(broad)ject self #24: Self-Care When...You Have a Hangover

For the second time in three weeks, my (broad)ject self intro begins with “It was perhaps not my brightest idea to have a few more drinks than I usually have…” We’re house sitting and had our dearest friends over for dinner, I’m about to start this somewhat restrictive diet, it’s the long weekend, the wine was superb…But once again, I woke up bright and early on a Sunday morning with a to-do list a mile long and my only desire was to crawl back under the covers and wake up next week.

Remember hangovers in university? When you could drink and dance until 2am, stop at Pizza Corner for something to eat, Shoppers Drug Mart for a bottle of water, and be at the dining hall for poached eggs at 7am? (Just me?) But seriously, it’s beyond a cliché to talk about how the hangovers get worse as we get older, and yet we never learn.

Having better (or better yet, non-existent) hangovers means first drinking better booze. A couple of years ago I came to the decision that I wasn’t drinking stuff I didn’t like anymore because it was polite or convenient (or necessary). No more warm chardonnay from a box at wine & cheese parties for me. If the white wine wasn’t a Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling, or bubbly, I’m not drinking it. And if a glass reveals it’s not my thing then just move on to club soda. I have a short list of wine, beer, and spirits that I enjoy, and if one of those options isn’t available, then I’ll happily drink water. It doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money, although it can, but instead being really intentional about what you’re putting in your body.

I think it’s also important to have a plan on where you want your evening (or day, who am I kidding?) to take you. One glass because you have to drive/workout/get up early? Two glasses because you really have to be in bed by 11? Or see where the night takes you because your mom has the kids and no-one will be sticking their fingers in your eyeballs at six am? Whatever it is, make your plan, tell someone else, and then stick to it. I’ve found on those nights when I can only have one, I’m actually better off having none because it’s easier not to drink at all and you don’t get tempted.

Whatever you decide, make sure not to make any rookie mistakes. Go one for one with water or club soda. Have something to eat before you start. Keep eating as the time goes on. Always say no to shots and never go to a second location that’s farther from home than where you already are.

Everybody has their own protocol when they get home, but here’s mine: wash my face, take out my contacts, take two Advil with a big glass of water, and set the alarm from 7.5 hours from now. When my alarm goes off, I try to wash my face again (because where does that mascara come from?), drink some more water, take some more Advil, and have breakfast. If things are going well, I’ll do some Yoga for Hangovers. Rinse, repeat. More water, more food, more stretching. If I follow that protocol, I can usually manage to avoid the deathly mid-afternoon nap, which starts out feeling so good and ends up feeling so bad when you can’t get to sleep on Sunday night.

It’s increasingly coming down to how I want to feel. At ease. Intentional. Useful. Rested. My time off is precious, doubly so when I only see David on weekends. I used to think that drinking made me fun and hilarious. Turns out, I’m already pretty fun and hilarious (not to mention loud), and all too much drinking usually does is prompt me to tell everyone how much I love them over and over again. Nobody misses that, believe me. For me, the obvious decision has been to stop drinking altogether, even though that means shouting “#notpregnant” every five minutes when I’m out with friends. Seriously, women in their 30s do sometimes not drink for other reasons…

And a quick side note, bringing together self-care and women in business: I learned pretty quickly that drinking at work functions wasn’t worth the free bar tab and saw more than my fair share of office party shenanigans. If you can help a co-worker or friend, particularly if she’s young and female, get home safely from such an event before things take a turn for her, you may not get the medal you feel like you deserve, but you’ll be doing her a solid.

Any hangover tips I missed? Sauvignon Blanc I absolutely must try? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #22: Self-Care When...The Clocks Change

It was perhaps not my brightest idea to have a few more drinks than I usually have and stay out until 1am on the night that the clocks spring forward. I knew I was in trouble when I was lying in bed, reading Twitter, and the time went from 1:59am to 3:00am. I had not had so much Prosecco that I couldn’t logic out the potential pain points, fortunately, so I took my supplements, had a big glass of water, and set the alarm for 7.5 hours away. 10:30am, formerly 9:30am, came without too much difficulty and I was hungry enough that going back to sleep seemed silly.

I thought I had outsmarted Daylight Savings Time until 3:30pm rolled around and I. Was. Exhausted. So I set my alarm for 30 minutes away. Of course, I should have just set it for 90 minutes in the first place and been done with it, because I didn’t end up getting out of bed until 5pm. I had forgotten a crucial ingredient for theCucumber And Carrot Vermicelli With Crispy Shallots (the Vermicelli, naturally), so I took the opportunity to caffeinate from Starbucks and walk to the grocery store. When I got back, I felt revived. The fact that it wasn’t dark until almost 8pm was pretty delicious too.

But. I’ll probably have difficulty falling asleep tonight, when 10:30pm feels like 9:30pm. And I’ll definitely have trouble getting up in the morning when 6am feels like 5am. Springing forward is so much worse than falling back, except for the whole lighter later thing, which is a sacrifice I’m willing to make. One of my favourite bloggers Swistle has a great printable about the switch to DST which you can findhere. And my best tips for taking care of yourself while your body adapts are as follows:

-If falling asleep at your normal time is likely to be too hard, don’t even try it. There’s little worse, sleep-wise, than trying to fall asleep before you’re ready and just thrashing around. Do everything you can to make sure your sleep hygiene is up to snuff (check out Self-Care When…You’re Tired for more tips and tricks). For me, that’s slowly powering down over the course of the evening, doing someevening yoga, and listening to some relaxing tunes. Most importantly for me, I’m aiming for 6 hours of sleep tonight instead of 7.5 (still full sleep cycles, of course), because it will be easier for me to fall asleep at midnight (formerly 11pm) and wake up at 6am (formerly 5am) than it will be to fall asleep at 10:30pm (formerly 9:30pm). Then tomorrow night falling asleep my usual time should be cake.

-Unlike the fall, this is not the week to start a new morning exercise routine. We’ve got another eight weeks until the sun will start rising in Toronto at 6am, and as we get further on in the spring it will be a far saner (and warmer) time to start contemplating getting your heart rate up before work. Trying to institute a new regime when you’re potentially sleep deprived and your body rhythms are out of whack could be a real challenge and leave you feeling frustrated.

-You may be hungrier earlier than usual, especially early in the week. Don’t fight it. Pack snacks to get you through to meal times and drink water like it’s your job.

-After work is a whole other story. Suddenly we’ve got a whole extra hour of light, which is particularly useful if you’re an evening runner or walker. This is a perfect time of year to start a new habit like an after dinner walk, solo or otherwise, to review the day passed and contemplate the day ahead.

Spring starts a week today and it’s hard to resist the siren call of spring cleaning, doing your taxes, and patios. Take advantage of those urges when they hit because once it starts warming up in earnest, it gets tougher to want to buckle down to administrative tasks inside.

Have any other great ideas on how to survive the switch to Daylight Savings Time? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #21: Self-Care When...You Feel Fat

*A quick disclaimer to anyone for whom talking about weight and body issues takes you to a bad place. Please instead check out the (broad)ject self archives to see if you’ve missed any past issues and accept this cat video with my love.*

I am not thin. I have never really been thin. The one time I lost a significant amount of weight all anyone did was tell me how terrible I looked. But I have a reasonable amount of confidence in the body I have, both in what it looks like and what it is capable of. It helps that as I’ve gotten older I’ve found physical activity that makes me feel grounded and at ease (running, walking, yoga, and NTC workouts) and I’ve learned to dress my body, long-torsoed hourglass shape and all.

I started working with a nutritionist because the specter of diabetes in my family looms large and I wanted to fight back against it. Weight loss wasn’t the goal. But a funny thing happened when I generally stopped eating sugar: I lost weight. And I suddenly went from being a person who generally ate what she wanted and felt pretty ok about her body as long as her pants fit to a person who anxiously awaited looking at the scale every week. Mental conversations about food went from, “do you really need to eat that cookie? How about some fruit instead?” to “Maybe you’d lose even more weight if you skipped the snack altogether?”

At the same time, I found myself trying on fancy dresses at Rent Frock Repeat for some upcoming events. Designer dress sizing is brutal when you’re used to the inflated vanity sizing that most mass produced clothing companies have adopted. So where I’m maybe an 8 or a 10 in life, dresses in those sizes wouldn’t fit and the required size was creeping upward to a 12, a size that many of the dresses didn’t come in. Here I am, four months into starting to work on changing my diet to improve my health and my life, I’ve actually lost five pounds, I’m feeling physically better than ever and yet…I’m feeling worse about myself than ever. What the hell?

Needless to say, I’ve been dropping in and out of a fuck it cycle as I try to work through my feelings about food, my body, and the way I want to feel. My nutritionist asked last week how things were going and my reply was that they were amazing in the macro but terrible in the micro. Her excellent advice was to remind me that I’m reworking my relationship with food for life and not to beat myself up about the little stuff.

