Marie McLeod is the Positive Psychotherapist and Presenter in the documentary How to Thrive – where she supported seven participants with mental health challenges and applied her unique approach to help them thrive.
1) What does self-care mean to you?
Self care means loving myself enough to notice my own needs and giving myself the space, time and nurturing needed to restore my energy, mentally and physically so that I can show up and shine.
I really value having energy for life and being fully present for others and in order to do that and be that, I need to give myself the ingredients of thriving, not just as a one off, “set and forget” kind of way, but consistently through life.
Self care is not always just the soft stuff. Sometimes it’s hard work to care for myself, like getting up early to exercise and preparing good food. Self care is not sitting on the sofa eating a tub of ice cream because I feel sad.
Self care is about treating myself like my own best friend, knowing what I need and holding myself accountable for that. I’ve also learnt how to balance these self care practices with grit and grace – I hold myself accountable for doing things that nurture me but I am also compassionate to myself if it doesn’t work out.
Self care is not just about my actions, it’s also about my words and especially what I say to myself. I can be a “self bully” by being mean, demanding and critical in the way that I talk to myself.
That inner dialogue sets the tone for how I feel and what I think I’m capable of. When I speak to myself that way, I am activating my own stress response just as if someone else was bullying me. I’ve learnt to be on the lookout for that “self bully voice” and replace self criticism with self compassion.
Like many of us, I’ve had to learn about self care the hard way. I used to think that success was pushing myself harder and harder and making it look easy. In those days, I felt that coping, more than caring, was valued. I felt like self care was for the weak and that slowing down and taking care of myself would make me lose my edge and somehow show that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough.
I had double standards, I would show enormous care and compassion for others but not for myself. Although I hate to admit it, I think that I didn’t feel worthy of self care and that it seemed frivolous and a waste of time – something that didn’t belong to me and I kind of prided myself on that.
I’ve come a long way and whilst it’s still a work in progress for me, I’m now much kinder to myself. I understand that in order to be the best version of me, self care is critical. I work on a balance between care for others and care for myself.
I know the science now (and it’s not rocket science!) that we do better, perform better, have greater life satisfaction and are nicer to be around when we look after ourselves. I now try to treat myself with more compassion than criticism. I notice what I need and nurture myself more often.
2) How do you know when you’re feeling stressed or burnt out?
It’s embarrassing to say but often my kids are then ones who call it out! I start to get short with them, I start moving too fast, making mistakes and I’m not present or mindful in my actions. Often one of the first things to go is my sleep.
I start waking in the night, my mind churning, trying to process all the things I didn’t give myself space for in the day. It’s like my body and mind saying to me – “If you’re not going to give me space for the daily debrief and declutter before bed, we will wake you in the night to do it!”
I also notice my breath and the fact that when I’m stressed I forget to breathe or my breath is really shallow which is the opposite of what I need to be calm. Sometimes I get shaky and anxious and I feel like I’m being chased. I now understand that signifies my brain switching into survival mode which really isn’t necessary for my day to day life!
3) Do you have a regular self-care routine? If so, what does it look like?
Yes! I’m very focused on doing the things that help me to thrive and that includes self care.
It’s become like a bank account in my mind – I make withdrawals – let’s say I work too hard and don’t exercise, then I know I need to make a deposit. I might deposit from another “account” for example, I might catch up with a close friend or do something that lifts me. In this way, I’m being conscious and vigilant about keeping my “bucket full.”
Most days I exercise, I make sure that I get outside into nature, I connect with loved ones and smile at strangers. I try to balance out all the things I “have to do” with some of the things I “want to do.” I go to bed early and get up at the same time most days and I eat in ways that restores my energy.
4) What bumps you off your self-care routine and how do you get back on course?
Mostly, work and travel and anything that affects my sleep. I find that anything that messes with my routine and habits bumps me off track. It’s easiest when I’m in a rhythm, when I know what my “ideal day” looks like.
When all of that gets thrown off with excessive work demands, travel and being away from home or not sleeping, I find that I have to work hard to get my rhythm back. This requires grit and reminding myself why it’s worth it.
I have to reconnect with my why and the person I want to be. I want to live life to the full, to live a life of zest and passion and to light up for those around me. In order to get back on track, I visualise being that person again and that vision kicks me into action. I also surround myself with good people – my “thrive tribe” who will kick my butt if they see me off the wagon for too long!
5) Where do you go for inspiration, ideas or tools for self-care?
I’ve spent a lot of years reading and researching this because I needed it for myself but also, because of what I do. I can’t care for other people’s mental health and wellbeing and not practise it myself, I would burn out. I’ve learnt the hard way that “other care, without self care, leads to despair.”
These days I’m clear on the ingredients it takes for me to thrive and I try really hard to practise what I preach. My framework is called BEACON – Belonging, Engagement, Accountability, Compassion, Optimism and Nurture. Under each, are evidence-based ways to help us thrive and I use this as a checklist.
I ask myself: “Have I been connecting closely with others; have I been doing things I’m good at and love doing; am I showing compassion to myself in balance with others; have I been doing things that bring me joy; have I been taking care of my physical health by eating, moving, sleeping well and being mindful.”
We have actually turned this into a free resource for anyone wanting to monitor their wellbeing in line with this framework via our Wellness App on howtothrivefilm.com
I also watch and observe others who I admire and pick up ideas from them. One of the biggest areas of learning that I still dive into is around self compassion and mindfulness. These are both big for me and I’m still learning.
Self care is a constant – just like having a house plant – in order to keep it healthy, we have to notice what it needs, and be ready to nurture it. We owe the same care to ourselves.
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.