Everyone Needs a Break Now and Then

Summer vacation 2015

The subject of “self-care” is not a new one on this blog. From the beginning, I have stated that in order for us to be there for others, we must first take care of ourselves.

Some of us are better than others at doing this. Americans in general–at least by one standard–are not faring well. In general, we leave a lot of vacation days on the table; in other words, our employers give us a certain number of vacation days and most of us do not make use of all of them. In 2018 (pre-pandemic), according to www.ustravel.org, Americans left a record 768 million days unused, up 17% from the previous year; of those, 236 million were completely forfeited amounting to $65.5 billion in lost benefits!

The figures look even worse when we consider how many vacation days American workers get on compared with other countries. The US on average has 16 paid leave days and 10 public holidays totalling 26 days per year; paid leave days are not necessarily vacation days–that could be used for sick leave, bereavement, etc. Countries such as Great Britain, France, and Brazil are much more generous. Japan and Thailand are at about the same level as the USA.

You can imagine why folks do not use all these days. During the pandemic, a lot of people were working from home and felt that it just was not right to take “more time off,” as if the work being done at home was some kind of vacation; for many people, it was way more stressful than being at the office or other place of work. Others do not take those days off because they fear what will be waiting when they return–either piles of work or missed opportunities. Others still are afraid that if they take the time off, the job will no longer be there when they get back.

The reality is that our society places a premium on production. We cannot “produce” while we are on vacation…or so the logic goes. On the contrary, taking proper time off and engaging self-care will make us more productive in the end. How many of us are feeling completely burned out? How many of us are ready to “take this job and shove it?” How many of us feel caught in a rut. My guess is too many.

Perhaps we as a society need to re-examine our view of vacation and time-off. What price does society pay for a workforce that is tired, “stuck,” and lacking exposure to the world that is out there?

I will set the example. No blogs for the next couple of weeks while I engage in some R&R. See you on the other end–hopefully refreshed, inspired, and full of energy!

Self-Care is not Self-ish

Self-Care

It is not unusual to hear about individuals who over the years never took care of their own spiritual/emotional/physical needs because they were busy taking care of others. We can sometimes get so wrapped up in serving others that we forget to focus on ourselves. Others see the focus on self as somehow being vain, egotistical, or simply selfish.

If you have ever flown on a plane you know that one of the safety announcements made before take-off is about what to do in the unlikely event of a cabin de-pressurization. “Masks will fall from the compartment above your head; place the mask over you nose and mouth and breathe normally. The bag may not inflate even though oxygen is flowing. If you are traveling with someone who needs assistance, place your mask on first before helping others.” This goes against the idea of helping others first, but it makes perfect sense; if you lose consciousness due to lack of oxygen, you are of no help to anyone else. We must take care of ourselves first before we can help others.

Self-care is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Self-care means different things to different people. For some, it means a luxurious day at a spa. For others it is a hot cup of tea in the afternoon. Some think of self-care as taking adult education classes, going to the gym, reading a good book, or listening to their favorite music. Whatever works is fine, but it cannot be an “optional.”

My wife and I recently returned from a week-long trip; it was our first vacation since the start of the pandemic. We drove and even took the dog with us. We went to the next state over and had a great time. It was certainly a form of self-care; we both needed to get away and recharge. Not everyone has the opportunity for a week off or has the means to spend lavishly on themselves. Even so, there are ways that we can care for ourselves that still make a difference: eating right, exercising, and getting proper rest. (Do I sound like a broken record?)

It is not selfish to engage in self-care. Self-care is necessary first in order to be able to care for others later.

Claim your self-care

Hourglass

When my mother passed away, one of the best pieces of advice I got was “take care of yourself; this will be harder than you think.” Best. Advice. Ever. I have subsequently shared it with so many during difficult times.

This is why I find it puzzling when clients and others make excuses for not coming to work out because of everything going on in their lives. “So-and-so is ill.” “I’ve got big projects at work.” “I’ve got too many obligations with my kids/friends, spouse….”

You may recall my second blog post where I spoke about one of the most important parts of my philosophy; remember that little speech that they make before your flight takes off?

Put your air mask on first and THEN assist those around you. In other words, unless you take care of yourself, you cannot possibly be of help to others. Somehow, we get this on an airplane, but in “real life” we find a million excuses.

During difficult times in my life (divorce, job loss, illness) I made sure to always prioritize taking care of myself–not just going to the gym, but also eating right, getting rest and treating myself to the occasional massage or other treat. Why? Because when I do these things it energizes me. If I don’t, a day goes by, two, three…a week, two…. I let things slide. I don’t exercise or eat right. Next thing I know, I’m feeling fatigued, wiped out, cranky and certainly less-than-helpful.

When the going gets tough, we need to claim our self-care. It is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Those around us–especially those that depend on us–must understand that when our compassion “gas tank” get empty, we need to make sure to refill it.

It sounds somewhat oxymoronic, but when things seem the most harried and pressured is exactly when we need to take care of ourselves. As my friend told me, it will be harder than we think…but the alternative will ultimately be even worse.

My Fitness Philosophy

Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane knows the schtick: “In the unlikely event of a sudden cabin depressurization, masks will fall from the compartments above your head. Place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally; although the bag may not inflate, the oxygen is flowing. If you are seated with someone who needs assistance, place your mask on first, then assist others around you.”

Of course, the reason we are told to do this is that if we are so busy helping others we may actually deprive ourselves of the oxygen we need and not only be unable to help others, but harm ourselves as well.

In Judaism, we are accustomed to helping others. Acts of Gemilut Chesed (lovingkindness) are one of the pillars on which the world stands. The most often repeated mitzvah (commandment) in the Torah is to be kind to the stranger since we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt. We are used to giving ourselves. The problem arises when we are so focused on the other that we are unable to help ourselves; we get into a spiral in which we can run ourselves down so much that we cannot help others.

Some people feel that going to the gym or buying exercise equipment is a luxury. It is not. It is an investment. It is an investment in our own future and our ability to be of help to others. We do no one any good if we are sick, or weak, or immobilized.

Those of us who own cars know that we must maintain them. We must change the oil and filters. Check the fluids. Fill up the tank or plug in the battery. We must wash it. We cannot simply drive and drive and drive the car into the ground and expect to get where we want to be. The same is true with our bodies.

Taking care of yourself, working out, eating healthy or getting a massage are not selfish acts. These are acts of self-care that ultimately allow us to care for others. Believe that you deserve to be healthy and fit. Believe that you deserve to care for yourself just as you care for others. Believe that the stronger you are the more likely you are to do what it is that God has planned for you in this world.

Help others put on their masks for sure…but make sure yours is on first!