As you all know by now, my number one priority is to feel at ease. I’ve discovered over the last few months that sugar, hangovers, and overeating make me feel super anxious, which I think we can all agree is the opposite of feeling at ease. And so suddenly, it all falls into place. By taking the supplements, by changing my diet, by keeping my blood sugar steady, by walking and practicing yoga, doing all that makes me feel at ease.

Of course, feeling at ease isn’t always easy. I love cupcakeschampagne, and ahuge bowl of pasta like nobody’s business. I occasionally have to overindulge and feel badly to remind myself how much I like feeling good. In the long run though, this is truly figuring out what is self-care and what is self-indulgence. It’s a slippery slope from enjoying a well-deserved and considered treat once a week to convincing yourself you deserve a treat every day because you’re sleepy and hangry and got splashed by a bus and that lady on the subway looked at you funny.
 
Really, the title of this issue could simply read “Self-Care When…You Feel Badly About Yourself” and in that vein this week’s homework is to ask yourself once again, “how do I want to feel?” Once you know how you want to feel, you can figure out what the (potentially hard or scary) self-care stuff you need to do to feel that way. As I said above, for me that’s saying no to some much loved foods because although they bring me short term joy, they don’t bring me long term ease.

Wanna share your feels? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #20: Self-Care When...Your Shoulders are Heavy

Apologies for the radio silence last Sunday. We were in Winnipeg for a week and on Sunday night went out for a Valentine’s Day dinner and I just didn’t plan ahead enough. Self-Care When…You’re Disorganized is coming soon, I assure you.

It goes without saying that I am not a perfect person and I think one of my biggest flaws is that I am too empathetic. I promise you, this isn’t one of those sneaky interview question answers where the response to the question of “What is your worst quality?” is something ridiculously humblebraggy like “I work too hard”. No, for me my empathy has at this point run amok and is actively harmful to my mental health. When people I love are going through hard times, I take on all their feelings to the point that I feel anxious, guilty, and often physically ill. I can’t be a neutral third party as I put myself right in it and it’s no good.

It’s no good for me, because it increases my own natural anxiety by a factor of a million and distracts me from the work I need to get done. It’s no good for them, because I’m so busy being empathetic that I can’t help them move the issue forward and in fact may end up being burdensome because I’ve turned into a heaping ball of angst and misery. When this happens, the lyrics to Snow Patrol’s ‘How to Be Dead’ roll through my head, “…both my shoulders are heavy from the weight of us both”.

We’ve talked about self-care when you’re anxious and we’ve talked about self-care when you’re sad, and certainly all those coping mechanisms can apply here too. What about self-care when you’re taking on everyone else’s anxiety and sadness too?

The most helpful thing for me is to remind myself that I am actively not helping if I decide to be Sian Who Feels All the Things. That’s not easy and it’s a particular struggle when you were part of the problem in the first place, which can sometimes happen. In those cases, I follow my personal responsibility mantra and 1) take responsibility, 2) apologize, and 3) try to fix it. But what if you didn’t break it?

I’m going to offer what might be a somewhat controversial tactic here, and I would love to hear what you think about it, but first, the background. There’s this theory that I first read about on a parenting website called Ask Moxie (don’t even ask how I got there, it was many moons ago), about tension increasers versus tension decreasers in relation to crying babies. Tension increasers are stressed out by crying, so once they get going it’s hard for them to stop. You have to do whatever it takes to prevent these babies from crying, because once they start its game over. Tension decreasers need to cry it out a little bit in order to move on but once they do, they’re fine. This theory totally extends to grownups too and I bet if you think about it quickly you’ll know which one you are.

I’m a tension decreaser. I wig out, feel my feels, and then I feel cleansed and ready to move on. David is a tension increaser. Once he starts talking about a problem it snowballs and grows until it is A. Thing. that you couldn’t have even imagined up in your wildest nightmares. But it’s funny, because I often fight feeling the feels, even though it will make me feel better, and David LOVES to talk shit to death, even though it will make him feel worse. So this is the controversial part: I often tell David that maybe it’s better not to talk about it. This runs in complete opposition to Relationship 101, I know, but for us what works is me listening to the first iteration of the problem and then shutting that particular line of conversation down. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes just me saying “remember how we talked about tension increasers and tension decreasers?” can be enough to distract him.

So when I’m feeling weighed down by other people’s stuff, I have to remind myself to feel it out, do a little bit of problem solving (which for me is actively seeking the worst case scenario and mentally working through it), and then move on. I’m also not afraid to tell people I’m tapped out and ask if we can reschedule a particular conversation for a later date or encourage them to talk it out with someone else first/instead. There are obviously kind and unkind ways to say those things, but I’ve tried to get to a place in my closest relationships where there is enough give and take and honesty to cover me even if I’m occasionally a bit rough around the edges.

I think it’s issues like this where we can feel like self-care is veering a little bit into selfishness. Isn’t it our responsibility to be there for our partner no matter what? But I would argue that this is a major “put your own oxygen mask on first” opportunity. If you are worn down and anxious for carrying around other people’s sadness, you are no good to anyone, least of all them.

Your homework this week is to diagnose yourself and your closest loved ones as to what their tension personality is. Then have a conversation about it and how you can use that information to improve your relationship and your communication skills.

Think I’m a human monster? Tell me about it! You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #19: Self-Care When...You're Tired

Nineteen (broad)ject self editions in, I know I’ve talked about the importance of sleep more than a few times. When I started on this self-care focused way of life in the summer, I used my core desired feelings to help dictate my priorities every day. My first four core desired feelings (CDF) came easily: at ease, intentional, useful and connected. But I struggled with the fifth CDF, eventually coming up with poised as a placeholder. I never really connected with it though and it finally occurred to me the other day that my fifth CDF was staring me right in the face. Rested.

Now that I’m 33, I cannot function properly without sleep. I’m sure I’m not unique in that I can muscle through one day on only a couple of hours, but it takes a few solid nights of catching up to be back to my best self. One of the things that makes me nervous about having kids is the utter destruction they reap on your sleep schedule. As with other elements in my life though, I believe strongly in beginning as you mean to proceed, and I hope that by having good sleep hygiene now, I’ll have a good foundation when kids come into the picture.

You know how sometimes you go to bed at a decent hour yet when your alarm goes off you feel like you’ve gotten no sleep at all? That’s probably because you woke up in the middle of a sleep cycle. According to sleep experts, we sleep in 90 minute sleep cycles which encapsulate five stages, the last stage of which is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where we do most of our dreaming. We also get more deep sleep in the early stages of sleep during the first several sleep cycles (so your first 4.5 hours of sleep or thereabouts) than the later ones, which is why those first hours of sleep are so important.

Learning about sleep cycles made a huge difference for me. I know that I’m at my best after 7.5 hours of sleep. I also know that if 7.5 hours of sleep aren’t possible, that I’m actually better to aim for 6 hours of sleep than finish the night with an incomplete cycle. So in an ideal world, the lights are out in time for me to be asleep by 10:30pm so I can “happily” wake up at 6am. If I get home from an evening event at 11? It makes more sense for me to try to quietly power down for an hour and fall asleep at midnight.

There a million articles out there on how to sleep better and one suggestion that frequently comes up is powering down your electronics at least an hour (and more is better, they say) before you go to bed. The truth is though that for me anyways, part of my bedtime routine is my nightly Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, then Flipboard review. I’ve been doing this as long as I’ve had my iPad (coming up on four years) and any sleep issues I have had have been clearly related to something else. I do try to keep the brightness down on both my iPad and iPhone, but otherwise it hasn’t been a problem. Your mileage may vary, but if it’s a treasured part of your bedtime routine, as it is for me, you may not have to abandon it.

As anyone with kids knows, the bedtime routine is sacred and I really believe that stands true for adults. For me that looks like yoga ending by 9:45pm, my nighttime toilette (which may or may not include a shower), then in bed for 10pm with my devices, and lights out for 10:30pm. I’ve recently started turning my phone on Do Not Disturb (with my family and David marked as favorites whose calls will always get pushed through) and I think the lack of email binging has made a difference in those first few minutes falling asleep. On nights when my brain feels overactive, I turn on Roderick on the Line (I set the podcast to turn off after 30 minutes) and given that I almost never remember what they talked about or the podcast turning off, I know it works.

When I can’t sleep, it’s usually for one of three reasons: 1) I drank caffeine after 7pm, 2) I’m anxious, or 3) I slept too much that day or the night before. The caffeine thing is new and kind of a bummer, as there’s nothing I like more after a workout than a Cool Lime Refresher. That said, I’m sure my nutritionist is less of a fan, so abandoning them is for the best. It’s Sunday nights where I struggle the most with #3, as David and I are terrible about sleeping in on the weekend. My new rule is that I can sleep in on Saturday, but I try to be up by 8am on Sundays. Science says we should try to get up at the same time every day, even weekends, so I’m trying to make an effort to get up as close to 6am on weekends as possible and lie in bed quietly and read for a while to start my day calmly and quietly. This is going about as well as you might expect, which is to say, not. As for anxiety, we talked about that in (broad)ject self #14 (…When You’re Anxious).

