Self-Care for Leaders: Balancing Personal Needs and Community Responsibilities in Times of Crisis

What happens when you are also impacted by the same events?

 woman sitting at desk

As leaders, we are expected to be pillars of strength for our communities during times of crisis. But what happens when you are also impacted by the same events? How do you balance your personal needs with the responsibilities of supporting your community? What action steps should you take to place yourself in a healthy position to take action on behalf of others? Let's talk about some self-care strategies that can help leaders navigate times of crisis and trauma.

Whenever a public trauma takes the national stage, such as the tragedy with Ralph Yarl or the murder of Jayland Walker, I'm reminded of how taxing these moments can be for those of us who have our own lived experiences with injustice. As leaders, we are expected to help our teams cope with the emotional toll of public traumas, guide our organizations through periods of uncertainty like COVID-19 and rising inflation, be there for our families, and still find time for our own well-being. It's a daunting task, but it's essential for leaders to take care of ourselves so we can continue to care for others.

It isn't selfish to take care of ourselves.

The first step in self-care for leaders is to recognize that it is not selfish or indulgent. It is a necessary part of your responsibility as a leader. Taking care of yourself means that you are better equipped to care for your community. It is like the oxygen mask on an airplane — you must put on your own mask first before you can help others. I'm a high-energy person and when I feel circumstances or other people's energy dragging me down, I find ways to re-energize myself. It's like putting more emotional deposits into the bank before I see too many withdrawals and am left defeated.

My go-to self-care practice is simple: I've got a good therapist. Leaning into therapy is one of the best things we can do for ourselves during times of crisis — and every other day, too.

Boundaries are an important part of life — we all need them.

The second step is to create boundaries. During times of crisis, it is easy for boundaries to become blurred or even non-existent. But it is important to establish clear boundaries between work and personal time, between your own needs and the needs of your community. This can be as simple as setting aside time each day for yourself, whether it is for exercise, reading, or just sitting quietly. It may also mean delegating responsibilities to others so that you are not carrying the weight of an entire organization on your shoulders.

One of my go-to boundary practices is "Focus Fridays." I make every effort to keep Fridays clear of meetings so that I (and my team) have an opportunity to catch up on work and end the week on a more relaxing note.

Go easy on yourself.

The third step is to practice self-compassion. Leaders are often our own worst critics, but it is important to remember that you are human too. You will make mistakes, you will have bad days, and that is okay. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to others. Easier said than done sometimes — high performers tend to be the most critical of themselves — and while you should never lower your standards, it is appropriate to offer yourself grace at times.

I often wonder whether I'm doing enough to balance connecting with my team, showing up in public spaces, getting the hands-on work done, and prioritizing my family. I have to actively remind myself that I'm only one person — sometimes pieces will fall short, especially during times of crisis, and that's ok. It's ok for you, too.

Stay plugged into others.

The fourth step is to reach out to others. During times of crisis, it is easy to feel isolated or alone. But it is important to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues for support. Talk about your experiences, your fears, and your concerns. You may find that others are feeling the same way and that you can support each other through difficult times.

I've found support through executive coaching — which has helped me optimize my leadership, manage stress, and feel less overwhelmed in the day-to-day — and especially in moments of crisis.

Know when to ask for help.

Finally, it is important to recognize when you need additional support. Sometimes self-care is not enough, and you may need to seek additional support from a professional or a support group. There is no shame in asking for help — in fact, it is a sign of strength.

As a leader, we have a responsibility to care for ourselves so that we can continue to care for our teams and our communities during times of crisis and trauma. By recognizing the importance of self-care, creating boundaries, practicing self-compassion, connecting with others, prioritizing self-care activities, and seeking additional support when needed, we can navigate these difficult times with resilience and strength.

The Newsweek Expert Forum is an invitation-only network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.
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