About 12 years ago, Sherine Keseba was at the threshold of a successful career in a multinational company in Dubai. As a reporting analyst for Middle East and North Africa, her job entailed preparing financial statements, making reports, calculating budgets and estimates on a daily basis. ‘I was hopping in and out of meetings all through the day, helping the company with important financial decisions and basically feeling very empowered,’ she says.
If someone had told her back then that soon she would be raising two children, making grocery lists and balancing the household budget instead of an MNC’s, she would perhaps brushed them off with disdain.
But after the birth of her second daughter Malak, that’s exactly what she did. ‘I decided to quit my job; my husband was stressed out with a very busy work-related travel schedule and we couldn’t find a trustworthy nanny,’ she says. Sherine decided to set aside her career and tackle the challenges around her. ‘I didn’t wait for them to ask for my help, I just decided to sacrifice my dream for them,’ says the 39-year-old Egyptian expat.
Looking back, Sherine says given another chance, she wouldn’t have done anything different. ‘I’d decided long ago that I wouldn’t go into a ‘self-pity’ mode.’
Today, her daily schedule revolves around the kids’ school work, extracurricular activities and household chores. But she balances this with a healthy dose of ‘me time’ at least twice a week, which includes coffee with friends, movie nights out or hitting the gym as often as she can. She also manages an Instagram account – Queen Mamas – sharing her experiences and tips on subjects related to motherhood.
‘It’s important to compensate yourself with self-care activities or hobbies you enjoy, like indulging in a massage or having a manicure, going out with friends... These moments are total mood enhancers. It will dissipate your tiredness and eventually be reflected on your behaviour with your family and friends.’ Among the other benefits that she lists are having more patience for things and enjoying less stressful days. ‘Ultimately, it is healthier to love yourself a bit so that you are refreshed to give back to your family and the society at large,’ she says.
Sherine is not alone. An increasing number of women across the world are now beginning to realise the power of ‘me time’ and are kicking off their heels to stretch out and chill out with friends or to enjoy a bit of pampering with massages, spa treatments and mani-pedis.
Check these figures: The global wellness industry grew by more than six per cent annually from 2015–2017, from a $3.7 trillion to a $4.2 trillion market, nearly twice as fast as global economic growth (3.6 per cent annually).
In 2018, the market was worth $4.5 trillion.
There’s more. Wellness expenditures at $4.2 trillion are more than half as large as the total global health expenditures ($7.3 trillion), says the report.
Practising self-compassion may be good for the market but it is also beneficial for the person, says American author Troy L Love. ‘When we are kind to ourselves, we allow ourselves to learn from our mistakes and to grow. It also helps us become kinder to others.’ He cites research to prove that practicising self-compassion helps us suffer less ‘from the painful experiences of life’.
Self-compassion is not a new concept although it might not be wrong to say that it has not been as well understood until recently. ‘A majority of religions teach the importance of practising patience and kindness to others. But a well-balanced spiritual mind will always take care of itself and not judge and shame itself for being less than perfect,’ says Troy, who is also clinical director of Yuma Counseling Services in the US.
Afreen Zubair Khan knows the importance of taking care of herself only too well. The 28-year-old juggles two jobs – a brand sales ambassador and her online jewellery business – leaving her with little time to take care of herself.
While she juggles customer service, sales, cash management and social media marketing at work, at home she has to be on stand by at all times to answer queries from prospective customers.
‘At times it gets exhausting,’ she admits. ‘But I try to plan and take a well-deserved break during weekends by catching up on movies, meeting friends, spa sessions or just going on walks with my husband.’
She believes it is important for overall physical and mental health to ‘unplug’ once in a while. ‘After chilling out, I feel like a brand new person ready to take on the world again.’
Afreen makes it clear she would never work herself to a point where she would burn out and not be able to give her productive best. Once tired, after working overtime for five consecutive days, she requested for some time off. ‘Thankfully my colleagues understood and allowed me that,’ she says. Clearly, sometimes when you ask, you’ll receive.
Riti Bahel is another UAE resident who admits to experiencing enormous stress trying to juggle a job and household duties.
‘When I came to Abu Dhabi two years ago I used to feel tired physically and mentally trying to maintain a work-life balance,’ says the 30-year-old Indian expat.
It was only a year later, after realising the importance of ‘learning to love my own self again’, that she achieved some semblance of peace.
‘I decided to set aside at least an hour of quality time per day to rewire myself,’ says Riti. Her favourite pastimes include taking a walk around the Corniche or chatting with a good friend. ‘I also love to watch TV shows and documentaries and read. Another passion is blogging about food,’ she says.