My sleep hygiene could still be improved though. I’m really bad about not giving up when sleep isn’t coming and instead choosing to thrash around the bed in a rage. That’s where the podcast timer comes in handy. I tell myself that if I’m still awake when the podcast turns off, I have to get up for 20 minutes and quietly read or do yoga in another room. I’m also THE WORST about hitting the snooze button in the morning, for 20 minutes or so during the weekend and for potentially hours on the weekend. This is problematic because it’s annoying to other people, but mostly because you’re potentially starting a whole other sleep cycle. So assuming I fall right back asleep after I hit snooze, by the time nine minutes is up, my body thinks that I’m interrupting a precious sleep cycle and gets majorly crabby.

If I was starting a self-care routine from scratch, I would start with sleep, because I truly believe it’s the main pillar of health and happiness. Your homework this week is to diagnose your bad sleep habits and try and break one of them. I’m going to try to abandon the snooze button and I will report back next week. I want to hear all about your tips and tricks for sleeping as well as your bad nighttime or napping habits. You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #18: Self-Care When...You Feel Dumb

I’ve recently started working on a project at work that is one of my department’s main priorities for the year and thus, as the lead on the project, one of my main priorities for the year. We’ve been talking through the project for several months and had our first major planning meeting last week to move the project forward. A takeaway from that meeting involved pitching the project to another department and possibly getting some help from one of their team members. We presented the project to said team a few days later and the team lead flipped out. He didn’t understand why we want to do such a thing. Did we understand the magnitude of what we were attempting? How much unnecessary attention we were drawing to ourselves? We were free to do whatever we wanted, of course, but he just wanted us to appreciate the position we were putting ourselves in.

To say I was taken aback would be putting it mildly. For one, I’d never seen this person react so vehemently to something before. More importantly, I never in a million years expected that this was something worth reacting vehemently to in the first place. It was a well-considered project that met a real need in both my department and the company as a whole. I had spent a not inconsiderable amount of time over the last 8 weeks working on it. But suddenly, I felt stupid and a little bit small. Who was I to suggest such a project, I thought, as it had been my idea in the first place.  

I steamed and fretted for a bit and then later went to talk to my boss, who had also been in the meeting. The team lead’s comments had certainly altered her thinking in the way we were trying to do this thing, as it seemed fairly clear we weren’t going to get any help from other teams. But she was committed to doubling down on the project itself, his over-reaction only further convincing her of the need for such an endeavor. I left her office feeling recharged and confident again, resolved to do an even better job to prove this guy wrong.

If required, I could list off just about everything dumb, stupid, embarrassing, badly timed thing I’ve ever said or done in my 11.5 years of working. I have a unique memory for the humiliating moments. When I think about them, I feel exactly the way they did when they happened (or when I realized that they were not well received). It’s a double-edged sword being a big personality who’s unafraid to speak up. People really like it, until they don’t because you’ve gone too far. My MBA was a great opportunity for me to really figure out who I was and what impression I wanted to project. In the end, I have to be myself, but I work really hard to make sure that my comments are thoughtful and not just for the sake of it.

Now, the incident I described above wasn’t actually me doing or saying something stupid, but I felt plenty dumb in the moment. Still, I think the process of handling those feelings are much the same. I thought about what had happened and what I had said. Then I went to a witness (in this case, my boss) to corroborate my impressions, who ended up assuring me that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’ve been called out before though, and if you really did do/say something inappropriate all you can do is apologize and assure your boss it won’t happen again.

With the outward niceties handled, you can start dealing with your feelings. All I can say here is: be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and then let it go. Do you upmost not to obsess. For me, telling a friend is helpful, because it gets it out of my head and into the world. You may consider who you tell, depending on the level of stupidity/embarrassment, but I don’t think it’s worth keeping it inside. If it’s too horrible to contemplate repeating (I’ve got those incidents too, believe me), then write it up journal-style. Don’t be a drama queen and don’t rend your garments. Finally, follow the inscription on my MBA grad ring (and the sage advice of Taylor Swift) and shake it off.

Everybody feels dumb once in a while (and if they don’t, they may well have some perception problems). I think the trick is knowing if those feelings are truly deserved (as in, you said something inappropriate in a meeting) or all in your head (in the story above). But those feelings deserve to be taken seriously either way because both are opportunities to learn and grow. If I consider all those humiliating moments I’ve had in my life, I can also tell you the direct action I took to counter them. All that adds up to the smart, strong, opinionated woman I am today.

Your homework this week is to get into the way way back machine and think about the last time you felt dumb at work. Was it deserved? Or was it all in your head? How could you have handled it differently? And most importantly, what are you taking away from it that is making you better today?

You know I want to hear your stories, so if you want to share you know where tofind me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #17: Self-Care When...You're Sad

The last few weeks have featured some heavy stuff. Someone near and dear to me lost her mother unexpectedly. Another dear one is fighting some demons of depression and deep sadness. The circumstances of either story aren’t mine to tell, but it would be fair to say that I am sad for the former, while the latter also makes me feel a little bit sad for myself too. Those are two different kinds of sadness, of course, felt, survived, and cured differently.  

When someone we love suffers a deep loss, it can be hard to know what to do, what to say, and how to help. Having survived a similar loss doesn’t even necessarily help, because every person is so different in their grief and mourning. The blanket, “please let me know if there is anything I can do” often feels empty, because even if the person could think of some way you could help they may be unwilling or unable to ask. In this case, I think specific offers of help are the most useful. In my situation, distance prevented me from offering any hands on assistance, but when the person asked me for reading recommendations for a long flight, I offered to take over her Overdrive account and fill it with light and engrossing plane reads. After that, all I could do was continue to offer my support, keep checking in, and making it clear that she was on my favourites list, so even if my phone was on Do Not Disturb, her messages and calls would come through.

I have at this point in my life lost all four grandparents, three cats, two dogs, many dear family friends, and most tragically my brother, who died of cancer at the age of 43 just over nine years ago. I was in the room when they turned off life support and as he took his final breaths. Dying, it turns out, takes longer than you might expect. On a couple of occasions, I’ve made sure friends who have more recently watched loved one’s die know that they can talk about those last moments with me because I’ve been there, and I’ve lived through it. If you haven’t actually watched someone die, you just can’t know. That’s why I had to stop watching Grey’s Anatomy.

But I’ve never lost a parent. There are no Pain Olympics, of course, but I’ve not yet felt that loss. I cannot imagine it. Someday I will. For now though, all I can offer is my unending love, my ear, and my time. I’ll follow her lead and if she’s brave toaster-ing it up, I’ll be upbeat too. Most importantly, I won’t forget, because there is a year of firsts that now need to be survived. In six months or a year, she may need my support just as much (or more) as now.

Our own sadness is a different beast. We can’t forget about it or leave it behind or change the subject. It lives within us as if it is a parasite that can’t be eradicated. My first rule of sadness in a tragedy or loss (and to be clear, that’s not what I’m dealing with now), is that it is survival by any means necessary until you discover the new normal. When my dad was in hospital, the new normal was when the nurses knew me, when the Starbucks baristas started to recognize me, and when I started to develop a routine. Until then, the name of the game was getting through the day. You’ll feel the moment. And when you feel it, it’s time to dig deep into your self-care toolbox and start acting on your non-negotiables. For me then, that was a little yogaevery day. Now that would also include doubling down on my diet, because I know now the impact of what I eat has on my mood and my anxiety.

Just as I advised for helping a friend or loved one coping with loss, the inverse of that is true for our own sadness. Ask for help, if you can. Be specific, if you can. You’ll very quickly figure out who is good in a crisis and who is starting to screen your calls because they can’t deal. That’s totally ok. Maybe they’ll come back to you, maybe they won’t. Try to spread your need around so that one person doesn’t get overloaded, if you can (your partner notwithstanding, they should have your back no matter what). But remember that the people who are there for you will be there for you regardless, so if you can’t do any of those things above, it doesn’t matter.

Of course, sometimes we just feel regular pants sad. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe there isn’t. Most importantly, I don’t believe that “by any means necessary” applies here. Your self-care toolkit can dig you out of this dump. Ask yourself those classic questions: When did I last eat? Exercise? Shower? Stretch? Sleep? For me, the answer is annoyingly almost always a big glass of water and some yoga (or at the office, a big glass of water and sneaking off to a conference room to listen to ameditation podcast or do some deep breathing). But you’d be surprised how quickly you can pull yourself out of a hole if you know what works. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is why it’s so important to write down your self-care essentials and tell other people so they can remind you. And if the sadness won’t go away? Talk to your doctor because there are lots of resources and tools that can help you. You don't have to feel sad, I promise.

