THE BLOG

How to Take Care of Yourself When No One Else Will

24/09/2013 15:43 BST | Updated 24/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Sometimes, the only possible explanation for a certain period of time in your life is that it was sent to test you. To undermine your foundations, test your limits and challenge your strongest attributes.

Last week I lost my last remaining grandparent. It was an event which, although loosely manageable in its own entity, kick-started nearly a week of endless headaches. Cancelled business trips, re-arranged meetings, car accidents, delayed flights... it was a feature film in the making, but without the cinematic ending. By the time the weekend rolled around, I felt like someone had scooped my brain out and whizzed it through a blender before pouring it back into my hollow skull. I had given everything I had to other people; every decision, every thought, even every penny of my bank account had been drained from me and channeled into someone else's wellbeing.

I ploughed on, adamant that I could take care of myself - and I can, I know that. On Friday morning, as I dragged my defeated body out of a personal training session, my trainer reminded me of my own strength, adding "you have to take care of yourself, because nobody else will". Well, his language was slightly more tarnished, but I think that's the point he was making.

And he was right. As I arrived home to face reality, everything was still there, just uprooted, like my world had been built on the floor out of Lego and someone had accidentally tripped over it. There was still washing to be done, shopping to be collected and the decision to be made about what was for dinner. Selfishly, all I really wanted was for someone to make me a cup of tea.

I don't know whether everyone burns themselves out every so often or if it is a trait particularly predominant in those who work for themselves, but I'm sure we all have times when we fail to look after ourselves as well as we should. And whilst it's not always practical to put yourself first, you do have to be mindful of your own wellbeing.

When you are balanced, you make decisions and draw boundaries thoughtfully, interacting with others with integrity and certainty. Looking after yourself means knowing how to manage your time and lifestyle to meet your needs, so you can be better to yourself and your tasks. I haven't exactly done a great job of it this week, but there are always a few gentle ways you can take care of yourself.

Write a worry list

Stress makes us vulnerable and worrying never helped anyone. Write a list of everything you are worried about and add to it whenever something is on your mind. It sounds stupid, but being able to 'park' your worries makes it easier to set them to one side and deal with them later.

Do the worst tasks first

They are the toughest to face but once they're done, everything else will seem a little easier.

Walk everywhere

You might be busy or pressed for time, but taking the opportunity to walk somewhere is worthwhile. You'll boost your endorphin levels and hopefully get some fresh air but, most importantly, it gives you some alone time to think and refocus.

Drink tea

Coffee can perk you up but can also make you crash. Tea is hot and comforting but won't dehydrate you or gives you the shakes the way coffee does. Besides, is there any situation a cup of tea can't improve?

Do something you're good at

Take some time every day to do something you excel at. Cook a cracking meal, look fierce in your favourite outfit or show your whole spin class how it's really done. Remember how it feels to be great and then try to hold onto that feeling when you have to bury yourself in work again.

Eat healthy food

Whilst eating for convenience is tempting, it pays off to cook and eat fresh produce. Rubbish food makes you feel sluggish, which isn't what you need when you're under enough stress already. Fuelling yourself nutritiously will take care of your body and boost your mood.

Honour your limits

Set some limits or goal points and stick to them. When you have a lot on your plate, it's easy to feel like you're never quite done. Set clear restrictions or goals and respect them, eg. "I am going to focus on this report for one hour".

Outsource and delegate

Outsource anything that makes your life easier, eg. cleaning or laundry. For everything that's left, use other people for support when you need it. Everyone has a team, whether at work or home.

Go for a run (or a long walk)

I love exercise but am not generally a fan of running unless I have a lot on my mind. The monotony of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other can give you the space to work out what's going on inside your head.

Say no to anything that isn't important to you

Grant yourself permission to focus on what is important. Shedding things which aren't priorities not only leaves you with more time to deal with the important things, but lightens the burden you're feeling of keeping up with it all.

Postpone all major decisions

Times of crisis make us fraught for change, but now isn't the time to be moving house, quitting your job or breaking up with your significant other. Trust me. Save the big stuff for when you can think more clearly.

Remember that you are only human

You are doing exactly what you need to do. Trust your instincts, know you are doing your absolute best and do not let anyone else tell you otherwise.