Celebrate Black History Month . . .
Being Kind to Yourself is a Key Business Strategy
Being what author, screenwriter and TV producer Shonda Rhimes calls an F.O.D. (a “first,” “only,” or “different,”) as a woman or person of color in largely white or male spaces can add stress to the already challenging job of building a business or growing a career. Being an “only” can make people feel both left out and overly scrutinized. For those who are “onlys” on multiple dimensions, such as gender and race, the challenge is even greater.
Research shows that using self-care strategies can have a strong impact on well-being, especially in the face of challenges like being an “F.O.D.” Practicing self-care can help you avoid secondary stress symptoms like sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, exhaustion, burnout and decreased immune function. But it can also be a catalyst for growth, helping to generate the enthusiasm, inspiration and curiosity needed to stretch, take risks and make new discoveries.
An emotional tax
The inequalities Black women often face at work can act like an “emotional tax” that saps energy and focus, according to Catalyst, the global nonprofit working to create more equitable workplaces and accelerate women’s progress. In a 2018 report, they shared that 58 percent of Black women surveyed said they felt “highly on guard” for bias, discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace.
Data from McKinsey & Company shows that women are more likely than men to experience microaggressions, such as having your judgment questioned, being mistaken for someone more junior and being subjected to unprofessional and demeaning remarks. Despite increased focus on DEI today, women of color continue to experience such microaggressions at a higher rate than white women. Those who regularly experience microaggressions are twice as likely to be burned out, more than twice as likely to feel negatively about their job and almost three times as likely to struggle to concentrate at work due to stress, McKinsey finds.
The self-care prescription
While organizations must create the culture, policies and practices to eliminate bias and microaggressions against women and people of color, and be held accountable for doing so, you can also take steps now to safeguard your well-being and generate the energy you need to grow and advance. Consider these elements of a regular self-care practice.
- Recognize that self-care is not an indulgence or selfish. Many Black women grew up with a message that we must always be strong. Understanding and accepting that you are worthy of care is foundational to getting it. Meaningful self-care involves a sustained commitment to prioritizing your needs related to nutrition, physical activity, interpersonal relationships, spiritual growth, stress management and personal health. That said, self-care need not become a burden of its own. Start small and work in the things that mean the most to you.
- Block out the time. Many busy women explain that scheduling time for themselves is the key to making it happen. Put an hour into your calendar every day when you do something for you, even if that is to just sit quietly and breathe.
- Welcome help. Especially for entrepreneurs with less built-in workplace back-up (or perhaps none at all) it is crucial to see asking for and accepting help as a business strategy, not weakness. It can be tempting to hunker down and work 24/7 but that leads to burn out. While sacrifice and long hours are often required, the unique stresses of business ownership make self-care mission-critical.
- Find ways to move. Exercise is critical to physical, emotional and mental well-being. Even if you don’t love working out, find ways to incorporate movement into your day. Catch up with friends during a walk rather than over a meal. Consider returning work calls while walking around the office. The more you make physical movement part of your routine, the more it will happen.
- Eat (reasonably) well and drink water. Our brains need a lot of water. Keeping yours hydrated will help you concentrate and stay focused. With food, start by swapping out sugary foods and simple carbs for more fruits and veggies. Even going through a drive thru, you can often choose salad and apple slices, and many convenience stores offer a lot of very fast but healthy choices, like hard-boiled eggs, nuts and bananas.
- Go to bed. Set an alarm to go to bed (not just for when to get up) so you can get at least seven or eight hours. Although it can be tempting to burn the midnight oil to get one more thing done, those hours often provide less ROI than ones invested when you are fresh and focused.
- Connect with people. Doing something nice for others can decrease feelings of stress and increase feelings of connection. You don’t have to say yes to all requests others make of you, but when you choose to provide mentoring, help a colleague with a project or join a founders networking group, it decreases isolation and can help you cope.
What meets your needs for self-care may be very different from those of someone else. Tune in to the moments when you feel relaxed, safe, cared for and open. Those are experiences you need to prioritize to make more room for them. The ROI in both well-being and accomplishment will be worth it.