So this week, if you’re feeling sad, try to apply your self-care toolkit and see if you can start to see the light. And if you know someone who has recently felt a loss of some kind or is sad for other reasons, reach out and make sure they know you’ve got their back. Need to talk? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #16: Self-Care When...You're Sick

When last we left our heroine, she had already broken her own rule of taking a damn sick day when you’re sick, especially when it’s something like the flu that has you with a fever, chills, and aching body. I didn’t go to work on Monday. I sent my boss an email saying I could barely move (true) and was hacking up a lung (also true) and that I’d keep her posted. I spent the day in bed reading, because my cough required me to be upright at all times, and by Monday night I felt better. I slept like crap though, in great part because I couldn’t lie down without having a coughing fit. So when I woke up on Tuesday morning still feeling terrible with bonus overnight snow, I decided to work from home because I honestly did not think I could manage any portion of the 8kms of walking I usually do the way my lungs were feeling.

By Wednesday morning I was ready to leave the house, even though I had slept badly again and still sounded like a dog with kennel cough. The good news was no-one could accuse me of faking sick thanks to my periodic coughing fits. A week after I last wrote (and 13 days after I first started feeling sick), I still have a vicious cough and scared the crap out of David this weekend thanks to my terrifying sleep wheezing, but I feel better.

Part of the reason I didn’t take a day off originally (when I think I had the flu), was that my boss has made several comments about how she never takes sick days. The last time she made a similar comment (she had a migraine), I told her that I felt that it was her responsibility as a manager to set a good example and take sick days. Even so, when I mentioned two weeks ago that my cubicle pod mate and I were both coming down with something she said something along the lines of, “you better not be”. It had a tone more of, “you guys do important work and we need you” rather than “you are not permitted to be ill, minions”, but still. It didn’t help that I had a handful of important meetings that I really couldn’t miss.
In retrospect, I should have taken that first Wednesday off.  But I have no idea if ploughing through led to this cough (or bronchitis, potato/potat-oh) or if it would have happened anyways. Still, I feel uncomfortable that I allowed myself to be intimidated into not taking time off that I genuinely needed. My first act as a manager, should people ever be lucky enough to have me as their boss, will be to set a tone where the flu is a non-negotiable sick day.

I really did try to dig deep in terms of taking care of myself these last two weeks (going to work aside). I went to bed super early every night. I took a week off from yoga, even though I’m loving Yoga Camp, because when you’re congested and have a hacking cough all those vinyasas are a recipe for trouble. I kept warm. I stretched. I took hot showers. I drank so much water I had trouble falling asleep at night because I kept having to get up to pee. I made my own “tea” during the day with lemon, ginger, and local honey. I cancelled plans.

But the hardest part of this whole thing for me has been the sleep situation. I cannot take any meds with “night” in them, because the active ingredient gives me a bad high and prevents me from sleeping. Many daytime drugs have ingredients in them to keep you alert, so I can’t take those at night either. As a result, I’ve been going to bed feeling fairly sleepy, but as soon as I recline even remotely, I start coughing. So I’ve been thrashing around, tossing and turning, until I manage to prop myself up sufficiently until I finally pass out. Needless to say, I have not been at my best. Last week I finally caved and bought some cough suppressant (after a hilarious conversation where upon hearing about my drug difficulties the pharmacist’s response to my question of what cough syrup I could take was “basically none of them”) and that, plus the dulcet tones of John Roderick’s ‘Roderick on the Line’, finally got me some sleep.

When we get sick, the urge to play through the pain is huge. Part of it is that we are underplaying how sick we actually are, and no doubt if a loved one was in the same condition we would urge them to take care of themselves. What I know for sure though is that playing through the pain does not hasten healing. Maybe you need to be in bed all day, maybe you just need to be curled up on the couch with cats and tea, or maybe the right cocktail of meds and hydration and sleep will get you through. Regardless of what the right prescription is, be honest with yourself (and your loved ones) about what you need to be well.

The best medicine, of course, is prevention. This week’s homework is to really dig deep and make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically. Are you getting enough sleep? How does your diet look? Are you drinking plenty of fluids? How much stress are you carrying around with you? Neglecting any of those elements is a sure fire way to make sure you’re run down and susceptible to whatever sickness jerks like me are bringing into the office.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #15: Self-Care When...You're Hurt

I had dinner with an old friend the other night and as the meal arrived she had to fish a Robaxacet out of her purse. I asked why she was taking it and she explained that she had hurt her back about a month ago and then re-hurt it as it was healing. Besides, she said, her work involves a lot of being hunched over at a desk which doesn’t help. I asked if she was seeing anyone about it and she confessed she wasn’t. I made my usual self-care spiel that I know all my friends so enjoy and we moved on.

She’s not the only one, of course. David sprained his ankle doing some wood clearing at his family’s farm in the summer and it took forever to heal, likewise thanks to no professional intervention. Don’t even get me started on all the people I know who are grinding their bodies down playing Ultimate. My theory is that we’re getting older, but not so old that we’ve gotten used to the idea that we can’t put our bodies through what we could get away with in our early 20s. We’re busy, with jobs and families and lives, so we play through the pain as if that’s enough to make it disappear.

I did something to my knee in the late Spring and given that I was running the Nike Women’s 15K in June as well as hoping to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October, I wanted to get ahead of it. I got the prescription for physio from my doctor at my annual physical and made an appointment at the physio place that’s a seven-minute walk from my office. Of course, the issue turned out not to be my knee and instead my hip, but I’m happy to say a summer of exercises, foam rolling my IT band, and regular check ins has me back in business.

I’m lucky. I have a boss who will let me work from home so I can go to the doctor. I have a doctor who will write a physio prescription (required by my health insurance). I have a great physio office with lunch appointments within easy walking distance of my work. My health insurance covers a chunk of the cost. I don’t mind looking like an idiot doing one-legged squats while I wait for the kettle to boil or for my lunch to heat up. I’m also unlucky in that I have some pretty serious motivation to keep my body moving with ease in the form of a sibling who had a hip replacement in his 40s and parents who have varying levels of mobility issues.

The ergonomics of your workspace, whatever that might look like, are really important. We just got new cubicles at work and I had to spend some time last week getting everything back into place. I found this explainer from Lifehacker to be really useful. I bet a lot of people don’t have their monitor(s) in the right place on their desk. Don’t be afraid to talk to your office administration to request any ergonomic tweaks you might require for your workspace, as that is a workplace health and safety issue.

Likewise at home, make sure your mattress and pillows are the right level of firm or soft for your particular sleeping style. This infographic from She Knows and the Cleveland Clinic shows the best sleep positions for various body pain issues. You spend about a third of your life in bed, so it’s worth taking the time to set things up to support your body and mind for a good night’s sleep.

And of course, get to know your health insurance (your plan and anyone else’s plan who you might be covered under). Not every plan offers the same coverage for services like physiotherapy and massage, but you might be surprised at how generous your plan is, particularly if you have a health spending account of some kind. If you don’t have health insurance through work, you can always consider buying into your own plan. At the very least, it’s worth remembering that medical expenses not covered by private health insurance can go on your taxes (which I know personally thanks to a root canal and crown that I paid for out of pocket).

We only get one body, friends, so it’s up to you to take care of it. It doesn’t get easier as we get older and more fragile, so the more care you put in now, the more that should pay dividends later. Your homework this week is to make sure your desk and bed are set up ergonomically properly for you. Then do some body scans over the next week as you go about your business. Does anything hurt? Twinge? Keep track and then consider talking to your preferred medical professional about treatment.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

P.S. – I must make a confession. I went to work sick this week. I was so busy at work with so many important meetings that I powered through what was probably the flu and spent most of the weekend in bed thanks to a hideous chest cold that might be bronchitis. Do what I say and not what I do. You have my permission to say, “I told you so” as if I had stayed at home for a day I may have been able to get ahead of whatever this thing is. And yes, if it’s still bad tomorrow morning, it’s off to the doctor I go.

(broad)ject self #14: Self-Care When...You're Anxious

*I am not a medical doctor or specialist in psychiatry or psychology, just a gal who’s naturally anxious and found some ways to deal with it that may be useful to you. If your mental health is a concern to you, please talk to a medical professional right away.*

I’ve been feeling so great lately, both physically and mentally, that the moments when I’m not feeling great really stick out. It also makes it a lot easier to isolate what’s causing those not so great feelings and to try and fix them. As I play around with what I eat, I’m quickly learning what my body feels good about and is not so keen on (dairy and sugar in the same meal, for one, which is kind of a bummer). I decided last night that I wanted to write about anxiety today “because I’ve been doing so well lately” and then guess who woke up at 5:30am with her heart racing and a pit in her stomach? Smugness will get you every damn time.

