My First Year of Self-Employment: Health & Self Care

I had a few health issues last year (I have IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is triggered by stress and a bunch of food intolerances) which has added an extra challenge to my first year in business. While it has been frustrating (and downright unpleasant) to be dealing with this, it has meant that I have had to put in place a self-care strategy that I may otherwise have not “gotten around to”. 

Having two children as a single parent and being self-employed is inherently stressful, so managing my stress is very important for me to function. I have learnt the hard way what my limits are and what the warning signs are that I am getting to my limits. This has meant limiting the hours I work each week… I keep track of all my hours in a spreadsheet with graphs etc (I am secretly a spreadsheet nerd, I LOVE it when you put the data in and it magically works out useable information!) and I could see a very clear trend of every time my hours started creeping up I would get sick… so I just had to work less and accept that being healthy physically and mentally for my children (and myself) was more important. The flexibility of self-employment is amazing! 

I also found activities/treats that I could implement for self-care to maintain my health… mostly mental health to be honest. This was hard because as mothers on a budget we tend to always put our children first and go without for ourselves… it isn’t “necessary”… but our children need us to be functioning at our very best, to be great mothers, and if we are struggling with life and feeling shit… we aren’t being our best motherly selves! 

So I started adding in some things into my life that were do-able: 

My Dad offered to look after my kids every Thursday night so I could attend a quiz night with my Mum, it is amazing to interact with adults in a social setting on a regular basis! The kids love it, it has become Grandad Pizza night, and they get quite disappointed if my Dad gets stuck at work and can’t look after them.

I started getting my nails done every 2-3 weeks as a treat – gel polish from a lovely local mum who works from home, ManiCure. It’s a small thing, but it lasts longer than a massage and is cheaper than getting my hair done and I can look down and see my beautiful nails and feel good and feel pampered once a fortnight, plus they look beautiful in drawing videos for social media!! (I haven’t been able to convince my accountant that they are a business expense thou, damn it lol!)

Give myself permission to just have a blob night or day, when I don’t have the kids and I am feeling tired, and not feel guilty. Sometimes it means saying no to invitations to go out, which is hard when you don’t go out much and feel like you need to make the most of every opportunity. But for myself I have found that I need complete alone time to recharge fairly regularly. Although I am pretty confident and social, at heart I am a bit of an introvert and need to retreat from everything when I get overwhelmed with life. Netflix and some dairy and gluten free snacks on my couch in an empty house is exactly what I need sometimes.

I started having lunch with my Mum on Mondays most weeks, it is a lovely chance to spend quality time with just the two of us (no pesky kids around) and gives both of us a chance to destress and encourage each other once a week. I also try to catch up with some of my mum friends once a fortnight or month for coffee or lunch while the kids are at school. I have an amazing group of super real and honest ladies who are going through the same struggles that I am and are always supportive and understanding and uplifting. There is something very reassuring about hearing that someone else is having just as much of a shit time with their kids that you are … or they did last week and this week is better. It makes you realise that you aren’t actually the worst mum in the world, your kid is just as badly behaved as everyone else’s, and you can actually do it, because they are, these amazing women that you wish you were more like.

I also see a counsellor/life coach/mentor every fortnight. I started going mostly to help me with parenting a challenging 10-year-old, but having not done any counselling or anything before, I now think everyone should go at some stage. It shouldn’t have stigma attached to it, we go to see a GP if we are physically not doing great. Our mental health is just as important… in fact is it possibly more important as it can affect our physical health. We owe it to ourselves to not merely survive life, but to thrive, and in order to do that we need to learn healthy coping mechanisms and deal with past trauma. 

Now trauma doesn’t need to be abuse or death for it to affect us, it can be small things we didn’t think were a big deal, but they can be. It can also be nice to sit and chat with someone who is removed from your personal situation and has a neutral point of view who is trained to give good advice. 

I think we are so often conditioned to put a positive spin on things and “toughen up”, that stoic New Zealand psyche, that we often gloss over the hard stuff, we tell ourselves “… oh so and so has it so much harder than we do..” or “… it could be worse…” but even if things aren’t dire or tragic, they can still be really hard and we can be holding a lot of balls in the air. 

I will often just be chatting with my counsellor about what’s happening in my life in quite a happy accepting tone, not complaining, just explaining … and he will stop and look at me and say “You are holding a lot at the moment, you are really stretched and tired and you have a lot to deal with, its hard”. There is power in someone else acknowledging that yes, it is hard, and yes I am tired and I am totally justified in feeling drained and stressed. Having someone acknowledge your struggles (that isn’t your mum) is an empowering feeling, to feel heard and seen. It’s not that they are trying to take your struggles away or fix anything, they are saying that you are coping with a lot, and its ok to feel overwhelmed and tired, it’s understandable, you aren’t weak or a failure. In fact you are strong and capable and kicking arse… keep going, you have been doing it, so you can keep doing it.

Those items are part of my maintenance plan… when I am struggling I step it up a notch with making appointments with other professionals that make me feel good. These can be a pamper type appointment for reflexology or a massage or my hairdresser, or they can be a treatment type appointment with a holistic health practitioner like an osteopath, naturopath, homeopath, reiki, etc., whatever I feel like I need at the time. I am lucky enough to have special healing people in my life that combine several specialities in the same beautiful person and I often find myself feeling like I need to go see them for no specific reason other than a feeling they can help… and they always do 😊

I have also just joined the gym and signed up with a personal trainer. Now anyone that knows me, knows this is a big deal… I have always hated exercise and never set foot in a gym until a few months ago when my work decided it would be great if, as a team, we did the Wairua Warrior (a 6km obstacle course)! In order to prepare (so I didn’t die!) we did a series of training sessions with an amazing personal trainer, Jules from City Fitness, and I realised that I could actually do it, it wasn’t scary, and Jules is the most non-judgey, kind but motivating person, ever.

So I don’t have a big weight loss goal or anything (I don’t even own a set of scales), but I do want to be fitter, stronger and healthier. And the mental health and stress reduction benefits of going to the gym have been the best part for me, which has a flow on effect to the rest of my life.

I have a few items I want to add to my self-care plan, as my financial situation allows, they are: to get a house cleaner for 1-2 hours a week (let’s be honest, I hate housework, I would much prefer to be designing something beautiful than cleaning my house… and I can earn more per hour doing it than it will cost to pay a cleaner), same goes for gardening… Some people find gardening relaxing and love doing it. I love picking flowers and that is about it. I would rather relax by going for a motorbike ride! So I would love to get a gardener for a couple of hours a week as well (EDIT: I now have a gardener coming for 1 hour a week! SOOOOO GOOD! Love it when I achieve a goal <3). I would also like to get my hair done more regularly and go to the movies more often. But we all need goals… and I am working towards earning enough to put these in place, baby steps!

On that note, see what my plans are and how I am looking forward to year two of being self-employed in my upcoming post: My First Year of Self-Employment: What’s next?

Penny xxx

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