“People more than things have to be restored, renewed and revived” – Audrey Hepburn
For many people who are working towards social change, whether as a nonprofit organization, a social enterprise, or a for-profit social purpose business, the idea of self-care evokes mixed feelings, including guilt and selfishness. Also, the term ‘self-care’ itself has become trendy, and social change agents prefer to set the trends rather follow them.
Self-care looks different to each person and every business. For me, going back to school to complete my MBA was a demonstration of self-care. After years of trying to figure out this business stuff on my own, school helped me fill the gaps that had been growing over time. My learning fixed problems and created ease, allowing me to feel more confident, strong and well.
Promega is a company dedicated to research that helps to diagnose and treat diseases. For them, self-care is not just for the individual but for the group. They support their team’s wellness with on-the-job “third spaces” where employees can take solitude breaks and meditate in natural light. The health benefits go beyond the individual and have resulted in improved productivity levels for the company.
When small business owners practice self-care like any other day-to-day operation, we can expect these beneficial outcomes:
1. More memory and brain growth
Spending as little as 10 minutes to sit in your car and visualize peaceful scenery or listen to music that soothes you has been shown to thicken grey matter in your brain resulting in better memory. Blending solitude with movement, such as a walk in nature, causes brain growth.
At Vipassana silent retreats, participants are instructed to refrain from interacting or making eye contact, or activities such as reading or writing. One hundred scientists went on such a retreat for research and noted that shutting off the faculty of speech heightened their awareness in other areas.
3. Focus, intention and action
Quieting the mind allows the imagination and positive emotions to build a subconscious intention and stimulate our goals. As Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains, “When you approach the practice of figuring this stuff out in that way, you start to get images and memories and ideas that are different than if you tried to answer those questions intellectually.”
4. Inspirational moments
I recently went on a 48-hour retreat as that was all the time I had to spare. It included nature watching and daily writing. I found that after 10 minutes of staring at the treed mountain hills as the sun danced upon them I could turn to writing with renewed inspiration, not even realizing I had acquired a new idea until it flowed from my fingers. Professor Jonathan Schooler from UC Santa Barbara says, “Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain.”
5. More ease, less stress
Physical revitalization through good food, exercise, sleep, and medical care can create feelings of upliftment and safety. Emotional revitalization through counselling, coaching, a visit with friends or family, keeping a journal, daily meditation, or prayer can create feelings of inspiration, calmness, and groundedness. Adding the smallest acts of revitalization (so as to create no added pressure) can help create more ease, and less stress.
Let’s face it – life is one huge spectrum from complete brokenness to outright joy and there is no guarantee where you will land from day to day. Having margin for the days when you need it is important and can be achieved by incorporating self-care on the days you feel able to.
A few years back I drove for three hours to see an exhibit of Lady Diana’s dresses. It seemed frivolous and fun. After paying the astronomical admittance fees, I entered the exhibit and immediately felt a shift from lightheartedness to something deeper and more sacred.
It didn’t feel quite right to talk too loud or socialize with the friends I was with. We walked from one outfit to another, reading about what Diana had been doing and how she was feeling when she wore it. As we entered the last room I felt an unexpected jolt. This room was like no other. It held the flowers, now all dried, that were left outside of Buckingham palace in memoriam. I started to feel my own tears sting my eyes.
Moving to the final installation, I saw a collection of letters displayed behind glass. Several were written by hand, and a final letter that was typed and addressed to over 100 charities and foundations. You could read the tears on the page as she wrote how she would no longer be able to directly support their cause as the stress of doing so much had lead to significant health problems. Diana wrote softly about how she had to scale back her work and her passion, for her own mental health. It isn’t that she didn’t love her work, it just became too much.
How are you feeling? What do you need?
For the social entrepreneur, self-care is not an “emergency response plan,” ready to be activated when stress becomes overwhelming and keeping you from your purpose. Instead, healthy self-care is an intentional way of living where our values, attitudes, and actions are integrated into our day-to-day moments. It may mean stepping back at times, something difficult for many of us to do, but also vital if we wish to fulfill our mission.
We are nearing the end of our blog series with just two more to go, but as this post suggests, please take some moments to settle yourself over these next few days. Soon we will revisit measuring our work and creating a legacy mindset so others will benefit from our good work for many years to come.