It didn’t help that our cat Finny decided that he was hungry at 5:30am, and since he doesn’t have opposable thumbs that meant waking us up for food. His chosen method is knocking stuff over, so he hopped on the dresser and knocked a glass bottle onto a pile of change, which woke me up with a start. I refuse to negotiate with terrorists, so I decided I wouldn’t feed him until 6am (which is when they get fed during the week). So I was lying in bed, trying to fall back asleep and I felt totally unsettled. When I feel anxious it’s a physical feeling; tightness in my chest and my stomach hurts. My brain pinballed around until it settled on being worried about money. As of this moment, there isn’t really much to worry about. Everybody has jobs and we have a plan to pay off our student debt. But the anxiety addled brain wants what the anxiety addled brain wants, and today it wanted to flip out about finances.

I wanted this next paragraph to read “Once upon a time I would have buckled under the pressure, but now…” I’d be lying though. I lay there, tossing and turning and ignoring every impulse that I know better and I just sank into it. I finally fell asleep, and ended up hitting the snooze button from 7:45-9am, because I couldn’t wrench myself from bed. Not exactly how I wanted to spend the last day of a long weekend.
So here’s what I should have done: I should have gotten up as soon as I started feeling anxious. I should have poured myself a glass of water with lemon. I should have a done a yoga video. Then I could have gone back to bed for a full sleep cycle until my alarm went off and started my day on a calm foot.

But all this aside, that I can count on two fingers how many times I’ve felt anxious in the last six weeks or so tells me that overall, the stuff I’m doing is working. Here’s what’s been helping me:

-My nutritionist built my plan with anxiety in mind. Keeping my blood sugar steady throughout the day is a huge help. She also has me taking a probiotic and B vitamins that help with stress. Through her I also started using this aromatherapy face and body mist, which I carry with me and spray when I feel unsettled. I’m also using flower remedies, right now I’m taking Alexis Smart’s Safe and Sound.

-I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but yoga has been transformative for me, if for no other reason than it’s taught me how to breath again. I love Yoga with Adriene, and she just started a new 30 Day Challenge called ‘Yoga Camp’, but you can also dip into her various playlists on YouTube. She has a playlist called Yoga for Healing which has some great videos in it for specific physical and mental/emotional issues.

-If yoga’s not your thing, regular ol’ exercise has also been a great help. I walk 8km for my commute on a normal day and that has gone a long way to making sure I’m tired every night. On top of that, I try to do a couple of strength training sessions a week. Reach out if you want to be my friend on Nike + or FitBit and we can challenge each other to some extra steps.

-Speaking of sleep, being able to fall asleep quickly goes a long way to quieting the brain hamsters. I’m in a really good sleeping groove now (or at least I was until the lawlessness of vacation took over, ask me next week), but when I had some serious insomnia last winter I found the Sleep with Me Podcast to be super helpful. The guy does a couple of versions, one where he just tells weird stories in a soothing voice and another where he recaps Game of Thrones episodes in the dullest way possible.

-My biggest problem is that my brain just gets away on me sometimes, especially during downtimes like my walk home or when I’m cooking. I’ve found listening to podcasts to be really useful, because it distracts me. You know I love Judge John Hodgman, but I’m also grooving on The Lively Show and Magic Lessons. David is a huge fan of audiobooks, and you can get them for free through your local library to download on your computer or smartphone.

-Finally, I can’t omit my new mantra of saying no to life. I spent so many years socially doing the right thing, the nice thing, the proper thing, even if it made me actively unhappy. Now I’m focused on doing things that allow me to feel my Core Desired Feelings, and everything else gets a good hard look before I say yes. Sometimes I absolutely have to suck it up, but now I’m not afraid to say no if something doesn’t serve me. I won’t lie, that may have some people thinking I’m less of a good friend to them than I once was. And you know what? That has to be ok.

Anxiety is a very personal issue, so above all I would encourage you to talk it out with your doctor if you think it’s taking a bite out of your life. I’ve had positive transformative experiences with medication as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, so it’s really about finding the level of help that works for your particular breed of brain hamster. I’m happy to answer any questions based on my experiences about medical or psychological help for anxiety and depression, so please reach outif you’re curious.

This week’s homework is to come up with a list of things that soothe your body, your mind, and your heart. Print it out (or put it in your smart device) and keep it close, so you can turn to it if you need a reminder. Don’t forget that telling loved ones or friends what kind of prompts you may need can be a great help (“If I seem anxious, remind me that a cup of tea and a 5 minute stretch break calm me down.”)

I want to hear all about your anxiety busters. You know where to find me

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #13: Self-Care When...It's a New Year

Firstly, I have to apologize that there was no (broad)ject self last week. I had plans to write about self-care over the holidays and I was so busy living my own advice, and spending time with my adorable nephews and adored sister, that I completely forgot to write.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, before I flew home to Winnipeg I had made some mental plans for self-care that I wanted to make sure I made every attempt to follow through on. I wanted to do yoga every day, which I ended up doing every day I felt like it. Life here, especially around Christmas, is a whirlwind so on a few nights going to bed came first. I wanted to take some quiet time to myself every day, which I also mostly managed, specifically in terms of taking some time in bed in the morning to ease into the day. Most amazingly, I didn’t even have a Slurpee every day.

I wasn’t perfect. After some weeks of really cutting back on sugar and dairy I instantly overdid it (vacation!) and paid the price. I didn’t read as much as I had hoped. I didn’t connect with people via email, text, or holiday cards (sorry friends!). I didn’t take pictures.

Of course, the great thing about the week after Christmas is that it’s a bit of a “fuck it” cycle before the fresh start that the New Year brings. We can allow ourselves to enjoy some excess, in my case in the form of nice wine I didn’t pay for and cookies, in the knowledge that a blank slate is available to us should we care to take it. I feel uniquely poised to take advantage this year, particularly in terms of diet, thanks to the work I’ve done in the last few months. It turns out that being reminded of how shitty eating badly makes you feel (don’t get me started on the zits!) is an amazing encouragement to get back on the healthy eating wagon.

But look, a new year brings a lot of pressure too. Magazines, Twitter, and Instagram would have us think that you’ll instantly wake up on New Year’s Day a different person who suddenly has the ability to make changes that you haven’t been able to achieve before. The instant that you slip, you feel like a failure and that there’s no point even bothering anymore because you missed your shot. It doesn’t help that January in Canada is basically the worst time ever to change your eating habits, because there’s nothing local and fresh but root vegetables and all the fruit came from across the globe and is tasteless. And those short frozen days don’t exactly do much to motivate you to wake up early to exercise or do anything of substance in the evening beyond huddle under a blanket in the basement and watch TV.

As a recent MBA graduate, I’m treating this upcoming calendar flip as a new quarter, rather than a new year. In that vein, I’ve tried to come up with some goals that I can reasonably accomplish in the next three months and I’ve split them into three buckets; health, personal, and work.

Health

  1. Work with my nutritionist to make the changes she’s recommending.
  2. Work through Yoga with Adriene’s ‘Yoga Camp

Personal

  1. Read a book for at least half an hour a day
  2. Complete the bookstore website reno

Work

  1. Improve my Microsoft Excel chart and graphing skills

Having clear achievable goals that aren’t tied to outcomes that are beyond my control is really important to me. Everything on that list is do-able within my life as it stands, as long as I’m willing to do the work.

So…what are your goals for Q1 2016? If you want to tell me about them, I am all ears.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #12: Self-Care When...It's Good Here

The issues of (broad)ject self thus far have generally been inspired by challenges I’ve been facing any given week. The struggle I had last week, ending in me ultimately emailing you cat videos, was that I couldn’t think of anything particularly tough that had happened the previous week. The same thing happened this week, but I was able to recognize it for what it was. Because you know what? Things are actually pretty good here.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I could give you a list of things that are stressing me out and causing me varying levels of anxiety right now. But all the work I’ve done with regards to my health and self-care over the last nine-ish months is finally starting to pay off. It’s a weird feeling, as I mentioned in a previous issue, when things are going well as my immediate reaction is that it’s simply the calm before the storm. It’s different this time though, as I’ve mentally identified the potential risks and I feel somewhat prepared for them. That’s not to say that the universe could come up with something awful and tragic beyond my expectations, but life is too short to be that organized.

The real risk for me now is getting complacent, thinking that I can ease back on the self-care because I’m in a good place. We’ve all done it, I’m sure. We have lots of physical energy so we stay up too late for a bunch of nights in a row and…feel tired again. We have lots of mental energy and go back to our old ways of putting other people’s needs first and…feel wrung out again. Regular exercise/stretching has gotten us feeling light and lithe but we fall out of the habit and…feel bloated and sore again.

For me, feeling good means that it’s time to double down on self-care. The work I’ve been doing with my nutritionist has changed my diet completely and once the holidays are over (because I’m only human), I’m planning to take a break from some foods that are very dear to my heart. I’m keeping an eagle eye on my calendar to make sure it doesn’t get overrun with too many nights out, because I know that I need a couple of nights at home a week to get shit done and feel sane. I’d like to get back to running in the spring, so I’m keeping up with my physio, yoga, andstrength training so that my body is ready to hit the pavement.

