The ABC of Self care and wellbeing
Mel is a self-care coach, and one of the UK’s leading Health Coaches and Self Care experts. She is the author of ‘The Little Book of Self Care’. Mel specializes in working with busy professional, high-achieving women to balance their professional success and personal health and happiness.
What would you say is the definition of self-care and why do you think we need it?
Self-care is a fundamental part of our wellbeing. It is the way that we nourish ourselves. It is the actions we undertake for ourselves and that is not just physically, but also emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It’s having a harmonious life. Self-care is the 360 way that we look after ourselves and nourish ourselves. The way we feel, the way we live our lives and make sure that we live to the fullest.
What kind of benefits do you get once you start looking after yourself a bit more?
There are multiple benefits. I see the benefits in a lot of my clients when they start doing simple things and change other things, the ripple effects are huge. Essentially what you’re doing is fuelling yourself. if we do the things in the right way, our body and mind work better and more efficiently.
Self-care is giving yourself the opportunity to live your best life.
I always think life is so short for us. We never know for sure if life will be 80 years or 70 years or even shorter, so I think we owe it to ourselves to live an extraordinary life. It’s best to embrace Life and try to do and explore how you want to live it. I think self-care enables us to do that because we’re giving ourselves the right platform to spring from.
Why do you think we don’t do enough self-care? Or look at it as superficial or selfish?
I will guarantee you that if you look after yourself and put yourself first rather than looking after others all the time, you will be happier. The reality is that we live in a world where stress and burnout are real, 1 in 4 people in the UK have a mental health disorder. We’re constantly at odds and burning ourselves out. It’s fundamental to look after ourselves. And the reason that we don’t do it is that we feel selfish if we do it.
You can’t help people if you give from an empty jar.
If you are genuinely wanting to serve and be there for other people and do the things that you want to be doing, you need to be a strong foundation. If you’re constantly worn out, burnt out, exhausted, how can you help someone?
To give you an example, if you’ve had a daughter or a niece or two sons, nephews, if you have young people around you and you think about what you want to teach them to do, you want them to look after themselves. You want them to be well and healthy and you want them to be able to give and share with others. And we teach that to our young people, but we don’t do it for ourselves. We’re taught that very young, somehow looking after ourselves is selfish and putting us first is wrong or bad. And I understand that, because we were teaching people to share and think of others.
If you want to help others and you want to think of others, the best thing you can do is to set a good example and take care of yourself because then, you have the energy to do the things that you want to do.
Things are shifting and I think people are understanding that it’s setting an example and being the change you want to see in the world. There are so many disorders that are coming from overworked, stressed out, burning out, trying to spin so many plates. This isn’t working for us, we need a different way.
In your book, there are 50 giveaways for when you are having a crappy day. Where do you think we should start with our self-care?
Whenever I work with my clients, I would always say to start with the mindset. What goes on internally is the best place to start. The stories that we tell ourselves, the things that we say to ourselves. So start with your mind. I know that for some of us that can be really difficult because the mind, is so used to telling negative stories. It can feel real, it can take a while to shift that and it’s not something that happens overnight. But it’s the continual everyday dedication to being kind to yourself.
Within my journey, I found that those acts of kindness to myself helped shift this negative voice internally. I knew this was what I needed to work on. It was such a hard thing to do after 15 years of telling myself that I was undeserving, unworthy, unlovable. Now I tell myself differently and do simple acts: buying myself flowers, taking the time to pick a beautiful body lotion, putting something beautiful, smiling when I saw myself in the mirror, wearing my favorite scarf or perfume. They’re really simple things that feel really inconsequential, but being kind to myself physically really helped shift the mental pattern in my head. I started to understand that I could deserve those things.
You do need to start with the mind as this is where everything stems from.
I’ve really enjoyed three areas of your book: 1/ Overcoming perfectionism 2/ The comparison is the thief of joy 3/ The illusion of busyness. With overcoming perfectionism, is this something that you’ve experienced and how does it impact our wellbeing as such?
These tendencies of perfectionism can be damaging for our mental wellbeing.
That’s not to say, everyone who is a perfectionist is going to end up with a mental disorder. But these kinds of traits is very symbiotic of mental health disorders. What we tend to do is believe that the world is either perfect or it’s not. There’s a real world of grey in between that. And one of the things that I’ve personally found is this idea of imperfect is better than perfect. A sense of moving, getting things done, getting things out there is better than doing things perfectly.
