Julie Perrine’s top tips on practicing self-care

It was the end of August 2013. I had just finished a major client project that had drawn a lot of public scrutiny and media attention. And it had consumed a lot of my time, energy and emotion for the previous 18 months. I was filled with relief and exhaustion when I turned off the lights and left the office that afternoon for the long holiday weekend.

The day before, my youngest sister had gone into labor to deliver her first child. I knew I’d be receiving happy news at any minute as I drove home that day. Just knowing this helped to balance out the exhaustion.

But things didn’t go as planned that weekend.

Miracles and tragedies

My sister ran into complications that resulted in a record-setting labor and an emergency surgery to deliver her baby girl. As I paced by the phone and clutched my iPad waiting for notification from anyone, my body was preparing me for the worst. By a miracle, my sister and her baby girl, Ellyana, both came through the surgery alive and healthy. But the impact this had on me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually was palpable.

Ten weeks later, my second youngest sister went into labor… five weeks early.

Sadly, this time the outcome was tragic.

By a complete miracle, my sister survived the delivery, but her newborn baby girl, Emma, died within an hour. It still seems impossible to explain the tidal wave of emotions that washed over me as I processed the news of the birth… and then the loss of the newborn minutes later. I felt like time stood still.

In between those two births, my grandfather died. My husband and I were traveling internationally when it happened, so we were unable to get home in time for his funeral. Then three months later, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Learning from heartbreak

The past 12 months have been some of the most difficult and challenging of my entire life.

During this time, many well-meaning and supportive family members and friends encouraged me to take care of myself. I’d nod politely in agreement, but I had no idea how to even begin to take care of myself when it felt like everything was crumbling around me. I was trying to be there for my sisters and my parents. I was trying to keep a business running even though work was the last thing I wanted to think about. I was trying to keep my house from becoming one giant pile of dishes and laundry. All I wanted to do was collapse when I walked into the house each night. How was I supposed to take care of myself in the middle of all that?

Desperate for ideas, I did what I often do when I don’t have answers: I asked other people. And the ideas started pouring in. I started to identify what to do to help myself cope and grieve so that I could continue to take care of my loved ones. I created a list called “self-care” with more than 50 items on it. I know it takes about three weeks to create a new habit, so I decided to dedicate a full month to taking care of myself. I dubbed it: 30 Days of Focused Self-Care. Each day, I picked one item from my list and scheduled or determined a time to do it. When an item was completed, I wrote it down on my self-care tracker. The outcome was exactly what my head and heart needed – relief, relaxation, reinvigoration and healing. I was hooked on this new habit of taking care of myself.

A new attitude about self-care

The past few months have drastically changed how I treat those who are going through tough times. I know from my own experience that sometimes you just need to step in and do what someone needs without asking. I also know that you can’t just tell someone to take care of themselves – you have to build accountability into it. Otherwise it won’t happen. Now, rather than telling someone, “take care of yourself”, the conversation goes more like this:

  • What are you going to do today (or this week) to take care of you?
  • When can I check in with you to see how it went?
  • What can I do to help you make it happen? Can I schedule it for you? Do it for you? Join you in doing it?

When life is taking its toll, it’s hard to know what we need. It can be a challenge to get dishes and laundry done, let alone schedule a hair appointment or meeting. Asking supportive questions that help a person go through the decision-making process more logically can make all the difference, especially when you combine it with built-in accountability!

During my 30 Days of Focused Self-Care, I realized another important lesson. When some people think of self-care, they often think of pampering – which it can be. But self-care oftentimes comes in the form of completing basic household duties, such as emptying the dishwasher or folding the clothes. It also means making time to schedule the dentist appointment or getting new heels put on a pair of shoes. Self-care includes everything from wellness and relaxation to getting errands run and a healthy meal served to your family. One of the most important discoveries for me throughout my month of focused self-care was that it doesn’t necessarily equal pampering.

A self-care challenge

Throughout the month, I made notes in my journal about my self-care experiences, and it dawned on me that many of the items on my list are directly linked to habits of The Innovative Admin.

