For too long, self-care has been a boys’ club. While golf time, “bro” time, and man-cave hours are considered perfectly acceptable ways for men to relax after a hard day, women are sometimes left in the dark.
We don’t necessarily receive the same sort of automatically assumed “time away” to relax, refuel, and care for ourselves. Come 5 p.m., many women make dinner, take care of the household, or keep working ’til they drop in order to prove themselves.
Let’s face it, ladies: It’s time we think more seriously about how we love ourselves. Taking care of ourselves first will help us not only feel better, but — excitingly — nurture our highest potential as well. Here’s how I found my self-grateful groove:
The Power of Self-Love
My journey to taking better care of myself came during my college days, and it’s since proven to be one of the most powerful propellants of my career. As a young woman who started a company while studying to be an engineer, I knew my path wouldn’t be easy.
And after long days of taking classes, seeking internships, responding to requests for proposals, and trying to talk friends into joining my company, I was worn out. But I refused to let myself pause; I kept pushing myself to be more, do better, and sleep less. It was a vicious cycle, and at 26, I had developed a nodule on my vocal cords and various painful health issues.
After years of desperately trying to take my business to the next level, I knew something had to change. I was running my body into the ground, and I was stumped on how to escape the dark place in which I had found myself.
Self-Care Gets a Bad Rap
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Self-love is often looked down upon in the business world as unnecessary at best and lazy at worst, but my medical problems made me realize I needed to practice it to get my life back. Unfortunately, the problem is deeply institutionalised, and many women are hesitant to prioritise themselves, just as I was. With women still making only 74 cents to the dollar, we’re well behind men, and we feel the need to take on more work for less pay to prove ourselves.
In the month after I realized I needed to work less and take care of myself more, I began making changes. I hired a life and leadership coach, and I started reconnecting with the friends I’d lost while driving myself into the ground. I started eating healthy again, forgoing the fast food I’d become dependent on because I didn’t make time for meal prep. I affirmed myself in writing, forcing myself to reflect on the person I wanted to be and the person I had become.
Slowly, over the course of the next four years, I created a new me: I went from being depleted, tired, overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed to overflowing with gratitude, joy, and love.
The Three Tenets of Self-Care
The bottom line is that you must first take care of yourself before you can care for others. Here’s how I learned to put myself first and care for my body and mind:
- Treat yourself like your most beloved partner.
A scene in The Mindy Project, in which Mindy is struggling to appreciate her pregnant body perfectly exemplifies this. Feeling downtrodden and desperate to make peace with herself, she hires a stylist, who asks Mindy to look in the mirror and describe what she sees. Mindy is ruthless, self-deprecating, and eager to point out her flaws, but the stylist interrupts her and says, “What if this were your best friend? Would you say those harsh things about your best friend?” Mindy’s stylist brashly tells her to look back in the mirror and speak to herself as she would to her own best friend.
Unfortunately, this is how too many of us think about ourselves. We might not say it out loud, but we constantly pick on our own flaws and imperfections. It’s not healthy, and it’s not the road to self-care.
Instead, look yourself the mirror and describe five things you like about yourself. Try this each morning, thinking about how you’d talk to the person you love most. How would you help her feel ready to face the day? How would you help her feel confident, loved, and cared for? Use that same language with yourself, you’ll be astonished at how you begin making time for your needs and your own happiness.
- Listen to your body.
My father was a big believer in the value of listening to your body. When I was young, he reminded me time and time again, “Your body knows what it needs, and your body will tell you when it needs it.”
This concept is foreign in our society, and I’d never heard it from anyone else until I visited India and realised it’s a common way of speaking where my father grew up. Here in the U.S., we are taught to listen to magazines, celebrities, calorie counters, fitness trackers; we are told to ignore our bodies and look elsewhere.
Start listening to your body: Feel the sensations in your gut, your heart, and your head. Let your natural signals guide your diet, sleep, and daily habits. When you listen to your body, you eat more healthily, sleep better, take time to relax each night, and create a more fulfilling life for yourself.
- Don’t live your life based on others’ expectations.
Many of us feel the pressure to partake in certain activities because we’re told we should. For example, I’ve been told to practice yoga to calm and center the mind. There’s just one problem: I don’t enjoy yoga, and my body doesn’t call out for it.
Instead, I participate in an Olympic weightlifting club through my gym. Maybe some don’t consider it a “woman’s exercise,” but that doesn’t matter to me: The charge I get through my central nervous system refuels my tanks and centers my mind more than yoga ever has. Enjoy whatever activity feels good to you — not whatever the latest trend in self-care happens to be.
The key is to make ‘you-first activities’ a high priority. As a leader, you don’t have the luxury of putting yourself on the back burner. It’s vital to the success of your company that you are on top of your game at all times. My gym time, meditation practice, my phone calls with my grandma — these activities are the first tasks on my calendar, and they don’t budge for any reason.
As a female business leader, you’re already extraordinary and deserve your own best care. Women might be 50 percent of the population, but we hold just 14.2 percent of the top leadership positions in S&P 500 companies.
Love yourself like the strong, successful woman you are: You deserve it.
Sumi Krishnan is a serial entrepreneur, singer/songwriter, barbell enthusiast, and founder of sumikrishnan.com. She is passionate about helping other badass leaders on a mission live lives of holistic success while embracing their most meaningful impact.