(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 #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

(broad)ject self #3: Self-Care When...You're Jealous

It’s been sneaking up on me for a long time. The first pregnancy announcements six and seven years ago barely registered on the jealousy scale. I was in my 20s, I was in serious crisis about what to do about my career, and we weren’t even thinking about getting married yet. As more friends got married, more friends started having babies and the feelings intensified slightly. Then, I was only jealous that those people were ready to contemplate having kids, as we were so not there. Even as recently as this spring, when I had just taken a contract for my first job post-MBA, it was really not a big deal because I kept telling myself, “I need to have been in a permanent job for a year before we can start trying”. And then suddenly, I got the permanent job, the clock starting ticking, and every pregnancy announcement was this unexpected gut punch of envy. For the longest time, I felt like I couldn’t even have contemplated the idea, so there was no point in being jealous. But now that I could contemplate it, that there was a plan and a timeline in place even, it was harder to brush off that green monster.

We don’t like to talk about being jealous of other people’s good fortunes (or in this case, biological compatibility), because it’s unseemly. It reflects badly on us, as if simultaneously admitting we’re unhappy with our own lots and that other people have something better than we have. So maybe we bring it up to our significant other (who may or may not be able to empathize or sympathize) or we silently stew, feeling worse by the minute. 

There are only two ways to deal with jealously, to my mind. You can either put all your energy to getting the thing that the other person has that you want, damn the torpedoes, or you can count your blessings and remind yourself you have a plan. Obviously I subscribe to the latter, or else I would have had a massive wedding and many children by now. You also need an ally, who is not your partner or parent, who you can count on to have your back, probably because they’re in the same place you are.

I’m lucky to have a couple of close friends who want kids but are also not quite ready, for whatever reason. So when I’m on the receiving end of a pregnancy announcement, once I’ve offered my sincere congratulations, my “in case of emergency” self-care protocol is to text one of them and they will instantly provide a mental hug and say the right thing. After that reassurance, I just want to hunker down and feel sorry for myself for a little while. And you know what? A short pity party is a perfectly acceptable element of self-care because a pity party is acknowledging that something happened that made you feel crappy. You can’t remind yourself of all the awesome and wonderful things you have in your life if you haven’t acknowledged the gut punch first, because otherwise you’ll just get seriously pissy and dismissive of your accomplishments (trust me).

Then, if it’s something you truly want, either make a plan or remind yourself of the plan you have in place. Friend got an amazing promotion? What an awesome kick in the butt to update your resume and take on an extra project at work! Someone bought a house? Sit down and talk about where you really see yourself in this real estate market and what you need to do to get there.

We should never make those people announcing good news feel badly about their success, but it is totally acceptable to need to take a little bit of time to make our private peace with it. If you need a green monster ally? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #2: Self-Care When...You're Sick

It’s that time of year. The temperature is falling, kids are back in school, we’re all getting busy and…the sniffles are starting. Those sniffles will soon morph into hacking, coughing, and, if you’re lucky, the occasional bout of gastroenteritis. There are two kinds of people in this world, in my view. Those people who will happily take a sick day and those who would rather selfishly spread their germs to every human they encounter and make everyone around their feel their pain because they don’t believe the world will continue to spin without them sitting at their desk. I think you can guess which one of people I am.

It wasn’t always thus. I come from a long line of Calvinist martyrs (the worst kind, because PREDESTINATION), who don’t believe in the miracle that is over the counter pharmaceuticals. And it didn’t matter, because I never got sick anyways. But then about five years ago, after a trip to visit my sister and nephew, I woke up one morning feeling awful. A normal person would have called in sick. BUT NO. I looked out the window at the howling wind and pouring rain and headed into work anyways. As the bus neared my stop, I knew that I had made an awful mistake because it was all coming back to me now. I had strep. I went into my office only to look up the nearest walk-in-clinic, dragged myself there, got a strep diagnosis and a prescription, and then dragged my sorry ass home. I was clearly sick. I felt awful. I had a doctor’s diagnosis of strep throat. My boss was a lovely and understanding woman. And yet I still felt guilty about missing work.

I was not a brain surgeon. I was not arguing a case before the Supreme Court. No lives depended on whether or not I made it into work that day. I had a capable boss and capable co-workers who even if they may not have been able to do my job to a tee, they could at least manage to triage emails for a few days until I came back. But I was so convinced of my indispensability that I worried the whole time I was home in bed, unable to swallow (literally).

I’m not like that now. I have been in my job since February and I have been home sick twice, once with a sinus headache and once with what turned out to be bronchitis. I woke up, realized I felt like crap, sent an email to my boss, then took some cold medicine and went back to bed. In both cases I ended up working from home later in the day, but I was under no obligation to do so and only did because the extra sleep and pharmaceuticals allowed me to get some work done. If I had gone to work, my three hours plus commute alone (including 8kms of walking) would have done me in.