At the end of these ‘me’ sessions Riti feels peaceful, healthy and calm. ‘It helps me gain perspective and understand myself better. If there are any interruptions, I try to find another time or thing that helps me relax and just be,’ she says.
Bite-sized bits of love
In his bestselling book, A Year of Self-Love, Troy advises readers to discover myriad methods for loving yourself every day of the year. ‘Celebrating small victories can be a great way to establish a self-love routine,’ he says. ‘For instance, take yourself on a date once in a while as a reward for an achievement. It can be small or ‘bite-sized’ moments but it can do great wonders for your morale.’
It is a piece of advice Sherine wishes she knew earlier. When the kids were young, Sherine tried to convince herself that she could enjoy quality me time without feeling guilty about it once her kids grew up. But reality proved otherwise as her ‘me time’ only kept shrinking with the passage of years. ‘Most women feel vulnerable after giving birth and having to choose between career and children. It is important that they take a decision that suits their needs and not feel guilty or selfish.’ She has a few tips: ‘Celebrate your happiness and love with yourself by keeping your head high and reminding yourself that you are doing a great job. For instance, if nobody is going to give you a treat this Valentine’s Day, just treat yourself; you deserve it,’ she says.
Treating themselves and having a sense of gratitude for the blessings in their life is something very important to Riti and her husband Rajat. So much so that it is a part of their daily routine.
As they wind up their day, the couple follow a practice of ‘just doing their own thing’ for around 20 minutes – sometimes individually other times together. It could be reading a book, watching a show, even meditating.
They also have a bowl into which they drop a note of one thing they are grateful for every day. ‘We make it a point to read it out aloud together at the end of every year. This has been a great mood changer for putting things in perspective,’ she says.
Selfish or self-sustaining?
According to Troy, trying to make everyone happy is actually a defense mechanism to minimise pain. This, unfortunately, is less effective because it’s impossible to please everyone all the time and unsustainable for a person’s well-being. The opposite of people-pleasing is having boundaries that allow people to define their limits, create a safe space and voice their opinions in clear terms. ‘Having a voice and the courage to use it is empowering,’ says the author. ‘Without boundaries, often people experience depression, anxiety, resentment, and burnout – none of which are beneficial to our overall well-being.’
Self-love, he makes it clear, requires courage. ‘It is not for the faint of heart. It needs commitment and daily practice similar to the way a musician must rehearse every day or an athlete must work tirelessly to hone their skills,’ he says.
Sometimes self-compassion can be mistaken for selfishness. But it is important for people to realise that engaging in some habit of self-care enables them to put up a better show for the world around. As Troy points out, taking an hour a day to read, meditate, exercise, or any other form of self-care, is not being selfish; rather, it’s a preparation to face the world and courageously interact with others.
‘It [self-care] is like the oxygen mask in an airplane which drops down when the pressure of the aircraft changes. We are instructed to place the mask on our own face before trying to help others. Are we being selfish in doing so? No. Because without the oxygen, we may pass out and thus be of no help to anyone. Practising self-compassion is like putting on that mask – it helps us be more present and helpful to those around us,’ he says.
This is precisely why 45-year-old Almer Agymyren likes to start his day with some stretching exercises, a few minutes of meditation and thinking of happy memories. ‘It is easy to get caught in the race of life and sort of become numb and not enjoy living in present,’ says Almer, who is a partner in a real estate firm.
Almer likes to take time out by swimming in the open sea, doing some HIIT exercises, travelling, taking walks in nature. ‘I also practise breathing exercises during the day for relaxing, a few times a day. Practising gratitude in general and connecting with people also makes me feel lighter and happier,’ he says.
Taking care of the mind and keeping it in ship shape is as equally important as caring for the body, he believes. One needs to be holistic in this case,’ he says.
In that context, the old dictum ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (a healthy mind in a healthy body) is worth remembering, particularly in today’s hectic life. Seneca the stoic Roman philosopher summed it up best: A balance must be found: while prioritising your mind, you can maintain and improve your body. One cannot exist peacefully without the other.’
A Year of Self-Love: taking care of yourself
The book A Year of Self-Love by Troy L Love is an Amazon best-seller in the category of self-esteem and self-help, and is garnering interesting feedback. One reader said she appreciated being able to read an entry for the day before she leaves for work and ponders on it throughout the day. Another reader made it a bed time ritual with her nine-year-old daughter and claimed it opened up discussions that deepened their relationship. ‘It may sound silly, but I even have a copy on my desk that I pick up almost every day and read. Even though I wrote the book, it is a way for me to remind myself to practise self-love every day too,’ says Troy.