One advantage to getting older is that you get to continue to learn all about yourself and what you do well and what you don't do so well.
For example, I have always been pretty solidly OK with language and words and writing. I am less OK but still competent at expressing myself verbally in person.
One thing that I have learned I am really bad at? What the popular kids these days call "self-care." (No actual popular kids call it that, I'm pretty sure, but that's not the point.)
I have been working from home since May of 2014 — so I just passed the three-year mark. And if there's one thing I've learned in the past three years it is exactly how bad I am at self-care.
Turns out when you don't have to show up to an office with a dress code (or even without one!) every day, it's really easy to justify the stretchy pants every day. Until one day you have somewhere to be and you try to put on your jeans and realize they don't fit! (No ... this never happened to me. Ever!)
In no particular order, here are the lessons I've learned about how to become super fantastic* at self-care when you don't have any reason to prepare yourself for public consumption.
The struggle is real
If you've never worked remotely on a regular basis, then it's easy to think that the whole premise of self-care for work-at-homers is bogus.
Here's the thing: "self-care" isn't the same thing as "working in your sweats on the couch." (And most freelancers — not all! but most — who I know who binge-watch Netflix while they work end up not freelancing for very long.) Sometimes, depending on your job, the hours that used to take up your commute get eaten up by work — and then some.
I've definitely had stretches like that in my work-from-home life; sometimes it can be impossible to unplug. I also have a family that includes a child, and often when I found myself in one of those stretches, I'd go straight from work to kid and leave zero time for me.
So if you also work from home and you can't figure out why this is your situation because everyone you know who works away from home seems to have it down pat — you aren't the only one ever to struggle with this; it is a thing that people who work from home can experience.
Take control of your hours
If part of the problem is that you're working too much, then the first thing you need to do is get your hours under control.
As a freelancer, that might mean you hike your rates and shed the most high-maintenance client you can afford to strike from the books. If you're a full-time employee somewhere, then it's probably time for a serious discussion about your workload and bandwidth.
That can be an awkward conversation to have. Just remember that nobody is doing their best work if they are stressed out and overextended, and especially not after a certain number of hours in the day. You want to hand in your best work and not drop balls, and you need a schedule and workload that will facilitate that goal.
Maybe it's more about how you manage your time, also. If you are still trying to multitask all over the place every day, then you should give time-blocking a try. It can do amazing things for your productivity, and you don't need to go nuts: start by time-blocking two 50-minute focused work sessions and breaking them up with 15 to 20 minutes of "off" time.
Talk to the universe at least once a day
Meditation is crucial to my personal well-being. I am not going to feel or act normal if I don't have the space in my life to sit down and get still and enjoy touching the center of everything, or at least remembering that it exists.
Maybe that's prayer or something else for you — but even if you're an atheist, spending some quiet time alone trying to capture the moment and be fully present in it can be a valuable thing to do for yourself. You don't have to attach any kind of dogma or religion to that, and if your brain enjoys it, then why not?
I like to do my talking in the morning, but I'm working on carving out space for some evening time, too. There are a ton of apps and resources available to get you started, so try a few and see what resonates with you. I personally prefer not to use an app so I can customize my experience a little bit every day depending on what's going on, and I also spend some time writing in a journal afterward (more on that later).
It starts with your face
I am a grown adult who's managed entire company departments, so when I write this, know that I consider it much more a confession than a boast: When I'm not in the throes of self-care, there are days when I let my skin-care regimen slip.
But then I learned something about myself (again, growing older is great!): It's really hard to make myself a priority when I'm not even making my own face a priority.
I am absolutely not saying that women who work from home should wear makeup every day. I sure as heck don't!
But when I do, I remove it properly with the makeup remover stuff and wash up with a cleanser brush and some nice, high-quality face wash, and then I make sure I'm lotioning and night-creaming at night and lotioning and sunscreening in the morning.
This also makes it much easier when I leave the house every day to walk outside because my sunscreen is already on my face!
Seriously: Leave the house. Every day.
I have a beautiful office; I can see a river from my desk, and I get breezes blowing through it and hummingbirds stopping by the porch right outside my window. It would be tough to get closer to nature in an office than I am.
I wasn't taking full advantage of it, though. Sure, I basked in the environment while contained within four walls, a ceiling and a floor, but there is a path outside that will let me walk right next to the river with my dog and hike up a mountain. I'm trying to be more mindful of my good fortune by using it once a day every weekday when I take the puppy out for a walk.
He gets tired and is less rambunctious later in the day; I get a little miniature vacation from the world around me for 30 minutes. We both win!
I've also volunteered to water flowers at the park semi-regularly this summer, and on days when I'm not taking a hike, it's because I'm away from my hidey hole anyway — so I can make a point to hoof it from Point A to Point B and take in the sights while I go.