To become more innovative, it’s important to practice focused self-care. To generate ideas and solutions, we must keep our heads and hearts in top shape. When our batteries are drained, we have nothing left to give anyone around us. Focused self-care is the only way to recharge and maintain the healthy levels required for innovating in our administrative careers.

So my challenge to you is this: Dedicate the next 30 days to your own focused self-care.

1      Find a journal to make notes in, and ask yourself, “What am I going to do today to care for me?”

2      Each day, pick one item from the list. I’ve provided one or you can make your own. Just be sure to include things that you enjoy or find important.

3      Make time to do one activity each day.

4      Record the date and the activity you chose each day in your journal. And write down the thoughts or insights you have as you do these activities.

5      Do this for 30 consecutive days.

It’s okay if you repeat some activities throughout the 30 days, but try to select as many different things as you can. At the end of the 30 days, see how you feel. When you put your focus on improved self-care, schedule it, and build accountability in, you’ll experience a recharged and reinvigorated outlook on life and work. You’ll not only be taking care of yourself, you’ll feel better, too.

Self-care list ideas

  • Enjoy a meal with someone (breakfast, lunch or dinner).
  • Eat out.
  • Order in.
  • Take a nap.
  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Sleep in late.
  • Take a break from email.
  • Treat yourself to a ____________.
  • Go for a walk (without your phone).
  • Turn off your phone for a few hours.
  • Exercise.
  • Get a massage.
  • Take a coffee break.
  • Take a tea break.
  • Allow yourself to work on a creative project.
  • Make something.
  • Learn something new.
  • Cook a meal you enjoy.
  • Bake a treat or dessert you like.
  • Get a manicure.
  • Get a pedicure.
  • Schedule a facial.
  • Watch a movie at home.
  • Go out to a movie.
  • Read a book.
  • Read a magazine.
  • Schedule time to do absolutely nothing.
  • Send a package to a friend.
  • Take a bubble bath.
  • Turn off your computer for the weekend.
  • Turn off all of the notifications on your electronic devices.
  • Go shopping.
  • Go window shopping.
  • Go to a hotel for a day or two to get away.
  • Go out for ice cream.
  • Watch the sunrise.
  • Watch the sunset.
  • Go for a drive.
  • Sing to the radio in your car.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Take a one-day vacation.
  • Take a multi-day vacation.
  • Take a half-day vacation.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Plan your meal menus for a week.
  • Get your hair cut and styled.
  • Schedule a date night with a friend or loved one.
  • Enjoy a sweet treat.
  • Call a friend.
  • Call a family member.
  • Research an item on your “someday list”.
  • Spend time in silence.
  • Spend time journaling or writing.
  • Spend time with a friend.
  • Play with your pet(s).
  • Go to church.
  • Say a prayer.
  • Make a list.
  • Donate items you no longer use (clothes, household goods) to charity.
  • Clean a room.
  • Clean your desk.
  • Buy new sheets for your bed.
  • Get your teeth cleaned.
  • Schedule your annual physical.
  • Tour a national monument.
  • Tour a garden or a park.
  • Do something you love to do.
  • Work from home.
Julie Perrine is an administrative expert, author, speaker, and all-round procedures pro. She is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing innovative products, training, and resources for administrative professionals ... (Read More)

12 comments on “Taking Care of Yourself: A Path to Focused Self-Care

  1. Wendy on

    Thank you Julie! As women we rarely stop to take care of ourselves, usually taking care of someone else. I very much appreciated your comments and will endeavor to do some of your suggested ‘Self-care’ activities. Thank you again!

  2. Caroline Acidong on

    Thank you Julie. This is a very insightful article. I’m challenging myself to do the 30 Days of Focused Self-Care. Kind regards.

  3. Christine on

    Thank you Julie! Your article came to me in an email just hours after I learned that a second sister in my family has been diagnosed with cancer. One sister is stage IV and I don’t know about the other one yet. My daughter lost her baby in August at 28 weeks. My head is spinning today and your article could not have come to me at a better time. I am going to pass it on to my three children and all nine of my siblings. Thank you again!

