Wow – what an exhilarating experience! I just returned from the National Association for Professional Women conference in New York City where I spoke on the topic of work-life balance. Star Jones, former co-host of The View, hosted the conference. Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, and Martha Stewart, Founder of Martha Stewart Living and Emmy Award-winning Television Show Host, were keynote speakers.
Balance appeared to be a key theme at the conference. Both Star and Arianna talked about the importance of taking care of self, and the high-powered women on the Power of Networking panel also discussed their challenges and successes with managing work and the rest of their lives.
For Arianna Huffington it took fainting from exhaustion on her desk, breaking her cheekbone and getting five stitches to make her slow down at work. Arianna shared her fainting incident with the audience. Five years ago, she was building the Huffington Post and had taken her daughter on a tour of colleges. Once her daughter went to sleep at night, Arianna would start working. When she came back from that trip exhausted, the fainting incident happened.
That was her wake-up call. Arianna told the audience she’s “rediscovered sleep”. “I’ve made a lot of changes in my life…I now strive to get seven or eight hours of sleep a night. You need time to recharge.”
Arianna encourages the same sort of stress-free living among her employees. She had two nap rooms installed at the Huffington Post offices, and “they’re full all the time,” she says. The company also offers weekly meditation and yoga classes for employees.
Star Jones had her own wake-up call when, at the age of 47, her doctor told her she needed open heart surgery immediately! Star had no idea her health was at risk. She just didn’t feel right. She became very tired, started having heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Fortunately, Star went to see a doctor, and an echocardiogram revealed she had heart disease.
Star now makes health a top priority and urged audience members to do the same. As a result of her experience, Star is now a National Volunteer of the American Heart Association and is dedicating her “entire life’s work” to raising awareness about the disease.
There’s a key message we can all learn from these speakers. It’s absolutely critical that we slow down and take care of ourselves. Otherwise, we may not have a second chance.
As working women, we often run ourselves ragged. We’re so focused on meeting the needs of others – our husbands, children, or elderly parents – that we neglect our own needs. We put ourselves last! If we continue to do this, we won’t have anything left to give others.
Think of yourself as a resource, like a savings account. You want to do everything you can to increase, not deplete it. Anytime you expend energy, you make a withdrawal. When you replenish yourself, you make a deposit. So why not make automatic deposits by renewing yourself on a regular basis? The greatest asset we can invest in is ourselves.
What renews and refreshes you? It’s very personal. For me, it’s playing tennis, hiking, or reading a Danielle Steel novel. For another, it may be listening to classical music or attending a play. For you, it might be a hot bubble bath or a massage.
The Four Dimensions
We need to take care of ourselves not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We need to renew and refresh ourselves in each of these four dimensions.
The physical dimension involves caring for our bodies – getting enough rest and relaxation, eating a healthy, balanced diet, and exercising on a regular basis.
Often busy working women don’t take time out to exercise. I often hear, “I don’t have the time or energy to exercise.” Here’s a tip that worked for me. Wear a pedometer and challenge yourself to get more steps in the day. When I’ve been working at my computer awhile and am ready for a break, I’ll take a short walk outside. Whenever I go anywhere I’ll park farther away and walk the extra steps. Whatever you do, make it fun. If you don’t like your workouts, you won’t stick with it. Choose something you enjoy. If it’s dance, try taking a Zumba Fitness® class. If you have a dog, then take your dog for a walk each day. You’ll be amazed at how invigorated you’ll feel.
The mental dimension involves activities that keep your mind sharp. Reading classic literature will stretch and improve your mind. If you enjoy writing, then consider filling up a journal with your thoughts and insights, or write letters/emails to friends and family. If you like puzzles, there are numerous types to stimulate the mind – Sudoku, crossword puzzles, mind teasers… My sister starts each day with a cup of coffee and her crossword puzzle.
The emotional dimension involves activities that bring you joy or peace of mind. What brings you joy, delight, pleasure? Many of us enjoy the social connection – spending time, conversing and laughing, with our family or good friends. For others it’s a hobby or a creative outlet like painting or quilting, art or music. I have a friend who finds her spirit soaring when she strolls through art museums.