Getting outside and looking at the sky for just a few minutes every day will do absolute wonders for you, your attitude and your feeling that you're taking care of yourself like a real adult. Try it!
Stretch it out
I don't have access to yoga classes like I used to — the benefit of living so close to a hiking trail is offset by the fact that I'd need to drive 40 minutes to get to my preferred hot yoga studio.
So instead, I practice on my mat at home. I have no personal trainer, nor do I have the discipline to coach myself through an entire class.
I do stretch every day, though, with a sun salutation and pigeon-pose hip stretch on both legs. My hips have carried most of the tension in my body since I had the kiddo (or so it seems, anyway), so a) it feels absolutely delicious, especially early in the morning, and b) it gives me an opportunity to wake up just a little bit more and practice focusing for meditation, which I do right after stretching.
Sometimes I'll do a full video class, but the most likely next step will be to add a pose or two to my morning stretch that tackles a tension-holding area of my body — shoulders are next!
Write it down
I realize that not everybody likes to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard as much as I do, and fine! You be that way.
Keeping a journal is different. It's a chance for you to get some of the thoughts scrambling around your head down on paper so they quit bothering you — that's how I think of it.
You are (probably) not going to be the next Anaïs Nin or Marcus Aurelius, so please don't paralyze yourself when your journal entries aren't publishable. Mine are absolutely cringe-worthy and I make my living with words. But they achieve their purpose, which is to help me empty my brain a little bit and make space for things that matter more than whatever I dumped into the journal.
There is a lot more I could do with the journal; next up is an evening version (probably wrapped into the evening meditation routine), including a gratitude list, writing down what I did well and what I could have done better that day ... experiment to see what works for you.
Some people swear by the "morning pages" concept, and I found it absolutely painful — maybe because after my morning meditation, I don't have that much to dump, so stretching it out to three pages felt like a chore. I'm much more consistent now that I'm writing one page instead of three.
(Yes, I understand the point behind writing three pages or 750 words or whatever, but if I'm not going to actually write those three pages except maybe twice a month when I "feel like it," then committing to write 250 words on one page and doing it consistently every day for a month is a much better outcome no matter how you slice it.)
(No, I'm not at all defensive about my journal use!)
The point is this: You don't need to journal exactly how the person talking to you about journaling is telling you to journal, and that includes me. You should try it their way and then. if that's not a perfect fit for you, adjust until it feels right.
Break a sweat
Working at home can lead to some super unpleasant surprises on the "how much you move every day" front.
You may not even realize how dire the situation is until you cave to the Fitbit/Apple Watch pressure and strap a device around your wrist that tells you precisely how little your body moves. Once you've seen that, you can't un-see it.
I try to beat my watch's "Move" goal for me every day — the number of calories it says I've burned. Right now I'm on my longest streak ever! (This is entirely because I started walking outside every day.)
The nice thing about this goal is that I can tweak it from week to week. Next week, now that I know I can keep this streak going, I'll bump it up a little higher. And so on.
Eventually, I will get to a point where a hike isn't going to cut it for meeting my daily goal anymore. I'll have to add some other exercise to make sure I'm getting there. What will it be? I don't know yet — perhaps I'll start trail-running instead of hiking! — but I'll probably try to tie it into my other "self-care" habits and goals that I'm cultivating so they're all stronger.
What did I miss?
I didn't talk about diet at all, which certainly is part of self-care. Mine tends to be pretty OK the majority of the time. It could always use some improvement. But it's not dire and therefore not really on my radar right now.
I didn't talk about drinking and not doing it so much if you're trying to focus on self-care. Just saying no to booze when I'm trying to establish a new habit is useful, I find.
I didn't talk about cold showers because I find them absolutely painful and I know that's the point — but sometimes when you're trying to take care of yourself, I think it's OK to eschew blasting your body with icy cold water on the daily, at least at first. Grow into it! First tell your body that you like it and want to take care of it until it believes you, then make the decision to punish it every morning.
And I didn't talk about gardening, which is amazing and everyone should be taking care of a plant in his or her life — at least one.
Which part should I tackle first?
I know I wrote "it starts with your face" up there, but really, all I meant was that for me it (kind of) started with my face, after I felt like my working hours were back under my control and I was back on the meditation wagon.
If one of these areas feels more doable to you than another, start there! Then see what falls naturally after that.
The nice thing about self-care — like a good business plan — is that it's self-supporting; I'm building these habits so they lead into one another, and doing it slowly over time so that I can work out any issues or kinks in the system before I try to add something new.
And I'm definitely not an expert. If you are already doing all of these things at once, then you are a work-from-home self-care guru, and I hope you'll share your secrets with me!
*OK: I don't actually think this advice is going to make you super fantastic at self-care — but it may help you suck less at it!