Self-care for the self employed artisan

If you work for yourself, you already know this: you have never before and never will again work harder than you do when you are self-employed. It’s illegal for an outside employer to require you to work the kind of hours you’ll likely find yourself pulling when you’re the C.E.O., the middle management and the worker bee all wrapped up in one carbon-based package. This is especially true when you are the sole proprietor of a creative microbusiness. You design the product, you make the product, you promote the product, you package the product, you make sure that the product gets into the hands of the customer. You handle the customer service. You’re probably tech support and webmaster and social media coordinator. Not to mention accountant and financial planner.

 

Needless to say, this is a stressful set of circumstances. It’s hard on a person, both physically and emotionally. It can take a toll. After a year of working on my own, I’d like to share what has been working for me to keep myself healthy.

 

This is pretty self-evident, but it’s really important to take care of your day-to-day physical well-being. When you work for someone else, you get scheduled breaks and lunches, and most workplaces provide at least some physical safety measures (ergonomic chairs, keyboards, what have you, depending on the type of workplace). It’s surprisingly easy to neglect yourself when you’re working on your own, though. In the first few months of working for myself, I lost a lot of weight very quickly, simply because I’d be so involved in what I was doing that I’d forget to stop for a meal. I developed chronic pain in my neck and shoulders because my workbench wasn’t arranged well, and I didn’t stop often enough or for long enough. I’ve also talked to people who gained a lot of weight when they started working for themselves because they could have a quick snack at their desks without taking time for a more healthy meal, and because working for yourself is often pretty sedentary, depending on what kind of work you’re doing.

 

What works for me is to schedule myself. I sometimes set timers to let me know when it’s time to stop and stretch, when it’s time to take a quick snack break, and when it’s time to take a longer break for a meal. While I don’t adhere to these religiously, the timers help me keep track of how long it’s been since a snack or a break.

 

It’s also important to take care of yourself when you’re not up to par. When you work for an outside company, you’re generally not allowed to take time off for something like the sniffles, but you do call in when you’ve got a fever or something more serious than a cold. You take a day or two off, sleep lot, and let yourself heal. Your work is elsewhere, so you don’t have to think about it, and you get better faster. But when you’re on your own, there’s the nagging thought that it’s going to be SO HARD to catch up if you take a sick day. So you stumble to the workbench or the desk and you keep going. And since you keep going, you don’t let yourself heal, and you’re sick for longer, or it might even develop into something serious.

 

Don’t do this. If you’re sick, rest. Heal. You’ll lose less work time in the long run if you allow yourself to become healthy.

 

It’s also important to remember that physical health isn’t the only aspect of health. I work long, long hours, and while I’m home with my family, when I’m working hard I’m not really WITH them. I’m in my little corner, absorbed by the project in my hands and not present to what’s happening around me. And while that’s fine during work time, it’s not fine during family time. So I built family time into my schedule. Unlike the little timers that tell me it’s time for a break that I may or may not put off, family time is sacred. It is not to be interfered with, no matter how many projects I have piling up on my table or how behind I am in my workload. Being with my family more is one of the reasons I began working for myself, and if I don’t treat that time as sacred, I lose some of my connection with them, and little conflicts crop up as a result, adding to my stress and to theirs.

 

Another time that I try to treat as sacred is “me” time. This is harder, because it feels selfish and unproductive, but if I don’t take a little time each day to do something that I enjoy for its own sake, I find myself becoming overwhelmed by all that I have to do for my business, and that’s the surest path to burning out. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time -- I love to read, so I work in a half hour or so a day where I can just sit and enjoy a book, usually before bed. Then I can go to sleep relaxed and satisfied, and wake up refreshed and ready for a new work day.

 

Social time has also become important to me since I’ve been working for myself. I’m kind of a homebody, and I’ve never liked going out to a party atmosphere, and even going out to a coffee shop sometimes requires that I muster up a kind of energy that doesn’t come easily to me. But my friends are important to me, and friendships need to be maintained. My friends provide a kind of support that is different from but no less important than the support my family gives me. I don’t spend a lot time with friends--maybe once a week--but going for coffee or to hang out on a couch with a buddy and watch a movie gets me out of my house, out of my workplace and helps me maintain those important emotional connections.

 

FInally, the most important thing that I’ve learned in the past year is that I need to be present. It’s very easy to become lost in the minutiae of my work and all that it entails. I have a real tendency to live inside my head and not pay enough attention to my body, my emotions, or the people around me. The kind of presence I mean isn’t exactly the spiritual/mystical sort that people mention when they’re talking about Buddhism or any other spiritual practice (though it might be related, I suppose). It just means to take a little time to assess how my body feels, how my mood is, and take steps to remedy anything that’s troubling me. A few quiet minutes in the morning, a few in the evening, just to touch base with myself, helps me to be more aware of trouble before it becomes a real problem.

 

In a nutshell, self-care for me means paying attention to my body, my mind and my emotional state. Being as healthy as I can be means that I can bring my whole self to my work, which helps me to be more successful, and feel happier and more fulfilled in what I’m doing.

 

And I’m curious. What do you do to stay healthy in your work? Leave a comment below and let me know! 

Comments

me time

I'm not self employed but I can relate as to the need for down time.

do you like you do with the "me time". I sit in bed and play Plants VS Zombies, a totally mindless form of entertainment, or sometimes I watch TV, another mindless activity. And it makes me feel better. I feel more relaxed. I wish I knew why.

Like you, I feel a sense of guilt, like I should be writing or reading or doing dishes or feeding the dogs, but I admit that I can easily dismiss these feelings of guilt, because I know for some strange reason I need it.

In this modern age, it is so easy to get overwhelmed.

Did I make that overdue payment to the credit card company?
Did I call about the leaking water heater?
Did I remember to register my car?
Have I had dental exam this year yet?

These things seem trivial but they are things that eat at my psyche like bleach to colored fabric.

And if watching six straight episodes of Sons of Anarchy (Love you Jax!) makes me feel better, more relaxed, more healthy, more happy, then I'm going to own it.

It is so easy to get

It is so easy to get overwhelmed -- yes! Those tiny, niggling little worries are sometimes the biggest peace-eaters, aren't they? I am totally with you on doing whatever it is that makes you relax and get out of your own head for a while.

Breaks

Excellent points!

Sad but true, my breaks seem to be timed for chores, and I will often use that as the same cue that I should eat something. Cats will come over and mew for an afternoon snack, dogs will pad over and rest their chin on my lap to go outside. Dishes soak for about 20 minutes. Laundry cycles. Sometimes I motivate myself thinking that in 2 hours, I'm going to get the dogs in the car and go for a ride somewhere (even if its the town 45km away for groceries)! That feels like a guilty pleasure for sure as it will take over an hour away from the worktable and there's bound to be chocolate somewhere along the way.

I love to sing. On of my previous manager's at a resort played guitar and sang as well. As his residence was attached to the offices, periodically he would yell out from the other end of the building to come and do a song. We would sit in his living room and sing for about a half an hour, ignoring the phones. Best breaks ever. Now I stop to sing at home too!

Singing breaks are awesome!

I grew up singing in a family band, Janine -- singing is one of those things that never fails to make me happy. I need to try singing breaks!

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