The greatest gift is taking care of yourself

Ekaterina Voznesenskaia deep dives into the importance of self care and how it impacted her own life.

Life is constantly changing, and every day is different to the last. Today we might be full of energy, motivated and inspired, while tomorrow we might feel unbalanced, tired, exhausted and burned out.

Our life usually involves lots of planning, organising, controlling and executing. We are constantly leading, managing, communicating, coordinating and delivering.

All this requires lots of energy, strength, resilience and patience. And it would all be possible, but for unexpected life changing situations when we often feel lost and desperate and might not be able to inspire, organise and control anymore.

We suffer from uncertain and turbulent days, but during this time it is crucial to take care of yourself, to love yourself and remain caring, supportive and responsive.  

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug yourself including you.” – Anne Lamott

There are days when we simply need to unplug. There are moments in life when we need to take a break and rest. There are life circumstances when the need to change the focus from work itself to how we live, how we feel, how our work affects our life and our relationship with others.

How does our work environment impact our mental wellbeing, our health and overall happiness? Work has always been an inseparable part of our life, and some of us are completely dedicated to eating, sleeping and breathing work. But if we ask ourselves; What is our main purpose and meaning in life? Is it primarily growing professionally, achieving big success, gaining a reputation, respect and earning a fortune? Is this really the answer?

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” – Dolly Parton

Think about your daily rituals and how you start and finish your day. A few years ago I could not even think about work-life balance, as my day started early with a very quick breakfast, no time for coffee and then running to take a train. My morning was almost always in a rush and I could not even think about finding time for myself, doing morning exercises and making my favourite coffee.

It continued like this for quite a long time until one day a colleague of mine told me about her morning, what a lovely breakfast she had with her family that took about thirty minutes. How happy, inspired and fulfilled she looked when she was telling me this. I realised at that moment that my own breakfast took maximum three to five minutes and I could not say anything exciting or inspiring about my start to the day.

The most important, I realised that my morning, my day and my evening were the same – living work, breathing work and planning work for the next day. At that time, I was working as an English teacher in a university and was preparing for my lessons usually until 11pm, doing my best to make the learning process as interactive and creative as possible. As part of my work at the university, I was also teaching English and German privately and I was completely dedicated to my work. And then I suddenly realised that I lacked something important; I lacked time for myself.

“The greatest gift that you can give yourself is a little bit attention to yourself” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

The first thing I did was add daily rituals into my working routine. Rituals have been an integral and constant aspect of human life for centuries and rituals are believed to be one of the most effective self-empowering tools bringing more connection and meaning in life.

What does a ritual mean? The word ‘ritual’ is derived from the Latin word ‘ritualis’, associated with the word ‘rite’ which comes from ‘ritus’, typically understood to mean a type of ceremony or custom. The original concept of ritus may be related to the Sanskrit ṛtá (“visible order)” in Vedic religion, “the lawful and regular order of the normal, and therefore proper, natural and true structure of cosmic, worldly, human and ritual events”.

Rituals have always been a vital part of our life process and a powerful method of re-aligning ourselves with the cycles of nature. In psychology the term ritual is used in “a sense for a repetitive behaviour systematically used by a person to neutralise or prevent anxiety”. A ritual is also defined as an act carried out on a regular basis with a specific intention.

“Rituals are the formulas by which harmony is restored” – Terry Tempest Williams

What are your daily rituals? How do you start and finish your day? I felt such a big difference when I started doing yoga, gentle stretching and breathing exercises in the morning. There is something so precious and invaluable when you feel your body, mind and soul awakening and welcoming a new day. Some very special, fulfilling and powerful life energy is being generated when you start your day with gratitude, warmth and peace inside.

I have intentionally changed the start of my day by adding morning rituals to my everyday life. If before my breakfast used to be very simple and quick, now it is a whole process of first drinking a glass of warm water, then making green smoothie and after some time having a coffee and banana porridge. Surprisingly it all does not take a lot of time. I am thinking about starting a short thirty-minute walk or run before work. Hopefully I will implement this down the line.

“The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.” – Stephen R. Covey

One of my most valuable daily rituals is taking short breaks during the day and spending time in the park near my home. Taking breaks and completely unplugging from work for some time has been proven to have a powerful restorative effect, improving my physical and mental wellbeing. Like flowers need rain, we need revitalising energy to keep us inspired and motivated, keep us balanced. Short breaks in nature are particularly beneficial, as nature heals and restores.

The research highlighted in the book Healing Gardens by Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barneshave has revealed that being in nature or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. The research has also found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety. Above all, time in nature or viewing scenes of nature increases our ability to pay attention and focus. Because we find nature inherently interesting, we can naturally focus on what we are experiencing out in nature. This provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.

“Green, which is Nature’s colour, is restful, soothing, cheerful, and health-giving.” – Paul Brunton

Now think about your life and work environment. How do you feel there? The research has shown that environment can increase or reduce our stress, can have a positive, calming and balancing  effect or make us feel anxious, stressed and depressed. Especially when we are working from home and spend most of our days in the same place, the environment is crucial.

What we are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is affecting not only our mood, but how our nervous and immune systems are working. For example, when I just moved to my new apartment a year ago, there was a painting in the living room depicting the stormy sea full of dark gloomy colours that aroused a feeling of anxiety, uncertainty and loneliness. At first, I was not aware that it was this painting was impacting my mood, my emotions and my productivity, but I could not neglect it for a long time.

After I had taken this depressing painting off the wall and hid it in the corner, I looked around the room and took a deep breath feeling such relief, such freedom and openness, as if some vital energy channel had been opened. It sounds incredible, but the environment we live and work in is deeply connected with our feelings, emotions and our mood. The environment can restore, soothe, balance and heal.

What environment do you live in? Is there something in particular that makes you joyful and happy? Or is there something that you urgently need to change, hide in the corner or simply throw away? Remember to take care of the environment you live and work in. Take care of your mental and physical health. Take care of your inner world. Take care of yourself. Be mindful of your feelings and emotions and what affects them. Make a pause during the day and fulfil yourself with happiness, kindness, love and gratitude. Remember that self-care is something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.

“Invent your world. Surround yourself with people, colour, sounds and work that nourish you.” – Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy



Written by Ekaterina Voznesenskaia

Published: 13 May, 2o2o