organization.

Another part of this is making sure that wellness is not isolated. That there is core messaging around it. I remember working with HR and leadership at a large organization, talking about respect and wellness in the workplace. Later, when I asked some people what was happening with their EAP Program (Employee Assistance Program), they didn’t even know what it was. The messaging needs to be there to maximize the value from all the efforts an organization is doing.”

That is a really important point. Leaders have to role model the behaviors. For example, you can create a lovely break space for employees, but if the culture does not give permission for breaks, or employees feel that they will be judged if they are seen taking a break, then the space may never be used. Or, if an organization says they value employees work-life balance, then managers are consistently sending emails on the weekend with requests, the behaviors would not match nor demonstrate the value. This can lead to a feeling of incongruence. Organizations often write their cultural values down but having them demonstrated by leadership through clear behaviors encourages employees to practice self-care.

So, what do you think the next step is for organizations and self-care?

“You can already see the movement to more holistic wellness and integrated wellness. Organizations are starting to realize that wellness, and self-care, cannot be siloed. It cannot be separate. The next thing is to look at more than just supporting “additional” wellness initiatives and looking deeper. Looking at the mindset and developing the right behaviors for healthy employees.

We all know organizations are in the business to make money and we can certainly see some organizational resistance to “take away” from that by investing in wellness. However, self-care actually adds to the bottom line. For example, you can have an employee who is at work for 10 hours, who only really produces for 4, or one who is there for 7 hours, and produces for 5.5 – which would you prefer? Leading organizations think about longevity. They think about what it takes for their people to not be exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed, so they can have a full and rich day.

Looking holistically at wellness, organizations have to also look at the environment. Good relationships at work and harmony in the workplace support self-care. Toxic behaviors such as, bullying in the workplace, or belittling people, are not conducive to self-care. Self-care is supposed to release feelings of stress and tension. However, when we experience these negative behaviors in the workplace it depletes any efforts towards self-care. The interpersonal dynamics are a significant part of self-care that organizations are starting to pay more attention to – the next thing, is driving a true culture of wellbeing.”

We definitely see a trend where organizations are looking for more and asking what’s next.  Looking at how they can go beyond the healthful food options and gym memberships to really support their employees be well, happy, and healthy. Even with corporate wellness being a near 8-billion-dollar industry, we are still seeing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. There is a need for a focus on self-care at the next level, including capabilities such as stress management, resilience, and navigating mental states. This means growth that fosters the mindsets and engages the behaviors that make people feel energized, healthy, and engaged in what they are doing. As the Global Wellness Institute states, “wellness for the mind is on the cusp of a meteoric transformation…mental wellness will develop alongside, yet distinct from mental health, and mental wellness will form a new wellness category, with businesses creating innovative paths to emotional wellbeing and happiness”.

Thanks to Joyce for providing her valuable insights! To conclude, while self-care month is an important reminder to look after ourselves, self-care is something that everyone should practice – from nutrition, to exercise, to getting rest, and being kind to ourselves. It is something that organizations should encourage and support so that it becomes the normal way of being.

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