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Self-Care & Self-Employment: a necessary conversation

Self-care is a term people are fast becoming more and more familiar with. And for good reason, there is no doubt that finding or learning new ways to cope with stress is important - and for so long there has been a focus on ‘hustle until you die’ mentalities - even more so for us in freelancer world. So, for the self employed, we ask, what does self-care have to do with self employment?

It’s basically a permanent topic when you are talking with friends, and yet it remains a different question than work-life balance, and it’s no surprise - surely everyone you know is experiencing their life get faster and more hectic. It’s actually very strange the term self-care is so foreign or such a new-age, occasionally considered ‘Leftist’ philosophy... It is still far too much for us all to cope with both at work and at home in private. If you work independently, you have to be available anyway 24/7 sometimes, and in private life you have family, friends, hobbies and health all waiting for your attention. If you want to keep up, there are hardly any chances to refuse the rising tempo and that can make it really hard for self employed people especially. This is why it is becoming more and more important to create opportunities for yourself, in between the workload to calm down, to relax and to do something good for yourself. Sounds really easy, or? To take care of oneself. 

However, for many of us, we find ourselves having difficulties with that, because first of all who really knows how to do it, without actively learning it. Second, most of all, the time is missing (business and hustle always seems to come first!). Or thirdly, some may find it just silly or choose to demonize it as esoteric nonsense (Should I put purple flowers and fragrance oil in the room or what?).

One thing is very clear at this point:  the number of mental illnesses such as burnout, depression and similar has increased rapidly in recent years and it does not look like it is slowing down. Stress can also cause many other illnesses, such as heart and circulatory problems, stomach and digestive problems, anxiety, sleep disorders, and more. In the past the need to do something for themselves was simply ignored or ridiculed, but it’s 2019 now, and we have a vast amount of studies today that prove that it is essential for one's physical and mental health to take care of oneself. The term for it is self-care. (Besides, what is wrong with some flowers or nice smelly oils, anyway?)

What is behind this term?

Understanding the term need to go in steps. Firstly, it is that practising self-care is the first step to recognize and understand one's own emotional and physical needs. The second step is to learn to prioritize these needs and care about their fulfillment - whatever it takes. This will help you to be in tune with your needs and gain clarity, moving from strength to strength. It is essential to accept that self care and your own needs belong together. More simply, some people would be inclined to say self-care is when we understand everything we do to promote and support the maintenance of our mental, physical and emotional health.

Sounds very plausible in theory. In fact, some people can easily implement this in their lives. Unfortunately for most however, the reality is different. Humans push our own needs aside,  and often do not want to know about it or deny our deep-seated needs, or simply ignore them. If we were to ask 100 to answer these questions honestly, the answers would certainly be sobering. Some will probably not have access to their own needs at all, because they have never learned to perceive them at all. Another part of our souls may know deep down what is really going on, but for some reason we can not admit that (out of fear, shyness, lack of acceptance for oneself). And most of it will say: I'm happy when I get things done everyday, both professionally and privately. For self-care, I simply have no time "to take care of myself". And here is the proof in the pudding. One thing is clear, you are already trapped in a vicious cycle at this stage and pretending you cannot make time for yourself will likely make you feel worse. The good news: there is always a way out.

For whom self-care is particularly important

Self-care is important for all people. For some maybe a bit more than for others. As already mentioned, our lives are becoming faster and faster. We all have to recognise that. But there are certainly people who are more susceptible to stress or simply more challenged than others because of their family situation or job. These include, for example, mothers or fathers who have to provide for a large family. Or occupational groups like people who have a lot of responsibility in their work. This naturally includes all those who are self-employed. Anyone who is self-employed is always on duty. The expression 24/7 has already been mentioned in this article. Constant digital presence is also now apart of daily stressors, especially those that rely on it for professional and self-promotion. Of course, it's about much more than just working hours or using digital media. 

As a self-employed person, you have a high responsibility - for all areas of "your company" that would otherwise cover colleagues, supervisors or bosses. You are, as it were, solely responsible for all "divisions". If you also have a family to feed, the responsibility increases even more. That's a lot of work and that puts pressure, especially when things are not going well. So, you'll turn the level higher, work even more, have less time, and in the end, you'll get even more pressure. Time for you? Seems unlikely.

However: we are speaking in terms of ‘’extreme’’ situation in which all those affected should pull the ripcord. However, in order not to let it get that far, we have to learn to start caring much earlier and take personal self-care and pursue it consistently - even in stress-free times. Your body and soul will thank you.  

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Concrete steps

The topic of self-care and one's own needs is extremely extensive. And depending on your personality, it may be harder for some to even notice. Nonetheless, everyone should take care of it - so there are a few tips and rules that you should take to (d) be a matter of course and priority in everyday life.

Self-care in the emotional context

Mental well-being is so important for a healthy body. What is good for your soul, only you can know. But with the following examples you are already on a good way:

  • Reduce stress levels: try to reduce stress in your life as much as possible. In phases where there is no other option, the right stress management is important. If you feel under pressure in these phases, try to figure out how to take that pressure off by seeking help, delegating tasks or assessing if should you be asking for help? or creating free time through other time management. In addition, you can look for relaxation techniques that help you to (in between) turn off and recharge your batteries and energy. These include: breathing exercises, meditation, positive affirmations, muscle relaxation, yoga, qigong or tai-chi - and this is best done regularly. It can also be a different sport or even just a walk every day.
  • Make sure you have enough contact with family and friends. It should always be people who do you good and above all respect your needs and support you in them. 
  • Very important is the topic of fun and joy. Those factors that are simply essential to get back into balance and bring you into other moods. Anything you like is allowed: a fun evening with friends, a comedy in the cinema, dancing, or even a hobby you enjoy. Laughter is the best medicine! There is nothing more to add at this point.
  • The emotional component, in particular, has a decisive influence on our well-being and our energy reserves. If you are overburdened or negatively charged in one area or even several, it is always advisable to seek the help of a professional. Sure, you can talk to friends and that too can help. But in some phases you feel at a loss, so you are in good hands with a coach or therapist.

Self-care for the body

Our body always shows us what it needs or where there are weak points. Never fails! For better or worse… We easily follow it, also for better or worse. It is more difficult when it comes to finding the reasons for physical exhaustion and to do something about it. In addition to self-care in the mental health realm, you can also do this for your body:

  • Exercise regularly. Be sure to choose a sport that is really fun and enjoyable for you. It's no use signing into the gym if you hate doing device training. You're more likely to not get up and find 1,000 reasons why you can not visit the studio today. So, maybe some Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Exercise does not have to be a half-marathon, to quote Adriene ‘’find what feels good’’.
  • Watch your body and the signals it sends you. When you feel exhausted, take breaks. Are you ill? Take a break. I know, the reasons why this is not possible as a self-employed person are all understandable. It may mean a much longer loss of your productivity if you try and work through this sickness though.
  • Pay attention to a healthy diet and sufficient drinking
  • Sleep well. If you have trouble getting to bed in the evening, then breathing or meditation exercises are also recommended.
  • Treat yourself to regular breaks during the day/week, treat yourself to short breaks on the weekend, go on holiday during the year.
  • Whether you work at home or in a rented office, look for ergonomic office furniture, so the table and chair must fit and be tailored to your body. The external environment is also important - try and keep your space in a workflow that suits you!

When you do something for your body, it supports your mental health and vice versa. This is an undeniable and quite beautiful part of our existence - not to get too existential on you here… But, when you pay attention to both, listening to your needs, or learning to do so, you will be much better at dealing with stressful and difficult situations. And in good times, it will help make you more energetic, successful, committed, and just happy.