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‘To Your Own Self Be True’

Many of today’s social media trends are turning towards being more compassionate towards each other. It’s no coincidence that the term #bekind started circulating so widely after news broke of a popular TV presenter taking her own life in early 2020. Suddenly, our minds were sharply turned towards how we interact with each other, and the importance of remaining compassionate and mindful of what else could be happening in someone’s life behind the scenes to make them upset, anxious or vulnerable.

Amidst all of this renewed awareness and vigour to treat each other with respect and kindness, however, there is still one person that many of us are forgetting to take into account. Ourselves. It is much harder, if not impossible, to help others maintain robust levels of good mental health if we ourselves are suffering from an emotional set-back. While we all logically know that it is important to take care of our self-esteem and mental wellbeing, how many of us actually manage to do that in our day-to-day lives?

Four years ago, in 2016, the mental health charity, Mind, carried out its first ever Workplace Wellbeing Index, a survey involving 15,000 employees who were questioned about mental health in the workplace. Just one in four respondents said that they felt able to talk to their manager if they were experiencing a mental health problem.[1] Thus, creating a needless barrier to seeking help for their own wellbeing at work through unwarranted, yet still strongly palpable feelings of embarrassment, guilt or desire not to be seen to make a fuss.

Barriers to self-care

Many people, particularly women, are taught from a very young age to put other people first. We are encouraged to let others go through a door before us, take the last remaining seat on the bus or be the first to choose from a selection of cakes on a plate. Of course, being polite and considerate to others is crucial, and a big part of what makes the wheels of commerce turn, but it is equally important to know when to put yourself and your needs first so that you have enough left in your emotional fuel tank to carry on doing your work, leading your team and offering support when it is needed.

All too often, self-care is confused with being ‘selfish.[1] We often sacrifice our self-care requirements in order to care for someone else, whether or not they really need such a high level of commitment from us – we like to cast ourselves in the role of another person’s ‘rescuer’. However, if we do that too much, then, conversely, this behaviour becomes ‘selfish’ as it stops others from learning valuable life lessons and enabling them to grow as a person and develop their own levels of resilience, stamina and decision-making. By ‘rescuing’ someone else too often and too readily, we can inadvertently force them to remain in a ‘helpless’ condition, becoming more and more dependent on our generosity and support.[2]

Finally, as humans, we tend to lean by watching, listening and trying to make sense of what is going on around us. Therefore, by never putting ourselves first, we teach others to treat us in the same way, leading to a subconscious shift in how they regard us and act around us. As a manager, this can cause untold damage to a team when it starts to lose respect for its leader. After all, if we don’t realise our own worth and entitlement to respect and support, how can we expect others to remember to treat us properly?

‘Because you’re worth it’

This oft-quoted advertising slogan of a leading beauty brand has almost become over-exposed in popular culture; however, it is a powerful message that originated as far back as 1973. ‘Because you’re worth it’ stemmed from female frustration and an ongoing fight against intrinsic sexism within the advertising messages put out during the 1970s.[1] It remains just as powerful, almost 50 years later, and is something that all leaders should listen to and take to heart, both men and women alike.

So, what does self-care look like? Just as we are all individuals, with unique blends of interests, personality traits and motivators, so our approach to taking care of ourselves will be different for each of us. The first step is to take time out to reflect upon how you are feeling right now and what’s causing your mood to be as it is, whether that is good or bad.

Next, make a list of all the issues that are affecting how you feel about yourself and divide them into things that you can directly influence, and things that you are unable to change or affect as an individual. This will help you regain a feeling of control and give you a good starting point for making a plan to improve your own mental health and wellbeing. As you move up the career ladder, responsibilities increase, and the pressure to perform well and avoid failure becomes harder and harder to bear without the safety net of robust help and support.

Look for that support before it becomes too late and you feel overwhelmed. Find someone you trust with whom you feel able to talk things through and work out a plan of action. Ask a trusted colleague to help you go through your entire task list and figure out what must be done right now, what you can delegate to other team members and what can be put on hold until you feel stronger and better able to tackle it. It’s your workload, so take back control and calm any feelings or rising alarm by working out how and when to handle each task, one by one. Encourage your team to do likewise.

Some ideas to finish with

Practise accepting praise graciously – if you have done a good job or achieved something great, then you deserve to hear it, and it makes the person proffering the praise feel better to know you are happy to receive their compliment. Set healthy boundaries and avoid spending time with people who indulge in too much negative talk, or reading too many negative articles or online content.[1]

Look after yourself physically – eat healthily, maintain good hygiene, keep fit and make sure you spend time outdoors every single day. Listen to how you speak to others and yourself and identify patterns when you fall into negative mindsets or phrases. Pause before you react to a situation to work out how it will affect you and whether you really want to respond in the way that immediately springs to mind. Celebrate your achievements, however small they may be, and make sure you praise other people too when they have done a good job. We all need to foster positive relationships with the people around us, so this is a really good way to make both them and yourself feel uplifted.

Finally, start each day by thinking of three things you are grateful for, and try not to go to bed at the end of it without having laughed and smiled as much as possible. Stay true to your core values and treat yourself as you would like your best friend, child or much-loved sibling or parent to be treated – you deserve to be cared for and valued as much as anyone else does. Cut down on the time you spend on social media and stop comparing yourself to other people – to end on another oft-quoted idiom: ‘That way, madness lies![2]

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[6] Quote taken from Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act III, Sc. IV, line 21

Post Author: Gayle Young