Angela Rake, mum of 3, Pilates teacher, Women’s Wellness Coach and co-founder of Zing Wellness, argues that we should refer to ‘self-care’ as ‘essential care’.
It’s been one of those weeks.
On Monday, I had to attend a hospital appointment at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, with my seven-year-old son. When they offered me the appointment, I jumped at the chance: face-to-face appointments have been on hold for what feels like forever, due to Covid-19. I was free that afternoon, and had childcare for my two-year-old, so the timing was perfect and I welcomed the opportunity.
It didn’t really occur to me that I was working all Monday morning and teaching again in the evening and that Monday is my only day for ‘me-time’. Nor did it occur to me that the last three Mondays had been spent at audiology appointments (having one deaf child means all three children get checked regularly). In short, since the start of term, there has been minimal Monday ‘me time’.
Anyway, roll on another manic Monday. It has been so long since I have travelled into London (pre-Covid and mask wearing) that it also hadn’t occurred to me just how exhausting the trip might be. It turns out that running for a train wearing a mask is not fun and trying to navigate the London Underground with an over-excited deaf child is challenging, to say the least. Add to this sitting in an assessment, in a stuffy hospital for two hours, completing forms and wearing a mask. I had concocted myself the perfect recipe for feeling completely overwhelmed and utterly drained. Upon my frazzled return, I was served up bath and bedtime for the children as James had a 6pm massage client – before teaching my evening Pilates class.
You may think I sound like a real Moaning Minnie but there were more consequences to come. Just before I was due to start teaching, I had the hugest bowel flare up and spent most of the evening running back and forth to the loo (including twice during my class). Could this day demand any more of me and my poor body?
In case you don’t know, I had a bowel re-section two years ago as a result of bowel cancer so this kind of physical response used to happen frequently but now it only happens occasionally – when my bowel ‘talks’ to me and tells me to slow the heck down!
Needless to say, this particular flare up left me feeling pretty washed out on Tuesday and I went into my subsequent busy teaching days feeling depleted.
By Friday, I was enjoying a well-deserved night on the sofa and reflecting on what this bowel flare up had been trying to tell me. Let’s face it: our bodies are always talking to us and giving us important messages – if we choose to listen.
Having three children is busy; being self-employed can be super-busy; and juggling the two with my husband means we can become ships passing in the night for weeks on end. So, living this kind of frenetic life means it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to take care of ourselves. As self-employed parents, we don’t get sick pay and, quite frankly, young children need taking care of regardless of how we are feeling. This is exactly why we believe self-care needs to be at the heart of our lifestyle rather than something we fit in if we get time or realise we need more of when we get sick. Self care is ESSENTIAL to our health and wellbeing and needs to be the foundations of our lifestyle.
So, here is my essential care regime:
1) Sleep – sleep is ESSENTIAL for me. It isn’t the number of hours of sleep I get but the quality of my sleep that is key. Most nights, my sleep is regularly interrupted by small people; lie-ins are a thing of the past; and teaching Pilates – by looking at a computer screen late into the evening – often makes it hard for me to fall asleep at night. So, on my teaching days, I try to power-nap in the afternoon. I am also trying hard to go to bed earlier on my non-working days. And, when I do go to bed, I spray my lavender spray, pop on some magnesium cream and listen to a hypnosis or yoga nidra. This helps to switch off my brain and send my body signals that it is sleep-time. I have even recorded my own anti-anxiety hypnosis track that I also use in my Sunday night Pilates by Candlelight sessions.
2) Movement is an absolutely ESSENTIAL part of my life. During the school holidays, when I teach less Pilates, my body literally starts to creak and my pelvic floor and core tell me how much they miss it. My movement regime doesn’t just consist of Pilates – although I do a lot of it. It is, of course, my favourite form of exercise! I also walk a lot and am trying to get into a routine of swimming regularly. For me, exercise is SO much more than getting strong or fit. Yes, I love feeling like I have done some exercise but – way more important than that – I value the time to breathe, reset my nervous system out of ‘fight and flight’ mode and back into ‘rest and digest’ mode, whilst also releasing tension from my body. This is especially true now, during the pandemic. Movement allows me to have time for myself and this is precious.
3) Fresh air and getting out into nature is hugely therapeutic. This is why I am really grateful for our dog Lola. She ensures that I get out for a walk, whatever the weather, and I rarely regret it. We are blessed to live in the midst of beautiful countryside and I genuinely believe that my nervous system resets itself when I am out, walking in nature. I also get to process life while I walk. My best and most creative ideas emerge while walking. It is also a time that I listen to audiobooks which I absolutely love.
4) Being a cancer survivor, health is my wealth. Without our health, we have nothing and a cruel irony is that we only truly appreciate our health when we get sick. In the past, I used to think that spending money on my health was a luxury. Now it is non-negotiable. Getting sick (and, trust me, cancer is as bad as it gets) is just not something I am prepared to leave to chance anymore. My life, my children and my husband are far too important to me. If there is a chance (even if it is a remote chance) that my diet and lifestyle could prevent a recurrence, I will do it. I try to eat all the colours of the rainbow. I try to eat organic food, even if it feels like an expense. I no longer drink caffeine and alcohol is reserved for a glass on birthdays and Christmas. And I’m far from perfect. I am a dark chocolate (albeit vegan and organic) and sparkling water fiend!
5) In this fast-paced world, there seems to be so much pressure on women to be Super Women. I have always felt the pressure to be achieving; it was drilled into me from such a young age. Even ditching my city job and retraining as a Pilates Teacher didn’t stop me from being a diligent, driven perfectionist – often to the detriment of my own wellbeing. So, for me, it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to take time to counter this culturally-celebrated personality trait, giving myself time and space to rest and recharge and encouraging myself to celebrate my gains.
6) I am someone who has been through some traumatic times. I can honestly say that the one thing that has helped me, more than any talking therapy, has been my discovery of Transformational Breath® Work with Ella Oliver. Proper breathing has the power to help us all to process deeply traumatic events or relationships in a subtle and unobtrusive way. I try to attend Ella’s 6.30am breakfast clubs at least twice a week and, although dragging myself out of bed at that time of the morning is hard, I always set myself up for an amazingly-energised day when I do.
7) When life is go, go, go and we work from home – let’s face it, many of us are doing this even more these days – it’s vital to take a break from the daily stresses and strains and have some family time. Even when money is tight, we try to get away as a family (ideally, near the sea) as often as possible. Our dream is to be able to take the month of August off as well as having a decent Christmas break.
Suffice to say, I won’t be loading up my Mondays anymore – nor will I be trekking to the capital again in a hurry! It’s ESSENTIAL for me to stay attuned to my body’s needs; to build in time to relax and recharge; to nurture myself and maintain my health and wellbeing. I encourage you to do the same.
Self-care is self-preservation and, for that reason, it’s ESSENTIAL
I’d love to hear from you with your thoughts on the matter – what is your ESSENTIAL care regime?
Use the comments box below to share.