The Physics of Self-Care

From time to time, the skin around my eyes gets all flaky. At first, I thought it was the result of forty-something Hormonal Havoc. My acupuncturist considered that it may be part and parcel of the hard work my liver is doing to clear all those hormones, since the liver and the eyes correlate in Chinese medicine. Alternatively, I figured it could always be inflammatory payback for too much candy at Halloween or a few extra burger and fry benders during vacations. But it wasn’t until I started on my self-care journey last year that I uncovered the real culprit behind these little metaphorical warning lights. Stress–a tiny word with a serious Napoleon complex. I eventually found that once I dealt with the tension overload effectively, all that dermatitis went away, leaving my eye area as smooth and clear as the belly skin on my friend’s hairless cat.

It was all skipping through the daisies for a while there. I was rocking a light and highly manageable workload, had a running weekly acupuncture session, and was on a daily conversation basis with my green smoothie barista. But guess what? If you poke the bear, you get smacked with a paw or two. After this fall’s cacophonous medley of new job + new town + new school for Scooter + personal loss + life in general, the tiny dictator is back with a vengeance.

My ocular skin aside, here’s the other thing that fascinates me about Little Napoleon’s teensy waving sword. I work in a corporate setting, and last Friday I had two back-to-back meetings, all which happened to be with female colleagues. In this half day of observation, every single one of these women exhibited what are very clear signs of physical, mental and/or emotional overload. Every. Single. One. That’s a 100% percent affect ratio. Let’s dive in a little.

Two women joined me in the first meeting. While we waited for the second colleague to arrive, the first discussed as pass-the-time banter how she rarely sleeps well, a fact clearly evident in the puffy circles under her eyes. The second colleague shuffled into the room about 15 minutes into our session, pallid and lethargic, which was not surprising, as she’d been violently ill with the flu 36 hours beforehand. Even so, she had hauled herself into the office to manage a full day of executive meetings, which weren’t set to wrap until six pm (on a Friday). I recommended anise tea; she concurred that it has benefits, because she drinks it daily to combat chronic tummy pain related to stress.

My second meeting was a round-table demonstration of precisely the same phenomenon. There were five of us ladies in the conference room this time. The first has gained 15 pounds since moving from a work-at-home environment to the corporate office six months ago. The second is one of those sangfroid unshakable professional types who never gets rattled…but who is currently rocking a solid case of rosacea. The third told us all about the burn marks next to her eye and on her upper eyelid, sustained while hurriedly cooking her family’s dinner earlier in the week. A burn. On her eyelid. The fourth woman looked the picture of calm seas, smooth of complexion with twinkling blue eyes. However, this same woman actually broke down crying in our Monday meeting, a victim of just Too Much Stuff all piling on bit by bit until the dam just had to burst. And finally, at the end of the table, there’s me. ‘Ole flaky eyes.

What are we doing? I’ll admit that it’s a busy time at my company–2019 started with a bang, and there’s a lot to get out the door this month. However, this is also one of the most balance-friendly corporate entities I’ve been involved with, and I’ve seen a fair few. No, what I witnessed last Friday was not as much related to what we’re subjected to at work or home or anywhere else as it is to how we choose to incorporate those inputs into our lives.

Imagine if, for every new responsibility we’re given, every new to-do that pops on to our ever-evolving roster, we were to add a column next to it, a column in which we pencil in one additional self-care element we will gift to ourselves because we deserve it? What if, every time someone pulls at our yin, we tug in the equal and opposite direction on our yang?

Now I was perfectly crummy at high school physics, but even I can see the linearity of this argument. If you add a stressor to one side of a personal balance, you need to add an equivalent de-stressor to the other side. Otherwise, the whole thing crashes. For every forgotten-until-the-night-before school project, there should be an equivalent foot massage (at least that’s how it translates in my world). For every heavy-lift assignment at work, there should be an equal and opposite Ladies Night (also my world). But how many times to we actually do that?

My friends, here is my challenge to you. Start today. Compose a list of the things that make your toes curl (or uncurl, as the case may be). Even the small stuff. Yes, one little piece of dark chocolate does have an impact (think magnesium and antioxidants, but also think deliciousness). A workout, a break from working out, a bath, a night off from giving your kids a bath, a round of golf, a slice of apple pie–the choices are endless. But please do take the time to actually note down your ideas somewhere, just so that you aren’t left trying to think up something on the fly when Le Corporal shows up at your door. Plus, a list of the things you enjoy is a great resource to read through anytime for a quick dose of zen.

And now, after you’ve jotted down all of these fabulous self-care ideas, act on them. Every time a responsibility comes in, be sure to treat yourself. You deserve it. In fact, what the heck, go ahead and enjoy one of those list items right now. I’ll bet you ten francs you’re way overdue.

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