Are you tired juggling work and home? Here's how to energise and put yourself first

Vivian, a people pleaser par excellence, revelled in her lavish holiday parties for family and friends. But the festivities meant that her needs got lost in the shuffle. The result? She was sleep deprived, overweight, crabby and exhausted. She begged me to help her find a healthier way of getting through. It's what I like to refer to as “balanced caregiving.”

Vivian's story

At 51, Vivian felt like the poster child for the sandwich generation. She took care of her aging parents, her sister (going through a difficult divorce), her husband, her three 20-something kids toughing it out in the real world, and countless friends who rang her at all hours. Naturally, Vivian's needs came last. And it was beginning to show.

At 5'6'', she was up to 186 pounds, her waist had expanded six inches, and her cholesterol was sky-high. Menopause was making her tired and moody. Yet, she couldn't ignore her real and omnipresent responsibilities any more. How could she do everything and help herself too?

I had a plan for her. A month later, when I saw her again, Vivian hadn't gained any weight. In fact, she'd lost five pounds and felt energised. It was work to stay on track; she had good and bad days. But, she was realistic and had begun to fold self-care into her routine. At last, she realised that she counted. Self-care isn't about weird diets or Olympic-level exercise regimens. It's about respecting yourself. Here's what I taught Vivian to do.

Self-care is non-negotiable

Vivian's attitude toward exercise was: “I'll do all that when I have time.” News flash: A time when you have nothing better to do will never come, so integrate self-care into your life now, whether you've got the time or not. Vivian realised that taking care of herself was tough and that caring for others was easy in comparison. Her new mantra: “I have to care for myself first. No excuses.”

Erase the guilt

Mentally, we convert “self” into “selfish.” Here's the deal: Research shows that women who balance care-giving with self-care are healthier and have stronger immune systems than women who don't take care of themselves. Vivian's recurrent sinus infections cleared up when she started her self-care programme. With better sleep, she had more energy and could be efficient about her care-giving tasks, which left more time for her needs.

Physical activity is a win-win

I told Vivian that she needed to move her body each day. She'd gain energy, elevate her mood, and burn off some of that excess fat. I prescribed 30 to 45 minutes of accrued daily aerobic exercise and two weekly weight-lifting sessions. Get a pedometer, and shoot for 10,000 steps a day. Vivian walked more often at work and home and easily met her goal. To squeeze in some strength training, she bought hand weights and worked out to a video.

Plan to eat well

I showed Vivian how to schedule time for grocery shopping, meals, snacks, and physical activity each day. I warned her to fight her natural inclination to let these tasks slide, and told her it would be a daily fight. She learned to disregard the inner voice that told her to grab junk food on the run. She ate before going to parties.

She made a routine out of her meals and mid-afternoon snack, and each morning (or the night before), she made food to take to work. Once she learned how sane they kept her, she fought for her daily “self” times. Her energy increased when she ate right and exercised.

Be realistic

I told Vivian her goal was to practice her self-care, especially when scheduling was challenging. Her weight and cholesterol wouldn't lower overnight. But she could start the journey and stay on the path.

NYT NEWS SERVICE

Keywords: workhomeself-care

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