Craig Hopper’s Self-Care Routine: “I like to start the day with ‘me time’.”

On August 6, 2018, Craig Hopper’s 46-year old wife Tove suffered a near-fatal heart attack. She received CPR for 40 minutes. Her heart didn’t beat for almost 24 hours.

She was on life support for 30 hours, in a coma for 10 days, and in hospital for 10 weeks. She had seven operations. She sustained long-term injuries to her brain and body. In an instant, Craig became the sole provider and caregiver for Tove, as well as their three young boys.

He was now the Minister of Everything. That meant cooking meals, shopping, laundry, dishes, gardening, cleaning, play dates, birthday parties, Christmas presents, school work, music practice, finding socks, earning money, paying the bills, and a whole lot more.

In this self-care interview, Craig talks to Balance the Grind about taking care of his wellbeing, the 3 H’s, and techniques he uses to optimise his self-care.

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What does self-care mean to you?

Self-care has not come naturally for me. It took a number of bumps in the road, as well finding a purpose bigger than me, before I accepted that I needed to prioritise self-care.

Self-care is about managing my mental and physical well-being. It takes two main forms – prevention and cure. Prevention is much better – as that involves operating in a sustainable way – just enough challenge and excitement to keep me firing, combined with enough variety, recovery and down-time to enable me to maintain positive energy. Cure is what has to happen when I push too hard or take too much on. That requires me to reduce the challenge or workload long enough to recover and feel the hunger for something more again.

I’m a super busy single parent with three school aged kids and a carer responsibility, a full time job and two businesses which I’m passionate about. All of these responsibilities are very meaningful to me. I had to learn the hard way that I needed to look after myself too, if I was going to be able to fulfil my responsibilities – that’s what self-care is – looking after myself so that I can look after others, pursue things of meaning, and have some fun along the way!

How do you know when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out?

Heard of the feather, brick and truck? First of all, we get sent a small warning – we get tickled by a feather. If we ignore that, the universe throws a brick at us – that normally gets our attention. If that fails, the universe hits us with a truck – you don’t want that.

The feathers for me are when I get too action or task oriented – ‘action man’. I will sleep less well – often waking between 3-4 in the morning. I’ll get pretty short-tempered by the end of the day, which generally impacts my kids, unfortunately.

The bricks are when I start making poor decisions at work and home that have larger implications – things I can’t just apologise for, but which take hours or days to fix. I then generally work even longer hours which makes the problem even worse.

When this goes on long enough (3 times so far), I get sick with gastritis and an inflamed oesophagus which makes it hard to eat and sleep. So far, the universe hasn’t sent a truck.

Do you have a regular self-care routine? If so, what does it look like?

My regular self-care routine is all about prevention – involves me looking after the 3 H’s – Head, Heart, and Health.

I like to start the day with ‘me time’. I get up early, before everyone else which allows me to do something for myself. There are a number of things I will weave into my day as follows:

  • Head – meditation, working on important things with 100% focus and actually finishing them, regular downtime – preferably 15 mins per hour, parking things on my personal backlog so they don’t clog up my head, prioritising ruthlessly and accepting I can’t do everything, journaling, avoiding work after dinner, listening to podcasts, discussing things of interest beyond work
  • Heart – gratitude practice, spending time with my family, talking to or seeing friends, talking about the good things in the day with at the dinner table, listening to music, having a purpose greater than me, doing things for others, having compassion for myself
  • Health – daily exercise (running, weights, yoga, walking), cold showers, eating sensibly – including little sugar (1 x sweet thing per week), no caffeine after 2pm, max 2 alcoholic drinks per day, and try not to drink 2 days in a row, going to bed by 10 if possible

I try to mix and match these – exercise with friends, eating with family, playing games with the kids while listening to music. 

What bumps you off your self-care routine and how do you get back on course?

The big bumps in life are external events beyond my control, like family members in the ICU or even worse, or when covid shut my business down in the space of 48 hours. Otherwise, a sustained period of overwork and too little self-care will gradually send me off course.

When this happens, prevention has failed, and then I need to go up a level to ‘cure’. I need a pattern interrupt. That’s where the 5 M’s come in:

  • Meaning – focusing on what is meaningful in my life
  • Meditation – calms me down, helps me focus and enables me to think before I act
  • Movement – no matter how bad things are, they always feel better after a run, work out, yoga class or walk
  • Mates – spending time with family or friends – particularly my core support network when things are really tough
  • Music – lifts my mood and transports me to another place and time

Just like the 3 H’s for prevention, these can be mixed and matched.

Once I’ve gotten out of my immediate funk, I can approach the situation logically, and work out what I need to do. Often this involves acceptance. The really big stuff in life (and death) is beyond our control. Sometimes things are going to suck for a while. Once you accept that, everything changes. The big problems occur when our expectations and reality are out of whack.

Where do you go for inspiration, ideas or tools for self-care?

I love exploring wellbeing and self-care. I’ll jump in and out of different podcasts like Tim Ferriss or Lewis Howes, but also many more. I read a lot of books and blogs in my research for my work. I take courses whenever I have the time.

Probably the biggest source of new input is talking to lots of people about things they do, or about how they think about things. Everything I use for self-care has originated somewhere else, and I’ve either appropriated it, or synthesised it into an existing practice of mine. I trial things out and keep what works. I also cycle things through in seasons depending on what I need.

This conversation is brought to you by Craig Hopper’s new book, Everyday Bravery: How to find the strength and courage to be brave every day.

Before you go…

Self-Care is a content series exploring the different self-care routines and habits of people from all walks of life. Get in touch with us today if you’d like to talk about your self-care routine.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.