We all have an extraordinary ability to keep going, work hard, stay on our feet and keep at it. This is great and something to appreciate. I wonder though whether we have lost sight of what is needed to sustain this and stay well whilst we commit to life and work.
Taking one aspect of self-care and really exploring our relationship with it can be very revealing. For example, rest is something I have had to have a really close look at and would say that for most of my life I have believed it to be a necessity that needs minimal attention or care beyond which it becomes an indulgence.
Over the past couple of years, I have explored my relationship with rest and actually doing shift work has supported with this. At first, I playfully but also kind of seriously approached night shifts as giving myself a bonus day, which is obviously not sustainable! And have now learnt that simply by practising different approaches to when I sleep, eat and exercise around shift work, my body knows exactly what is needed to support being well and vital. I am mastering power naps, realising that it is not always the length of time resting/sleeping that is significant, but the quality of rest that I allow. Do I approach it as a perfunctory necessity, or with the awareness of the importance of what I am doing and how this not only honours me but also everyone I am going to come into contact with in life and work?
And in changing my perception of rest from being only about sleep and a certain quantity of it, to being about listening respectfully to my body – resting when it is called for and also being aware of how I move through my day, and whether I am exhausting myself or actually allowing a flow that does not debilitate – I am able to work long hours with ease and left-over sprightliness!
As an example, leading up to one night-shift, I lay down for two hours and just rested, bringing attention to my breath and my body, and let myself surrender to being supported by the bed. It was remarkable inasmuch as I did not sleep but felt deeply rested and ready for the night ahead. For me, this flies in the face of accepted theories about how much sleep we need.
Our bodies are our greatest guides, signposting us every step of the way with how we are going, what is needed and when we have gone astray. We seem to give more attention to how to ignore this clear messaging than we do to simply listening.
We have an amazing capacity to work and innately love to serve, commit to service and work alongside others; so, it would absolutely make sense to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do this, yes? And yet it is not the norm to prioritise self-care, to really honour and nurture ourselves, and I feel that this is a big factor in the critical state of our health, time off sick and lack of joy and vitality at work.
I have a sense that our health service would look very different if it was the norm for us to take care of ourselves, take responsibility for our well-being and realise how gorgeous it is to feel well and vital.
By Matilda Bathurst, Midwife, UK