Self-care

chain

My “self-care chain”

I’ve been reading a number of posts lately, and thinking in general, about self-care. Two of my favorite recent ones have been this one, on Scary Mommy, about the burdens moms carry, and this one, on Tenure She Wrote, about self-care for academics (and caregiving roles more generally).

I’ve been thinking about self-care a lot because I’m going through a rough term. Too much work, too much stress, too many responsibilities. I do what I can with the time I have, but it’s never enough to make more than a tiny dent in my to-do list. I feel overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time.

The final straw came this weekend. I’d barely slept all week due to insomnia, went to bed early on Saturday night to try to chip into the sleep deficit—and woke up 4 hours later. Nothing worked in terms of getting back to sleep. In my overtired state, my brain went on overdrive, and I had an ugly, full-on freak out session about my life, which is exactly what one wants to do at 4:30am on a Sunday.

A long run and a nap later that day helped me regain some perspective on the situation. I realized that I couldn’t do much about my workload, but I could take steps to better manage my stress, and those steps needed to involve some regular/daily commitment to self-care. And also, that this extreme workload situation was temporary—once winter term is over, things will get MUCH better and about five orders of magnitude more manageable. Basically, I just need to get through the next 44 days of craziness.

My son and I made a “kindness chain” for the holidays in December, both as a way to count down the days until Christmas and as a way to infuse the season with meaning: each link listed either a fun thing to do as a family or a way to give back to the community (random acts of kindness, expressing appreciation, donating to charity, etc). I decided to borrow the idea and make a “self-care” chain. Each link in the chain represents a day (weekends included) between now and the last day of winter term classes. Each link in the chain contains a small thing I’ll do that day to take care of myself.

Each day, I remove a link and do whatever’s listed on the link, whether that’s “color for 10 minutes” (yesterday’s link) or “drink tea before bed” or “buy a trashy magazine”. I also have some gratitude things in there, like performing random acts of kindness, and some future-planning things, like listing 3 books I’ll read for fun this spring. The things are small and easily doable, and they are all things that bring me joy, so that I can (and will be inclined to) fit them in on even the craziest of crazy days.

The length of the chain reminds me that this crazy time has a finite duration, as well as to take one day at a time. It’s a visual reminder to not let myself get overwhelmed by my situation. Just the simple act of putting it together helped me feel like I had more control over things. And my kids are pretty fired up about it too—they grew impatient yesterday morning waiting to see what was on today’s link, and my daughter joined me for my coloring session last night before bed. I like that I’m modeling healthy behavior for them, because I don’t always model handling stress well (and that’s something I definitely want to change).

I’m excited to see how this experiment goes, and how effective it is in helping me manage my stress. And hopefully this experiment will train me to take care of myself every day, even without needing an external prompt to do so.