Lee Sandford with her parents and son Gregor in Glasgow this spring
By Lee Sandford
Up there with the words and phrases that have entered our common lexicon in the last year — lockdown, Zoom-fatigue, and “Which one did you get?” — is the term self-care. It’s mostly purported as a counter to the anxiety pandemic that the original one brought with it.
Before “Covid hit” (there’s another one if you’re playing 2020 Bingo), self-care for me was exercise, time outside, and meals and laughs with the people I love. Then, during lockdown, I joined in the trend towards simple home pleasures such as painting and jigsaw puzzles and have to say that as an ambivert the downtime indoors held a lot of appeal.
When we entered our new hybrid world, post full lockdown, pre full normality, I was lucky that I got back to work as usual, and my job, as a fitness instructor and personal trainer, is part of my self-care regimen. My physical self-care is covered by the exercise, my spiritual by being in nature, and my social and emotional because I love my clients and the sense of community they bring. Being able to see friends again, the odd very early-to-bed night, giving myself permission to binge-watch a show, and working out with my own trainer twice a week, rounded out the list, and all was well in the self-care world of Lee.
Recently, however, I had the experience of self-care not just slipping away but falling abruptly off a precipice.
I traveled back to Scotland to visit my parents, who are now in a care home, and my older kids, who are at university there. Restrictions are such that I had to quarantine in my parents’ empty house before I could see any of them. After a really busy few weeks at home and work, it was nice to sleep in, go for long walks along the beach, or drives in the car. I created easy nutritious meals for one, and even embraced a slightly extended skin care routine. I felt like I had all the time in the world to get around to penning a Rye Record column, stacking up draft social media posts, or even finishing my tax return.
Then, my quarantine ended, and I could travel between my home base on the West coast, and Glasgow, where my kids and parents are, a 45-minute drive. I didn’t realize until a week later but looking after me didn’t just go to the bottom of the list, it wasn’t even on the list. It wasn’t a conscious decision that getting to my parents in time to take them out for an early lunch meant I couldn’t exercise in the morning; it just fell off the radar. A friend’s 50th birthday came and went, despite plans to take her flowers and enjoy a chat and reminisce, which is always good for the soul as I have known her for 45 of those years. I didn’t even add to the well-wishes on social media because I had time for essential communication only on my phone. I felt so busy and rushed, I wasn’t even properly hydrated, often only having a dreaded Diet Coke with lunch. (Which is a crime, because never mind the scenery, golf, and friendly people, Scottish people’s greatest pride is in the quality of our tap water!)
So, while my emotional self-care was overflowing in time with lots of my closest family, other areas were suffering.
When I squeezed in a text to my trainer, saying I missed our workouts, it finally dawned on me how I unquestioningly let all those things fall by the wayside. We are both veterans of the fitness industry a big part of our job is coaxing clients into making their own health a priority, but we are also both similar-aged moms and daughters and compared notes on how easily that can slip even for us. It’s probably because as members of the sandwich generation it indeed brings us joy doing things that make our parents and children happy, but if we watched clients do the same, we’d chide them.
So, as much as reminder for myself, here are a couple of tips to make your most essential elements of self-care an immovable priority.
Firstly, recognize what you want to prioritize. Think about what things relax and recharge you. If you know what they are, you’re less likely to feeling lethargic and waste precious downtime scrolling through your phone.
Then, put the time aside to do those things. Make it an appointment in your calendar. There’s a high chance you’ll feel self-indulgent or even selfish at first, but as it becomes a habit you won’t even associate with those feelings.
Rest assured that the people around you also won’t notice any more when it becomes a routine. Your spouse or children might notice you missing the first couple of times you go out for a 30-minute walk or run, but they’ll soon get used to it too.
So, go ahead and give yourself permission to look after you.