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October 11, 2019
Earlier this week, I had a hard day in my pediatric office. I was on my game, trying my best, providing the best care possible. It didn’t matter. When you’re a pediatrician you deal with sick kids and their understandably anxious parents day in and day out, making a few hard ones here and there inevitable. My medical assistant and I hustled as we tried to make sure everyone was taken care of.
We spent all day seeing well and unwell kids, making phone calls to specialists, and rearranging schedules when patients came late, needed more time, or had extra questions. Despite our best efforts and our commitment to top-notch customer service, stressors and time constraints meant we couldn’t please everyone perfectly. I kept up my determination to stay present and mindful, though, looking for opportunities to make connections, set realistic expectations, and think ahead about potential dissatisfiers. My assistant and I weren’t perfect but we were proud of ourselves as we ended the day.
I headed home, letting my early 2000s throwback playlist melt away the day. It was time to get myself out of work mode and back into family mode because, even though the day had been hard, my kids didn’t know that…and they wouldn’t fully understand it if I showed up irritated and weary when I walked through the door. I mean, they would have said they were sorry for me if I had laid out the whole day’s events for them, but they have their own needs at the end of the day—a need to connect with the working parents they’ve been separated from for the last 9 hours. It’s not up to them to take up less space in my life when work threatens to take up way too much.
The door opened as I turned the handle and two excited voices shouted, “Mom’s home!” As my eldest read to me proudly from her chapter book and showed me her “Life Cycle of a Mealworm” art project (oh, how I miss first grade) and my youngest climbed into my lap, I felt my body sinking into my chair—no longer from fatigue but rather from relief. I was back to my happy place. Work can be my happy place, too, but on that day, H
Why didn’t I feel even more tired as two more souls started scrambling for my attention and begging for my focus? Why did that energize and calm me, all at the same time? Because, my friend, knowing that chaos is inevitable in my work life and in my home life, I planned ahead. I took the time I needed that morning before the day got going to take care of myself. I prioritized self-care preemptively because I knew that I would be taking care of everyone else later on.
I follow a set self-care schedule. It’s even on my calendar. I attend my self-care appointments just like I would any other appointment.
That’s why, at 6 am that morning, I was at the gym, riding on a stationary bike to Lizzo, the lights turned down low, the music turned up loud, my heart beating strong in my chest, covered in sweat, feeling alive.
This is not about self-indulgence— taking care of ourselves is not just talking about massages and pedicures (or even lively exercise classes), though those are really amazing when they happen. This is also not about putting another thing on our to-do lists, something to check off or add to our mental overload. This is about getting intentional around taking dedicated time to stop, regroup, and refocus before moving on to yet another obligation or commitment that is about everything and everyone else in your life but you.
What is something you can do about every other day, almost every single week to take care of yourself? Of course, there are weeks you may do absolutely nothing for yourself, but if you can commit to three times a week most weeks, it will be often enough that you stick with it and it will become a routine. If you can get to your activity more often, awesome, but three times a week is a great start.
I’ll be honest. I have weeks where none of these three days happen. There are days I have to squeeze time in for myself at the very end of the day. Still, I come back to this schedule time and time again. Remember, this is not about checking off boxes. This is about thinking about how much time you’re willing to give yourself and what you would do with that time if you had it.
Physical fitness can give you the chance to deepen your social connections, be mindful, and set goals for yourself. Meditation also checks many of those same boxes but there is something valuable in moving our bodies as a way to clear the mental and physical cobwebs away.
Maybe exercise is not your thing. My husband prefers setting aside time to go to football games with his buddies or heading out to a restaurant with close friends. Your version of self-care could be sitting quietly looking out at a view or at a coffee shop reading a magazine. Choose a routine that works for you, not that fits other’s expectations or sounds good to everyone else. This is not about them, it’s one hundred and eighty percent about you.
My self-care schedule takes six hours a week, sometimes less, but it makes all the difference in the world. And, I find the more I commit to spending a few regular, dedicated hours on myself throughout the week, the easier it is to find other opportunities, even small moments, to slow down and focus in so I can continue to keep pace with my life (for more on how to simplify things so the pace of your life isn’t so fast, click here).
You may be thinking (or have been taught by someone else) that taking care of yourself, especially as
This is why I choose not to live a frantic, harried
I don’t want the best moments of my life, the ones I’ll remember forever, to be lost to glazed eyes and exhaustion. I don’t want to give myself or my kids my leftovers, the dregs of my day, the crumbs that are left after I take care of everything else. Let’s be intentional enough with our time so we don’t miss out on the moments that matter.
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