The spiritual dimension is very personal; it involves connecting with your sense of meaning and purpose. It could be God, peace or nature. It may involve attending church or synagogue, praying or meditating. It might be reading inspirational books, literature that touches your soul. Singing and worshiping are ways we get in touch with our spiritual dimension. And nature is a spiritual source for many. By getting away from the city and hiking out in nature, people can connect with creation.
Be sure to renew yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. By doing so, you’ll have more energy to invest in others. You’ll become a better wife, mother, friend, and employee.
Do you take time just for you? If you’re like most working moms, the answer is ‘no’. In my polls of working women, nearly half indicated that “finding time for myself” was one of the biggest work-life challenges they faced.
Women, in particular, don’t take good care of themselves. By nature we are care givers and nurturers. We don’t need social pressure to transform us into emotional resources for the family. We are programmed somehow that spending time on ourselves will be at the expense of the family, so we…don’t. We are so focused on meeting the needs of others that we forget our own needs. Or downplay them.
Maria, Director of Faculty Development at a large community college district in Arizona told me: “Between work and family, I put myself last. Some days I get so busy, I don’t take time to eat. And now that I’m middle-aged, I need to be concerned about my health too.”
We need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. I think of the airlines; they had it right. Think back to your last flight. At the beginning of each flight, they go through a safety spiel, and it goes something like this. “In the unlikely event of loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the overhead compartment. Place the mask over your face and tighten the straps.” Then they go on to say, “If you are traveling with a small child (or someone who is acting like a child!), then please secure the mask on yourself first, and then assist the child with their mask.” The point is this: we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others, to be the best we can be in each of our roles as wife, mother, and businesswoman.
If you don’t get off the treadmill and take leisure time, there will be serious effects. Lynn was a middle-aged manager at HP, a driven and ambitious woman who worked long hours and always strived to do her best. Like many others, she describes herself as a perfectionist. Because she kept pushing herself beyond her limits, Lynn landed in the hospital with a life-threatening illness. The doctor informed her family she may not make it. Miraculously she did, but while in her hospital bed, Lynn reflected on how she’d been living her life. She knew she’d been given a second chance. This was Lynn’s wake-up call; she made a 180 degree turn, changing jobs to take on a position with far less stress, a position where she no longer managed people but projects. She found time to spend with family and friends. She stopped to smell the proverbial roses and enjoy life. Today, Lynn is happy, healthy and productive. “My friends can’t believe I’m the same person.”
Taking care of you is not selfish; it is necessary for your health and well-being. And anything that keeps you away from being yourself will cause you stress. You matter. And when you believe it and embrace it, you’ll experience freedom.
As busy working women, we oftentimes put ourselves last. We were brought up to be nurturers and caregivers, so this is what we do best. However, sometimes we are so focused on meeting the needs of others, that we don’t take good care of ourselves – especially when it comes to getting enough rest or exercise.
The airlines realize the importance of taking care of oneself. At the beginning of each flight, they go through a safety spiel in which they tell us to put on an oxygen mask in the unlikely event of an emergency. Then they go on to say, “If you are traveling with a small child, then put your mask on first and then assist your child”. The point is that we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.
Taking good care of yourself is critical to your emotional and physical health. If you’re not used to putting yourself first, how can you do so? Here are five tips.
1. Put yourself on the priority list. When you write your “to do” list, be sure to put yourself on the list. Write down something you can do just for yourself. Maybe it’s going for a short walk, listening to music, or reading a book.
2. Schedule it in your calendar. Not only put yourself on the list, but also schedule time on your calendar to do the things you want to do – like shopping or taking a Zumba class. Treat it like a meeting, so you can protect your “me” time.
3. Do it early. Things can get in the way of your personal time, so schedule it early before the complications of the day sidetrack you.
4. Find a partner. Whether it’s having a workout partner, meeting a friend for coffee, or attending a class, you’re more likely to make it happen if you’re accountable to someone else.
5. Go on a mini-retreat. Every once in awhile we need more extended time to ourselves. Take time out once every few months to spend a day at the beach, in the mountains, at a day spa — or wherever will rejuvenate you.
By practicing these tips, you’ll be able to be the best you can be in your various roles – as a wife, mother, friend, and worker.