By: Joanne Heyman & Charlotte Lieberman
Integrity is, at its core, being honest and authentic. While there’s certainly value in the search for “work-life balance,” what may be more productive is finding a healthy sense of integration among the different facets of our lives. After all, work is part of our lives, and should not be pushed off into a different realm, one in which we count the minutes until “actual life” begins. But how do we find this sense of integrity in our lives, particularly when work-stress seems to creep home with us no matter what? (Note: Smart phones don’t help with this.) The answer: self-care.
Self-care can have many manifestations. The good news is there is no right answer as to what self-care looks like. It can take the simple form of a good night’s sleep on a regular basis, making sure to eat healthy foods, exercising regularly, meditating, making time to relax and see friends. While these examples of self-care may seem obvious, they’re actually essential elements of feeling happy, productive and fulfilled at work — and in “life.”
While research shows that low to moderate levels of stress can boost productivity at work, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports that stressful work environments actually contribute to increased absenteeism, tardiness and overall negative attitudes from employees. Given the prevalence of stressful work environments (almost 65 percent of U.S. employed adults cite work as a primary source of stress in the American Psychological Association’s most recent “Stress in America” survey), it’s particularly important to establish some kind of self-care routine; that way you can establish healthy boundaries and create a sense of balance, even in the face of a challenging work environment. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. Making time to recharge and tap into your personal sources of inspiration is key when your work is not only demanding but also demands that you be there for others.
Practicing self-care is especially important for those in leadership positions. No matter your personal definition of self-care, it should involve a deep practice of tuning in, tuning out, and being honest with yourself and those on your team. A leader in her own right, Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right-for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Roosevelt’s suggestion is profound, and has tremendous implications regarding the relationship between leadership and self-care. Roosevelt alludes to the need for leaders to take responsibility for their decisions, impulses, feelings, reactions, and mistakes. Great leaders know that they may face challenges to their decisions — in fact, it is almost inevitable — but they also recognize that when those decisions are based on internal beliefs regarding the correct course of action they can stand strong. They are also that much more inspiring as they are leading from an authentic sense of purpose and vision.
Leaders and non-leaders alike can take active steps to ensure they are practicing self-care in and outside of the workplace: sleeping enough so we show up to work rested, meditating so we feel focused, relaxed and balanced and ready to inspire our teams and ourselves to be productive and happy. But it is also important to consider self-care as the optimal response to moments where we have made mistakes. In other words, self-punishment should not be the convenient alternative to self-care in the face of mistakes we’ve made. Kristin Neff, PhD and Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin has written extensively on the importance of a concept she calls “self-compassion.” Neff identifies the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion — noting that self-compassion does not rely on external circumstances, but is always available because each and every human can and deserves to be understood. So part of self-care actually involves the art of accepting each and every part of who we are - and if that includes a mistake in a given moment — that is okay. Neff writes, “...self-compassion spurs us to take responsibility and correct our mistakes — because we care and want to thrive.”
Above all, self-care involves actively setting intentions for yourself — being honest with yourself and others about your needs, desires, fears, and dreams. From this place, we can be authentic leaders, engaged partners, and productive members of any team.