The holidays are creeping up as well, and for me that means heading back to Winnipeg for nine days. Those visits heal my heart and soul, but I have to be vigilant about not letting my demonic hair-shirted martyr out of her oubliette of guilt. This year I’m really trying to establish what my self-care musts are, so where I have to be strict and strong and where I can afford to be a little laxer since it’s Christmas. I think that probably means daily yoga, daily quiet time, and who am I kidding, daily Slurpees (maaaybe don't tell my nutritionist).

We’ll talk a little more about self-care over the holidays next week, but this week I would love for you to sit down quietly for a few moments and really think about how your heart feels:

Is it light and radiant? What can you do to grow that feeling? What have you been telling yourself you’d do once things finally got quieter/easier/simpler/better. This is your moment, kiddo, so make your move.

Is it heavy and aching? What is the single thing you could do in the next hour that could bring you some peace? Remember, today is not over yet. I promise that someone in your life is ready and willing to help if only you have the courage to ask.  

I want to hear about it no matter what, so find me at broadjectinc@gmail.com(or just reply to this email) and tell me everything.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

PS - I wrote this on the train back from Belleville, as is my habit. I couldn't get on the wifi to post on the train and wasted an hour trying to conquer VIA Rail's WIFI, to no avail. I made stupid choices on how to get home, transit-wise. I got a venti Chai Egg Nog Latte from Starbucks. I got stressed out and anxious about some stuff. But...now I'm going to take a deep breath, have a hot shower, a big glass of water, a snack, and then do some yoga. Because it's good here and I've got this.

(broad)ject self #11: Self-Care When...You've Got Nothin'

When it comes to writing the (broad)ject self newsletter, I keep a list of possible topics that I jot down as I think of them, but generally I’ll get a thunderbolt of inspiration by about Wednesday at the latest. As the week goes by, I’ll start writing drafts in my head, and then on Sunday night I just sit down and the words spill out.

This week? I’ve got bupkis. I wrote half a newsletter about a post idea I had saved, but it sucks. So rather than send you a newsletter that I’m embarrassed to send and you find painful to read just for the sake of having sent something, I’m going to share some links with you and call it good.
If you missed a newsletter or subscribed in the last few weeks, here are all the back issues:

#1: Self Care When...You're Angry
#2: Self-Care When...You're Sick
#3: Self-Care When...You're Jealous
#4: Self-Care When...You're Ambitious
#5: Self-Care When...You've Lost Yourself
#6: Self-Care When...You're a Yes Woman
#7: Self-Care When...You're Feeling Optimistic
#8: Self-Care When...You're With Your Family
#9: Self-Care When...You Have to Make a Big Change
#10: Self-Care When...You're Worried it is Self-Indulgence


Here is a video from Facebook of cats knocking over small children.

Here is the Enya song I’ve had on repeat this week.

Here is the yoga video I’m going to do before bed tonight.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #10: Self-Care When...You're Worried it is Self-Indulgence

A friend texted me this week to ask whether I thought her recent obsession with beauty, specifically make-up tutorials on YouTube (and practicing said skills on herself), was self-care or self-indulgence. My response was that I thought it was self-care until you take it too far, and also that even if that interest (or any other interest or hobby) took away from time spent with her family that still didn’t necessarily make it self-indulgence.

My theory on self-care is this: there’s a spectrum that on the left features selflessness (see here my deranged martyrdom), in the middle is self-care, and on the far right is self-indulgence. Selflessness is pretty easy to define, and I can almost guarantee you’re probably doing it a great deal of the time. As women specifically, we fall into habits of putting other people first because it’s easier. We’ll get to our needs later, we say, but somehow we often never get there. We are often better at internalizing other people’s preferences and seamlessly using that information later, rather than asking them what they want or need. Sometimes, we put those preferences ahead of our own preferences because making people happy and content makes us feel happy and content. There should be nothing wrong with selflessness on its face, except that over time, the parts of you that make you you leak out and we lose ourselves.

Self-indulgence, on the other hand, seems like it should also be easy to define. We can all think of times that we’ve been indulgent and can certainly identify when other people have been guilty. To help you identify self-indulgence, try out this little quiz:

  1. You’ve had a long day at work. The first thing you do when you get home is pour yourself a glass of wine and sit down in front of Netflix. Is this self-indulgent?
  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. It depends
  1. You’ve had tickets to your favourite band for months. Your husband announces at the last minute that he has a work dinner and he really needs you there with him. You go to the concert anyways. Is this self-indulgent?
  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. It depends
  1. You go for a run every morning before work, leaving your husband to get the kids up and ready for the day. Is this self-indulgent?
  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. It depends

If you answered ‘c’ for all questions…you’re totally right. It truly depends on the circumstances of your everyday life, the relationship you have with the people in it, and the things you do that make you feel good and bad. If drinking a huge glass of wine after work every day is making you feel like crap by bedtime, maybe it’s not such a good idea. But if you need to sit down quietly with a beverage and a ‘Friends’ episode for 22 minutes after work every day to re-balance your equilibrium so you can be ready to take on the rest of the evening? That sounds pretty delightful.

Putting your oxygen mask on first doesn’t mean letting other people suffer. It means putting yourself first so that you can be in the best position to take care of yourself and others. It’s a constant personal negotiation with lots of moving pieces that get moved around every day. If your husband has the flu, maybe your morning run is self-indulgent that day. But maybe it’s your non-negotiable and he’s just going to have to keep it together for you for 30 minutes while you run.

Self-care is a lifelong experiment. Sometimes you’ll get it right. Sometimes you’ll get it spectacularly wrong. My feeling is that if you can achieve balance in the macro, then those micro moments don’t matter quite so much. Your kids may not remember who got them dressed for school every day, but they will remember that mom’s a runner.

Your homework this week is to identify something you’d like to spend more time doing, be it yoga, sleeping, reading, or whatever, and play around with how much feels like too much. At what point does time spent on that habit feel like it’s actively taking away from other parts of your life in a negative way? We might have to flirt with danger, or in this case self-indulgence, and know what it feels like so we can find our happy place in the realm of healthy self-care.

Thoughts or opinions on this? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #9: Self-Care When...You Have to Make a Big Change

I’ve flirted with major lifestyle changes, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t more intention than execution. Usually I’d sign up for some sort of online program or challenge, start receiving the emails, and then fail and lose track within the first few days. I had lots of excuses: I didn’t have time for the workouts, I didn’t think David would buy into the eating program, the workouts were too hard/long, or the recipes were too easy/complicated/not tested properly. Most of the time the program or challenge was free, I’d optimistically file the emails for later use, and move on as before.

For a long time too, it didn’t really matter. My doctor was (and still is) happy with my health and weight. I was happy enough not to want to overexert myself. I believed that it was impossible to love food and cooking while restricting myself in any way. But as my parents get older and encounter various medical issues, some that you could ostensibly link to lifestyle and some you could not, I am becoming more fiercely protective of my health and mobility. My father’s first amputation (left leg below the knee) last October came at a time where my self-care mantra was “survival by any means necessary”. But by the time of the second amputation in May (right foot), I was getting to a better place. That fact that my father smoked for 35 years was a huge part of the circulation issues that caused his amputations, but his Type-2 diabetes was the root cause. So, in May, I started thinking more seriously about what choices I needed to be making.

Then life happened. Summer happened. Vacations happened. Barbeques, patios, Slurpees (only in Winnipeg), Venti Iced Chai Lattes, and late nights on the deck with wine and candles happened. It was a casual comment from my physiotherapist that got me on track. She said she’d started watching how much extra sugar she was eating and she lost 5 pounds in a few weeks. This got me checking the Starbucks website only to discover that my Venti Chai Lattes had 58g of sugar! The next thing I knew, I was making an appointment with a holistic nutritionist because I knew I needed help on how to navigate the kind of changes I wanted to make.

I met with her two weeks ago, food diary in hand, to talk about my lifestyle and what I was hoping to achieve. A week later, we met again to discuss the plan she had prepared for me. She took my food diary and all the weird intricacies of my schedule and home life and turned it into a plan that I could actually accomplish. Given those same intricacies, she said she’d be happy if I could stick to the plan 80% of the time, and depending on how that went would inform how we’d move forward. The plan doesn’t ban anything, but instead suggests I think of certain things as treats. These aren’t small changes though, because we’re trying to balance my blood sugar over the day as well as support my walking commute and anxiety. It’s day four and I’ve already achieved way more than I ever have in the past. Most importantly, when I have “cheated”, I’ve felt crappy as compared to how I’ve been feeling the rest of the day. Sometimes, It takes knowing what feeling good feels like to know what feeling bad feels like.