In Ontario, if you work for a company that regularly employs more than 50 employees, you’re entitled to 10 days of personal emergency leave, which is “unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year due to illness, injury and certain other emergencies and urgent matters”. Depending on your employer, you, like me, may also be entitled to a certain number of paid sick days as well. So really, assuming you’re a normal salaried office employee, there is absolutely no excuse.

In my opinion, sick days are a situation when my “by any means necessary” protocol kicks in. While I normally don’t believe that self-care should equate to self-indulgence, when you’re under the weather the heart wants what the heart wants. You should feel free to indulge yourself in any way that would make you feel better, even a little bit, and your loved ones should submit themselves to your irrational and feverish will. In my case, that has more than once involved lying on the bathroom floor, texting David (still in bed) a shopping list at 8am on a Sunday morning because I was barfing my guts out and needed Jello, saltines, and Gatorade STAT.

What if you truly can’t take a sick day? Maybe you have an important presentation, a new employee starting, or the CEO from Switzerland is in for one day and one day only. I would remind you here then that you have almost certainly been on the receiving end of having a meeting cancelled or day otherwise reorganized because a key member was home sick. And maybe you rolled your eyes in the moment, but I guarantee that unless the person involved did this in a pathological manner, you almost certainly didn’t hold it against them (because you’re a kind person who believes people should take care of themselves). But if you must go to work or be fired? Take whatever meds you need, drink as much tea and water as your bladder can manage, wash your hands every time you’re anywhere near a sink, and don’t let anyone come near you (and frankly, they probably won’t want to).

This week, I'd like to encourage you to start keeping an eye on flyers and in-store sales so you can build up your medicine cabinet for the coming winter. Make sure you have the necessary medication and supplies, especially tissues and hand sanitizer, to get you through anything the germ fairies can throw at you. If you have prescription medication that you use only in certain circumstances, make sure you have that prescription filled or at least on file at the pharmacy for easy pickup. Consider the things that make you and your loved ones feel better when you/they are sick and stash them away in case of emergency.

And remember, every time you come to work clearly sick, you’re modelling to your employees, co-workers, and family that self-care isn’t a priority in your life. Is that the impression you’re trying to give?

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #1: Self Care When...You're Angry

My fiancé David has just moved to a city in Southeastern Ontario for his job. It was better than the original posting, which was in Thunder Bay, but at two hours away is still an adjustment. It was too far away for me to commute, so I’m continuing to live with his mother while he has an apartment there. The plan is that we’ll spend weekends together, either here or there, but because my mom was visiting last weekend, he stayed there for the weekend alone.

Naturally, the day before he was meant to come home, we got into our first fight since he’s been away. It started over something dumb in the afternoon on Google Hangouts while we were both at work and continued through the rest of the day. Because we were essentially texting, there were of course a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations that just made things worse. By 8pm we had kind of made up, but I was still fuming. When you’re not in the same place and can’t hug and talk and sense each other’s mood, it’s hard to feel like something is really resolved, so I felt out of sorts.

Still, I was resolved to power through my to-do list. I didn’t want to do yoga, but I had just started a 30 day challenge so I sort of felt like I had to. I lasted 3 minutes. Yoga for me is such a stress reliever and at ease maker and I just couldn’t exhale when I was still so angry. I turned off the video and I lay in child’s pose for a few minutes trying to decide what to do. I had never made a contingency plan for self-care when I was angry because I’m honestly not a very angry person. At 8:30pm, what could I do to feel at ease again?

I do really believe we need to plan for self-care in all kinds of less than ideal situations because often when we’re in the moment, we’re not able to think clearly and we end up taking the road most indulgent to feel better. For me, that’s often carbs and/or sugar, for other people it might be a few drinks. But those things never actually help solve the problem or make us feel better for more than a moment, and more often than not they leave us feeling worse. I believe we all need a mental “in case of emergency” kit for when we feel off-kilter, so that we can pull ourselves out of it before we sink too deep.

I’m completely obsessed with the ‘Judge John Hodgman’ podcast right now and in that moment of fury on my yoga mat, I just wanted to listen to his soothing voice solve other people’s problems. So I wrapped myself up in my favourite fluffy blanket and sat quietly in the dark, listening. It was just right. I learned that when I’m angry, I need to do something that will distract me so I don’t have to think. Yoga will not fit the bill, but a hilarious podcast or favourite TV show seems just right.

This week, I’d like to encourage you to think of a situation where you might feel out of sorts. Maybe it’s a feeling. Maybe it’s a potential thing that could happen. Then think about what act of self-care would make you feel better. Write it down. Buy supplies if you need them. Maybe even tell your partner or a friend about it (“If I’m feeling really overwhelmed at work, please remind me that talking to my mom on the phone makes me feel better.”) If you want to tell me about it, I'm all ears (well, eyes).

Self-caring-ly yours,

Sian