There’s so much hype about self-care.  Self-care isn’t a four-letter word, although sometimes we treat it as such.  We apply all kinds of “shoulds” to self-care and along with that is the guilt. But, what does it really mean to take care of oneself?  I know what the opposite means – to put everyone and everything ahead of my own needs.  I’ve been there before.  It wasn’t pretty.  I was stressed out; I gained 40 pounds in three years at a job that was all consuming.  My kids were fending for themselves.  Frozen food and take out were on the meal plan many days a week.  I was having tightness in my chest.  I often had insomnia.  Sugar was my solace.

I was hitting rock-bottom, like an addict. 

Self-neglect is real and pervasive and many leaders experience this.  Whether you’re a leader in a non-profit, an entrepreneur (let’s face it, an entrepreneur is a leader acting on their passion), a leader at a large organization, or a new leader, self-neglect can sneak up and bite you in the ass.  It usually doesn’t happen all at once and that’s the scary part.

Little by little, I stopped exercising.  I didn’t have time for that.  I went to work early, stayed late, and felt that I had to be at all the weekend events that were part of the organization.  I started going to bed later and later attempting to get all the house chores done.  My friends didn’t recognize me.

What happened next probably saved my life.

I wish I could say that I had the courage to quit that job, or to set up much better boundaries.  I’d like to say that would have happened had we stayed.  Thankfully, for me, my husband took a job that required us to move, which required me to quit my job.  I don’t know if I would have had the courage to quit, or if the job would have killed me, but either way, I wasn’t in a position to make a decision.

Happily, we moved to an area called lake country.  Our home is surrounded by trees, acres of wooded land, lakes, and animals.  Within one mile, there are four lakes.  Within forty miles there are about sixty lakes.  Nature is all around us and I began to spend a lot of time outside.  I walked daily with our husky, Sasha.

Day by day, the layers of stress wafted off of my body.  It felt like I was rising toward the surface of a great abyss.  I worked from home then, part-time, and enjoyed being able to make meals for my family and be there when my kids arrived home from school.   I took this time to reset myself.  Granted, I didn’t make the choice to leave the job, but it may have saved my life.

True self-care is living in the moment.

True self-care for me is recognizing what it takes to help me live in the moment and pausing to anchor that feeling.  Because I’m often in my head, hashing the past or worried about the future, connecting to my body and getting out of my head, helps me tremendously to be alive in the present.

True self-care is getting out the door to take a long walk – frankly, any length of walk.  It’s having a glass of warm water with lemon before my coffee in the morning (try it!).  It’s taking 10 minutes of my day to meditate and pray alongside my new found friend, the Calm app.  It’s having a cup of tea in the afternoon, and taking another short walk outside.  It’s making a green smoothie most mornings.  It’s going to bed at 9:30 p.m. most nights.  It’s going to see a wonderful chiropractor to mend an old back problem.

True self-care is all the little things that over time add up to minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years of living more fully, more alive, more present, and more healthy.

I’m now on a mission to add those little things in my day that all add up to self-care.  I don’t always want to do them, but I remember how they make me feel and I remember how self-neglect feels too.  And then, I count 5-4-3-2-1 (thanks Mel Robbins!) and just do it.  I’m not perfect, but I’m on a path.  A little bit better, every day, forever – on a path to take care of me, so that I am around to take care of others.  Will you join me?