At its most basic, self-care only costs time. Drinking more water and getting enough sleep are free, wearing sunscreen and brushing your teeth don’t cost your wallet much at all. But all those things take time and effort, every single day. Leveling up your self-care can involve more dollar signs though. Health service professionals can be expensive, whether it’s physio, a nutritionist, a naturopath, or a massage. Changing the way you eat isn’t cheap either, says the woman who spend $15 today on chia seeds. Making new habits is the hardest thing of all, because that’s 100% up to you baby. You have to be willing to spend the time, effort, and money to make those changes happen and make them stick. Most challengingly for women, you have to take time, effort, and money away from other people in your life and funnel it towards yourself.

I don’t want to underplay this, folks. I willingly drank something called Turmeric Milk last night and ate a piece of 70% dark chocolate with it. I ate an apple with almond butter for a snack. I’ve been getting herbal tea instead of a latte from Starbucks every morning. This is a massive shift for me, but I so desperately want to retain my health and my limbs and my fertility that I’m ready to make those changes. This is the biggest lifestyle shift I’ve ever made and I’m willing to support myself however I need to get through it, possibly to the detriment of the support other people are accustomed to getting from me.

Danielle LaPorte in one of her conversation starters asks, “What have you been afraid to admit to yourself, because if you said it out lout it might mean that you’d have to make some big changes?” One month ago tomorrow, I finally admitted that I’m afraid to die in the knowledge that I willingly didn’t take care of myself because I like white flour and sugar too much. What are you afraid to admit? You know where to find me if you need to get it off your chest.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #8: Self-Care When...You're With Your Family

Apologies, friends and subscribers, for delivering this week’s newsletter to you a day late. 90% of the reason is that I knew I wanted to write about self-care and family, and since I was going to be with my own family over the weekend, I wanted to have the source material available. The other 10% is because even though I technically could have slammed out the newsletter while flying back to Toronto, I chose to work on a devilishly difficult Kenken puzzle and drink prosecco instead. We’ll save more on that for another edition called “Self-Care When…You’re Terrified of Flying” or “Why I Believe Keeping Myself Distracted Keeps the Plane in the Air”.

My last visit home, as you may recall, was a bit of a stressful whirlwind. I believe I referred to myself on that trip as behaving like a “demonic hair shirted martyr” with regards to my deep urge to be helpful. My own self-care journey has made huge strides in these past months though, and I was eager to put my learnings to the test. The trip this weekend was a perfect incubator, as it was a short trip (48 hours) and featured a visit from my older sister as well as my older brother and five year old niece. My goals for the weekend were to soak up time with my niece, make sure my mom was enjoying having her three children (by birth) in one place, and be appropriately helpful. This mostly meant resisting the urge to not tell either of my brothers (31 and 50 respectively) that they were being dumb.

Late Friday night my older brother and I cleaned the kitchen and had some sibling time. By the time bedtime rolled around, I was wound up after landing in Winnipeg to the terrible news from Paris, so instead of fitfully tossing and turning I listened toJudge John Hodgman with my earphones on and practiced some alternate nostril breathing. I woke up early on Saturday morning, as is my custom, and instead of going back to sleep I did some morning yoga. I tried to do the little things around the house that might get overlooked while leaving the big things that my mom would frankly rather to do herself for her to do. Even cooking dinner on Saturday night, which did feature a few tense moments due to timing, was 100% worth it because I got to make a delicious dinner that my whole family enjoyed, drink amazing (real) champagne, and make a decadent chocolate cake with my niece. I was intentional in all my choices and prioritized connecting with my family, attempting to find moments of ease, usefulness, and poise, thereby covering my core desired feelings.

Was it perfect? Of course not. There were stressful moments regarding the delicate timing dance that any family who has home care workers in their lives will recognize. My niece dropped my brother’s Americano, which I had let her carry because I’m an indulgent aunt, on the floor of Chapters. I didn’t grease the baking pans for the cake sufficiently and ended up having to cut a chunk of it off. My niece ended up with icing sugar in her hair. But every moment was filled with love and joy and gratitude.

When I say your in the title of this newsletter, I do so deliberately. Partly I meanyour in the sense of whomever you define as your family, be it by blood or by choice. In my case, the emphasis is on my family versus David’s family, because I feel a pressure to be perfect with my own family that I don’t feel living with his mother. Because I don’t get to see them all the time (although arguably still more than many), I feel guilty if I’m not spending every waking moment I can with them.  But what’s true for caregivers of any stripe applies here too: I needed to learn how to put on my own oxygen mask first. I can’t return from every trip to Winnipeg feeling worn out because a) that just causes my mother way more stress and b) I can’t live like that.

I can be a wee bit rigid when it comes to schedules and rules and traditions, so I am making a concerted effort to continue to say NO to letting my need for structure overcome enjoying life. When you only get to spend 40 hours with your amazing five year old niece? You gotta roll with the punches even if that means that the paper doll sticker clothing doesn’t end up perfectly lined up on the paper doll or if she hates the Laura Ashley romper from 1988 that you made her try on.

Your homework assignment this third week of NO-vember is to ponder if there’s anything you need to say no to regarding your family, particularly as the holiday season draws ever closer. Are there traditions that need revamping? Expectations that need re-setting? As ever, I want to hear about it.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #7: Self-Care When...You're Feeling Optimistic

Although I was thrilled that the Liberals got a majority, I didn’t really pay much attention to the whole cabinet announcing or swearing-in foofaraw. And yet, there I was at my desk on Wednesday looking at the names and faces of FIFTEEN women, 50% of the cabinet (48% including Trudeau), being sworn in as cabinet ministers. There were women with different cultural backgrounds, different experiences, and different abilities. Was it perfect? Of course not. But I felt this amazing sense of possibility and optimism. As I mused on Facebook, is this what equality feels like?

Things have actually been feeling pretty good lately, which is a feeling I am not prone to trust. It feels like over the last couple of years I have been careening from crisis to crisis, with only brief respites in between. I’ve been living in a hall of shoes, where there’s always an other other shoe to drop. But as much as two steps forward and one step back is frustrating, it’s still a net gain, and I feel like I’ve been steadily getting to a good place where things seem clearer and more possible. There are some major issues still undecided, but I have no control over those, and where I do have control decisions have been made on how to move forward.

When I start feeling optimistic and that instant feeling of suspicion and dread rolls over me, I now have enough straws (see last week’s newsletter) that I can tamp down those icky feelings. If something goes wrong, and it will no doubt at some point because this is life and not a fairy tale, I have the ability to deal with it and the support to go to for help. I have straws and a cushion! So if you’re feeling optimistic and positive and excited there’s only one thing to do, and that’s to do the work.

What work will depend on what you want to achieve. Right now, I’m super focused on wringing every last drop out of my bonus year of Monday-Friday singledom. That means working hard(er), doing more yogawatching more bad TV, and sleeping like a starfish in the middle of the bed because I can. It means taking care of my body and my brain and my heart so that when we’re ready to go for the next stage of life (coughkidscough), my straws are numerous and my buckets are full.


I’ve talked to lots of people, and I’m guilty myself here, who feel optimistic or inspired and then do nothing and…the feeling passes. Life happens. The moment is over and the spark becomes a distant memory. Maybe you’re thinking here, “Sian, I thought it was NO-vember? And now you want me to say yes to something?” What I what you to say no to is putting other people first, completely disregarding your own needs and wants and joy. I want you to say no to apathy and laziness and “maybe tomorrow”. I want you to say yes to making your own life happen, because I know that you are capable of doing amazing and awesome things.

So this week’s homework? Next time you have an idea, follow through. Maybe you take 15 minutes at your desk at work to jot down an outline or a list and follow through at a pre-determined time later. Maybe you drop everything and hibernate in your cave until you have something on paper (or screen or whatever). And keep saying no to the stuff that doesn’t serve you. If you have a spark of genius, you better believe I want to hear about it, so email me at broadjectinc@gmail.com.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #6: Self-Care When...You're a Yes Woman

You're a Yes Woman

I got an email from a friend and (broad)ject self subscriber the other week, asking if I would consider writing about the pressure women feel to say “yes” all the time and how to say “no” to opportunities that aren’t quite right. I replied in the affirmative (so please do consider sending topic suggestions, I would love to hear them!) and then told her about the life philosophy that I started testing out this summer. I call it ‘Saying No to Life’.

I am certainly not the only person who spent her 20s with an acute case of FOMO (fear of missing out, for the acronym impaired). Whether it was staying at parties too late, jumping on any social opportunity presented, or agreeing to tasks at work that were not technically in my purview, I said yes to everything because I was afraid if I said no, people would stop asking. Being invited to social opportunities made me feel popular and being asked to do extra work made me feel indispensable. When you’re an overly empathetic, accommodating people-pleaser like I am, feeling popular and indispensable are like a drug.

