Self-Care* is not Just a Buzzword
Not hugely ill, not I-need-a-doctor ill. Just ill with a cold.
I’m going through three packs of tissues a day, feel like my head is clamped in a high pressure chamber and have little to no energy. And you know what I did in this state?
I went skiing.
I clipped into my skis, headed down a crowded, mixed condition piste at around 40mph and had to stop halfway done. I just needed a moment to let the dizziness pass.
A helicopter whirred in the distance, on its way to rescue an unfortunate tourist.
As I looked around the snowy landscape and out across the cloud below to the next peaks I thought, what the hell am I doing up here?
I was clearly not in a good enough state of health to be whooshing down slippery slopes on two sticks while navigating ski schools, invisible moguls and slushy patches. So why exactly did I find it necessary to crawl out of bed a 7:30am, down some coffee and head up the mountain, despite feeling terrible?
I wanted to make the most of it.
This is not just a case for being on holiday – or in my case, on a ski season – people go to work while ill, go to events while ill, work out while ill and consistently give their time and effort to others, while ill.
But dragging myself up the mountain, to expose myself to harsh physical exertion in sub-zero temperatures, is not making the most of my ski season. I am instead sacrificing my health just so I can feel like I ticked a box that day, that I went skiing because I could and therefore should.
This is madness. There is nothing more important than health, because without health, there is nothing else. So why do we think self-care is just a buzzword, when it should be our number one priority?
How far can you push your body for less important things?
How many injuries have I seen on the mountain because people are on their last day and pushing it too hard?
How many people break something so severely that their ability to ski any time in the future is compromised?
Making the most of something does not mean doing it despite what your body is telling you. Being ill and putting undue pressure on your body when it is not in a fit state to do so, isn’t something to be proud of.
It’s taking the single most important thing, and placing it below the ephemeral.
I’ve spent this morning feeling guilty. I’m sat on the sofa, looking at the mountains yet not skiing. It’s a sunny day and, out of the four months I’m here for, I only have 9 days left. So I feel like I should be skiing.
False priorities = lose-lose
But one of my best friends is flying out here on Saturday and if I ski for the next three days, I won’t have recovered properly. I will be too tired and possibly still ill, thus cheating her out of an energetic host and myself out of a full week of all-day skiing with my friend.
Why have 9 tired, half-arsed days on the mountain when I could have 3 days of lounging around eating blood oranges and drinking green tea, followed by 6 days of non-stop ski holiday fun? Why do I find it so hard to put my health first?
By sacrificing our health to ‘make the most’ of something, we’re doing ourselves and others a huge disservice. If you’re ill, you can’t give your best to someone, whether that’s work or play. So if you go out and do something while you’re feeling crappy, then you’re sacrificing the effort you’re giving to others and the effort you’re giving yourself. Everybody loses. In fact, you might even be passing on your illness to others.
Self-care isn’t a synonym for selfish
A word that has ‘self’ in it doesn’t mean it’s a synonym for ‘selfish’. If you cannot care for yourself above anything else, then you cannot perform at your best. It’s simple.
It takes an incredibly small amount of sleep deprivation to start affecting brain function. So when people say, ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’, it makes me want to say, ‘well then you’ll be sleeping sooner than you think’.
Pushing yourself to the point of illness, injury or some form of physical deprivation, does not make you better or stronger. It makes you weaker and less effective. It might not look as cool in the short term, but people in their 60s who are in full health and are achieving high levels of personal and professional success probably exercise a good level of self-care.
There are lots of books around these days about the power of saying no. Ariana Huffington has been extremely vocal about the importance of sleep and looking after yourself before doing anything else. It’s really a no-brainer – and I hate that term.
If you don’t look after yourself, you’re not just sacrificing yourself. You’re sacrificing so many opportunities, better results, relationships and almost everything else. Doing a presentation while blowing your nose every minute isn’t going to impress anyone.
So instead of wrestling between the desire to go up the mountain and be guilt free, and the desire to just rest here in my apartment – I’m going to put my health first. Because there is literally no downside to doing that.
*If you want to know what self-care looks like, just look at the nearest cat.