There is a real terminology that goes around in the tech world in companies like Facebook, which is like ‘fail fast and learn fast’. It’s that idea of trying things and seeing what works, what learning you get from it and actually using that to fuel you and to progress and to improve yourself. That’s what I try to so really focus on and help people do that too.
It’s this idea of striving for progress, for growth or opportunities to learn, for understanding that not everything will be the right thing to do or the perfect thing to do.
I’ve learned that a lot even recently with having a baby. All of us have this idea of the perfect mother will be. We’re going to batch cook and bake everything from scratch and our babies are going to be beautiful and so on. The reality is not like that. When you realize you’re honest about your struggles or when you open up about things not being perfect, people resonate with it because they understand that they’re not perfect too. I think it gives other people permission to explore that for themselves and to realize that they don’t have to step up to this idea as well. So it’s not only enabling yourself to be less than perfect and to be honest about where you’re at.
I always talk about striving for progress rather than perfection. It’s a much healthier pursuit. Much more attainable pursuit.
What about the ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ It makes us think of social media and how it triggers feelings of low esteem. It’s proven that we start comparing ourselves and we feel unhappy if we compare to other people in general. What will be your advice to keep a healthy perception of ourselves?
Even before the days before social media, we would compare ourselves to the people around us. We would only have access to our immediate surroundings. We had a very small sphere of reference in which we compared ourselves to. Whereas nowadays with social media, as you rightly pointed out, we have access to pretty much the world. We compare ourselves to all of these different things: celebrities, neighbors, long lost friends, people across the world. And it presents people’s highlight reel, very rarely the realities of life. Things are airbrushed stories and airbrushed people.
I think there is also a really positive trend, empowering and insightful, of people posting the behind the scenes and the realities of their day – like mummy bloggers, wellness bloggers and talking about what the reality is, and there’s been some incredible work done, and you see some incredible responses to that. Because it’s acknowledging and admitting that not everything is perfect.
Mental health is now being talked about more and more, it’s almost becoming acceptable to talk about it.
The conversations are much more open and things are changing for good. It’s really important to have these conversations. What we look at when we’re comparing is probably not the real picture. It’s not a full life. And to understand it’s probably an edited highlight. I recommend to clients to find the feeds that you are following, whether on Instagram, on Facebook, on Snapchat, on any other channel, that make you feel inferior or less than good. You can compare against them for a few days, then try to unfollow them and see how that changes your perception.
Another tip is to really focus on your achievements and what is working well for you.
Because the reality is we never really know what’s going on for anyone else. Just focus on your own achievements and the things that you’re doing. I always like to encourage clients to buy a little beautiful notebook and write their own achievements down and things that they’re grateful in their own lives.
On the ‘illusion of business’, how much busy is too busy? what are the beautiful boundaries that you mentioned in your book?
I love this topic as for many successful and ambitious women, we want to be busy because we feel like being productive. In fact, business is not necessarily a problem. I think it becomes a problem when it depletes you in some ways. I love to be busy as well, but if there’s no real space to breathe. You’re constantly jumping from one thing to another to another, you’ll be starting to let people down and get to the point where you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel, and you’re just struggling to keep going. That’s when it’s a problem and when beautiful boundaries really are useful.
Look at what’s important and prioritize: Where is my time most valuable?
The most important commodity any of us have is time because it’s the one thing we never get back. Where we spend our time and our energy is critical in the way that we live.
I talk a lot about this tool called ‘Yes to this’ and ‘No to that thing’. You only have so many hours in the day so if you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else. If you’re saying yes to working late, you’re saying no to going home and getting the food that you need and the rest that you need.
So this idea of being busy and being productive is great. But the second it depletes you, it is a real sign that your boundaries need some work and you need to start thinking about what to prioritize.
If you had to pick one thing from your experience or from your expertise with self-care in general, what would you advise to do?
Self-care isn’t rocket science and it’s not difficult.
It’s just remembering to take care of yourself and actually giving yourself permission to do it. Make sure that you’re saying yes to something that nourishes you and enriches you in some way. Finally, I think Exercise is fundamental.