It’s only in the last year that I really began to reconsider. Part of it was that the collision of the final year of my MBA, job-hunting, and the family toll of my father’s health issues had left me feeling burnt the eff out. There was no last straw, because I was completely lacking in straws. I had nothing left to give. Once I got my job, once my father’s recovery stabilized, once David started working, the straws started to pile up again. But suddenly, I felt possessive of my straws. I wanted to keep as many of them as possible. And this is where I had the first of my self-care revelations: self-care means saying no, both to other people and yourself.

It wasn’t easy. I had just cemented my Core Desired Feelings, thanks to Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map, so I was able to start basing my decisions on the way I wanted to feel. At ease. Connected. Useful. Intentional. Poised. Then I considered my pillars of self-care (sleep, hydration, dental hygiene, sunscreen, alone time). In particular, would a decision impact my ability to get enough sleep or spend time alone? Taking all of those things into consideration, saying no became easier, partly because it became a “no, but…”.

“Did you want to have a drink tonight, even though you haven’t had a quiet night at home all week?”
“No, but what about next Wednesday?”

“Would you be interested in taking on this extra time-consuming project that is cool but not actually aligned to your interests?”
“No, but I know that Mary was saying she was looking to take on an extra project.”

“Can you do this personal favour for me that you’ve said yes to in the past but is brutally inconvenient to you?”
“No, but I heard of this new service that does exactly that and I have a discount code I can send you.”

“Self, would you like to enjoy a Slurpee and a cupcake whilst lying on the couch watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory that you’ve legit seen 20 times?”
“No, but why don’t I watch TV while I do a Nike Training Club workout and then walk to Starbucks for an iced tea?”

It takes practice. It takes confidence. It takes knowing what your personal priorities are and what your time is worth. Alexandra Franzen wrote a great post about saying no, which I would encourage you to read every time you feel yourself wavering. Sometimes you will make the wrong call and sometimes you will miss out. But that’s ok, because that’s how we learn.

In that spirit, I’m declaring this month to be NO-vember. I’ll be writing on the blogevery day about the big and little things I’m saying no to, what was my rationale, and what the result was. As for your homework assignment this week? What is the one thing you’ve committed to recently that you wish you’d said no to? And if you had the chance, how would you say no next time? Email me with your answers atbroadjectinc@gmail.com.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian 

(broad)ject self #5: Self-Care When...You've Lost Yourself

Wednesday afternoon saw me slumped in my desk chair, struggling mightily to focus on the task at hand. Monday night’s election results (as well as Monday night’s workout, thanks NTC Stress Slammer) really took it out of me and I was still dragging. A meeting started up in the conference room behind me and I could hear well enough that it was distracting, so in went the earphones. I’m a happy Rdio customer, so I booted up a playlist and got back to work. A few songs in, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ ‘Downtown’ started and I contemplated skipping it, as I usually did in the past, but for whatever reason I let it play on. I had heard the song before, but for some reason I really heard it this time. There’s this moment at 1:52 of the song where the hook crescendos for the first time and my heart just burst with joy. I listened to the song on repeat. Then I watched the music video. Then I watched the live performance from this year’s MTV VMAs. Then I bought the song on iTunes.

Part of the reason the song filled me with so much joy was that it brought back this really specific memory from when I was a kid. It was after school, my parents and brother and I were all in the living room, and we were listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on repeat (or as repeat as you can with an LP) while my brother and I danced around and sang along. The guest artist on ‘Downtown’ who performs the amazing hook is Eric Nally of a band named Foxy Shazam, and he’s known for his Freddie Mercury like pipes and antics, so it was no surprise my brain made the connection.

Here’s something even my closest friends may not know about me: if I could be anything in the world when I grow up, it would be a professional lip synch-er. There is nothing that makes me happier than jamming around my house or in the car, lip synching to my favourite tunes with gusto. I’ve always been involved in music. Violin, piano, voice, and theory lessons. Choirs. Musical theatre camps. Various musical endeavors in high school including our yearly ‘Rock Show’ and musicals. But I was never going to be a professional musician, or singer, and as the years wore on it stopped being a part of me.

I never purposely gave up my love for listening to pop hits and musical theatre shows on 11 and “singing” alone, I just stopped having the chance to do it. Musical tastes aren’t something David and I share, although one of the early special moments in our relationship was his insisting I perform computer karaoke to Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ and him thinking I was great. Unfortunately, life gets in the way, what with work and living arrangements and being conscious of noise and neighbours. David and I moved in together, and years later we moved in with his mother, and suddenly I can count the number of times I have been alone in my own home over the last year on one hand. I also can’t multi-task with music that has vocals, so I can’t have it on in the background while I read or work.

After I listened to ‘Downtown’ a few times on the train home, I started queueing up other songs that brought me similar joy. A little Queen, some Meatloaf, some Celine Dion. I got home energized and feeling myself in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. And all it had cost me was an hour of potentially embarrassing myself by lip synching on the GO train. Last week I talked about using my ‘fringe hour’s on the GO train better and I think listening to music that brings me joy is going to go on that list of important tasks. Also, I need to make more time for karaoke.

We’ve all given up things that bring us childlike joy for all kinds of reasons. Maybe we don’t have time. Maybe we’re embarrassed. Or maybe we just forgot how that thing made us feel. But an essential part of self-care has to be allowing ourselves to feel that pure joy as often as humanly possible. What if you don’t know what brings you joy? Well, I think looking back to childhood moments of pure happiness is a good place to start. It could also be when you had freedom for the first time, whether that was in university or as a young adult.

That moment on Wednesday was like rediscovering a part of myself that I hadn’t realized I’d lost. I feel more myself this week than I have in a long time. And that feeling is going to help me be more successful at work, more motivated to get shit done at home, and a better fiancée, daughter, and friend.

I think you know what your homework this week is. What brings you pure joy? When was the last time you did that thing that makes you feel it? And how can you make time this week to feel that way as much as possible? Do it, feel it, and then tell me all about it, pretty please.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #4: Self-Care When...You're Ambitious

I was sitting in a hotel dining room this week, all by myself, giant wine glass in hand and my iPad with a book in the other. The hotel was in Mississauga, but the timing of two days of offsite meetings meant that my work put me up for the night. This was a rare treat for me, so I was enjoying my wine and carbonara, but I noticed I was surrounded by other solo diners, each keeping themselves busy. One woman had her laptop and piles of documents, another an iPad, and several men were sitting at the bar watching sportsball of some variety. I sat back and wondered to myself whether this was a life I could get used to?

The reason for our offsite meeting was a major corporate strategy change that had been, until the moment it was announced, top-secret. At the end of the announcement, the VP thanked all the people involved, but most especially a female director who had been the key point person on the project. She was given kudos for all the long hours she spent on the project, often away from the office, on top of her normal responsibilities. This frisson of excitement passed through me and I thought, “I want to do that.”

I have no need to travel for work in my current position. My days are pretty 8-4, unless I have a meeting that keeps me a little bit later. I don’t get emails at all hours, I don’t have a work phone, and there’s no expectation that I open my laptop outside of the office. And yet…I came home from that meeting on my last summer Friday and booted up my computer to do several hours more work. Then on Saturday morning, I was back at it, writing a standard operating procedure for a new account I’m trying to wrap my head around. It hit me at that meeting that I can absolutely do my job in 40 hours a week, but if I want to take it to the next level, it will require a deeper level of commitment.

But what does that look like? And what sacrifices am I willing to make to get there? Can I give up daily yoga? Sudoku time? Socializing? Sleep? I’m lucky now, all I need to do is tell David I need to do work, either on (broad)ject inc. or my regular job, and he tells me to go hole up as long as needed and I won’t be disturbed. Will he be willing to do that forever? What about when we have kids?

So I'm thinking a lot about all those questions these days, and I don’t have many answers yet. I know as long as we’re childless, my sleep needs to be protected above all else, because I'm a wretched heap of misery if I’m tired. Yoga and exercise are important, but getting to bed on time will always come first. I'm going to have to become more creative with my “fringe hours”, particularly time spent on the GO train, as that is two hours a day that could be spent more usefully than playing games on my phone.

I know not everyone gets a chance to ease into potential success and responsibility. Lawyer friends started their careers practically living at work, whereas if I stayed past 5pm my boss in publishing would ask me why I was still there. I won’t waste this opportunity, either to get ahead in my work and life or to try and grasp that success on my own terms, while taking care of myself and my family.

I conceived this newsletter as a result of an initial desire to become a resource for ambitious Canadian women in their late 20s to 40s. Women who weren’t just starting their careers, but had put in some time and were now looking to really lean in and make a move. But in the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t want to make my own move at the complete sacrifice of myself. I’m not willing to martyr myself at the altar of work or family, but is that just a pipe dream? Those are the questions I want to ponder both here and on the blog.

This is where I want to hear from you! How are you balancing your ambition in work and life with self-care? Are you in a good place? Do you need to stop the world for a little while to catch up and re-evaluate? Have you already made sacrifices? Were they worth it? How can I help? Send me an email to broadjectinc@gmail.com.

Self-caringly yours,
Sian