  4. Monica on

    Perfect timing for this. As Executive Assistants, we become so used to making sure that every detail is taken care of for our organizations, our supervisors, our co-workers, and our families, that we loss sight of the fact that it is ok to take care of what we need.

    Several things came together in a great mess of issues over the past two months. Loss of two dear friends, issues between my adult children with me caught in the middle, my husband’s job loss, helping my son search for colleges, and a sister with an uncertain biopsy requiring surgery.

    In my efforts to help everyone else, “I am a doer”…I became so emotionally and physically exhausted I could hardly think straight. I finally had to step back and take time for myself. This did not make anyone happy which increased my stress until I realized that I simply had nothing to give and unless I recharged, it would only get worse.

    I stepped back and concentrated on just one or two priorities a day… considering what would make the most impact in my goals. During this time I turned off my facebook page, reducing the negativity and time drain which pulled on my emotions. I spend my lunch hour focusing on what I could do for a positive influence on our finances, and journaled.

    Taking time to spend with my friends families rather than “doing”, just listening and enjoying the memories. I spent time with my husband and we have both realized that the job loss was an opportunity to focus on what we do want in life and that in the day to day, we had lost focus on our goals and our lives had become about helping others achieve theirs at a cost to ours. My husband’s health had taken a back seat and this has provided the opportunity to get a handle on that.

    One by one, things have come to resolution, not necessarily the way I would have wanted, but by stepping back, I have come to realize that there were many wonderful things that have come out of these situations, as painful as they have been.

    As we head into the holiday season, my goals is to enjoy the holiday the way I want. Not to empty my cup in a effort to fill everyone elses.

    Thank you for a great article

  5. Judith Arthur on

    Thank you, Julie! This is exactly what I need. Your life experiences are very close to my own, and I haven’t been able to self-focus. I will take this advice immediately! Sharing your knowledge with us helps us all to be better administrative professionals, mothers, wives, and friends. Again, thank you for all that you do for us!!

  6. Bharti on

    Thanks Julie. I have also faced issues like this in the gone by year. Thanks for sharing the list which has enlightened me. I will also start giving time to myself.

  7. Marie-Martine on

    Thank you. I published Julie’s article on my facebook today. Most of my friends are English speakers and will enjoy it. I also appreciated Monica’s reply with her “Not to empty my cup in a effort to fill everyone elses.”

  8. Sarah Ford on

    I agree, just what I needed to read. Looking back, I have actually instigated self-care in the last couple of months.

    My mother-in-law was admitted to hospital in February 2015 after a fall and became very frail. She was in hospital an hour’s drive away for two months. Visiting her most evenings was exhausting. She was moved to a local community hospital for a further two months which was easier and is now in a nursing home in very poor health. Having spent a number of months arguing with the local Social Services department who wanted to send her home with an inadequate care package, sorting out her finances and her flat (with little to no help from my husband’s family), she is now being cared for in an appropriate place.

    A couple of weeks after my mother in law’s admission to hospital, my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Living a number of hours away I found it very difficult to not be able to be there on a daily basis for her, although did spend time with her post-surgery.
    She is thankfully recovering well.

    Having to be all things to all people was exhausting.

    I have now taken the time to re-start my love of yoga and find both the physical and mental side of this practice incredibly rewarding. I have also reintroduced creativity back into my time in the form of sewing and art which I have always loved and my husband and I are actively taking opportunities to spend time together without talking about parent or family issues.

    Taking the time to do this has helped me feel back in control of me.

  9. Hope on

    Good advice, thanks Julie,

    My family has recently gone through a tragedy (the loss of my youngest, fittest, liveliest sibbling) and my already super negative elderly parents have become zombie-like…my sister has tried to do everything in her power to keep my forever miserable mom content by sacrificing all of her spare time, and that is a “no-no”…
    Am also sharing on FB, thanks!

  10. Carmen on

    As I read this article, it truly shook me within. From my life’s experiences, I need this. And I will be starting this challenge. If not for anyone else but myself. I even shared it on my blog at carmentroche.com because I know now that I’m not the only one. Thank you for sharing.


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