I recently reconnected with an old friend of mine who I had not seen in years. My friend has led a very interesting life that hasn’t been without its challenges; let’s just say he has an addictive personality. As we were catching up his phone rang and he excused himself briefly to take the call. It was obvious it was his “sponsor” checking in with him. He has always been very candid about his struggles and after the call we discussed how things have been going for him. “Great” he tells me. “That is good news, I’m pleased” is my response but of course I am mindful that it doesn’t take much to fall off the wagon. So, I asked him what he has done to support himself with his struggles. His answer? “I’ve learnt how to self-care, Tom”. This was a relatively new concept to me but I was interested to hear more and so I listened with intent, albeit a little sceptical.
Several months have passed from this catch up and I still find myself meditating on the idea of self-care and the how it can benefit me and those I engage with. Since being back at Oakleaf I have been speaking to the wider Oakleaf network trying to support them as best I can. The job market isn’t as buoyant as it was pre-covid and even if I sit at my desk 24hrs a day I am not going to secure work for all those looking; it’s an impossible task. So, I have offered my professional advice on the best way to look for work (it’s what I get paid to do right?) but almost by default I have started to give out self-care advice without even conscientiously realising it. I have done this because I can really understand the anxiety of not being in work having been in that situation a couple of times myself. It’s not nice and I genuinely care.
Having realised that I have been giving out casual self-care advice I thought I better speak to our well-being guru Alice Hamp to talk through self-care strategies. “You are probably already doing these things Tom without realising it” she said to me and then after an informative chat she sent me on my way with some links to further reading.
Now I don’t pretend to be an expert on this matter, in fact I can tell you straight away I’m not. What I can do is tell you what has worked for me and hopefully this may help you. Self-care isn’t a discrete set of activities to do that will take away your anxiety and stress but an approach taken by an individual to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider. Basically, it’s your strategies to support your health and well-being both physical and mental.
So, here we go. Tom’s Top Tips for self-care when searching for work:
I’m a straight-lines and boxes type of guy. I like to know what I am doing and when I am doing it. It helps me plan and get those jobs done. Every morning whether I am in work or looking for work I will write a “to-do” list and a daily plan. Yes, I even write the date in the top right-hand corner of the page like we were taught at school (once a teacher always a teacher). This allows me to break up my day, get tasks done, reflect on what I have achieved and also crucially gives me a time to switch off.
It’s a proven fact that exercise reduces stress and anxiety and increases well-being. Just a quick search on Google brings up thousands of articles. Here are the highlights from one the Harvard Medical school published online:
- Engaging in exercise diverts you from the very thing you are anxious about.
- Moving your body decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious.
- Getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing the availability of important anti-anxiety neurochemicals.
- Exercise activates frontal regions of the brain responsible for executive function, which helps control the amygdala, our reacting system to real or imagined threats to our survival.
- Exercising regularly builds up resources that bolster resilience against stormy emotions.
So, my advice is to get some exercise everyday whether it be a walk, run, yoga at home or even if you dig out your mum’s old Jane Fonda exercise video and have a go at that. Put it in your daily structure, ring-fence that time!
During lockdown so many of us said we were going to exercise an hour a day, whilst learning a new language, after we painted the house and Zoom called our entire extended family across the globe (even those we have never met!). It’s unrealistic and if you are like me, you will only feel disappointed when you haven’t done what you said you were going to do (this example is straight out of Tom’s to do list in April by the way!). All the things are achievable, but do you really need to do them every day, and during a job search that you should you be prioritising? Probably not. So save learning French for your weekend or schedule it in a couple of times a week for fun.
Moderation also goes for alcohol and food consumption. Yes, we all joked about the glass recycling bin that is collect twice a month being full after 5 days at the start of lockdown, but when that becomes a habit it becomes a problem. The same with food. I live by the mantra “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. You can apply this in most life situations if only to pause and reflect before you do it.
We all need to switch off at some point. You can’t keep writing applications for 12 hours a day. Maybe you can, but will it be effective? Probably not. This goes back to your daily structure. You have a start time, just like if you were at work, and you have a time to clock off. This includes turning off your computer and at night switching off the phone.
Alice made a nice suggestion about doing things that signify you are starting your day or switching off. For me, my morning routine is to walk my two rotties Samson and Oscar every morning at 6am for an hour. I can’t think of a better way to start my day. At the end of the day when I sit down to relax, I light a candle in my living room next to the pictures of my family. It gives me a sense of calm and a focus on my family past and present. What do you do?
Be Kind - to others and yourself!
People can often fall into the trap of displacing their anxiety and frustrations onto others. It’s easily done right? You’re having a bad day and so is the person you encounter in the shop who bumps into you. Potential flash point. Nobody knows what other people are going through and sometimes all it takes is a smile 😊. As difficult as it is to on occasion, grinding out that smile not only disperses potential conflict but will lift your mood. It’s a mindset and a habit. I started doing it on the tube years ago. Try it, it works.
It is also so important to be kind to yourself. If you have a bad day recognise it. Accept it as you can’t go back and change it but you can look forward to the next day, start fresh and attack that day with positivity. So, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t compare yourself to others! You are doing what you can do, in your own way, the best you can. Remember, you are only human after all!
Please remember I am not an expert, and these are just a few things that I did that supported me when I wasn’t in work and still support me whilst I’m working from home. Below are a few links to self-care websites that you may feel helpful. If you have any top tips, please share them to the network as I am sure they will benefit others.
Thank you to my friend whose candid discussions with me have inspired me to reflect on my own short-comings and self-care. And to Alice the Oakleaf Well-being guru for her advice and signposting.