You’re overwhelmed at work. You have a ton of projects piling up at home, and your calendar is packed with overdue tasks. To make room for all of this stuff, you skip lunch, stop going to the gym, and forget about your social life entirely. When we’re stressed, self care is usually the first thing to go. And that only makes things worse.
As fluffy and indulgent as the phrase “self care” may sound, it’s just a few basic habits that are crucial to your functioning. Most of us grew up believing that the more you sacrifice, the bigger the reward. In high school, for example, I once signed up for a debate tournament and forced myself to stay up all night preparing. I figured pushing myself to the point of exhaustion had to pay off. Of course, the next day, I was so exhausted I could barely form coherent sentences, and I tanked.
The point is, it’s easy to take the “hard work pays off” adage too far, to the point that it becomes counterproductive. Your abilities are worn. Your skills aren’t as sharp. You lose focus. You might think you’re working hard, and maybe you are in some ways, but you’re not working efficiently.
It’s easy to neglect taking care of ourselves because when we’re busy and overwhelmed, even a small reprieve feels like a luxury. So actually taking time to eat lunch, exercise, and hang out with friends? That just feels like slacking.
That mindset backfires, though. Self care actually helps you make progress faster for a few reasons:
We’ve all been there: you push yourself to the point that you can’t take anymore so you just give up. Self care helps you avoid getting to that point.
A small amount of stress can serve a purpose, but after a while, it just breaks down your mind and body. Taking care of yourself means keeping your stress from taking over so you can function at full capacity.
When I was stuck on a complicated math problem in school, my teacher would suggest walking away and coming back—taking a break, basically. Breaks are the epitome of self care, and studies show they’re great for helping you perform better.