The Physics of Self Care

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it may just be a good time to come back around to the topic of keeping yourself in mind. 😊

Several years back, I began to notice that the skin around my eyes would get dry and flaky. Not consistently, mind you, but just often enough to drive me batty wondering what the heck was going on. At first, I thought it was the result of forty-something Hormonal Havoc. My acupuncturist considered that it may be part and parcel of the hard work my liver was doing to clear all those hormones, since the liver and the eyes correlate in Chinese medicine. Alternatively, I figured it could always be inflammatory payback for too much candy at Halloween or a few extra burger and fry benders during vacations.

What was the answer? Not to be difficult, but the culprit incorporated elements of all of that( plus corn, apparently). As I began to dig even deeper, though, like going through the seven why’s, there was one consistent factor that acted as either water or petroleum to the inflammatory fire blazing under my eyeballs.


It’s a tiny word with a serious Napoleon complex. And when I really paid attention on a larger scale, the level of influence of this single lifestyle lever came into ever-brighter focus. Rocking a light and highly manageable workload? On a frequent visit basis with my green smoothie barista? No eye flakes. But guess what? If you poke the bear, you get smacked with a paw or two. Later that year, after I started a new job in a new city with a new school for my son and some pretty jarring personal loss + life in general, voilà! The diminutive dictator was back with a vengeance.

This whole concept of Stress Napoleon and his teensy waving sword came into clear focus on one particular workday during the above-referenced period, underlining for me in black Sharpie the epidemic of self-neglect that is so pervasive in our society. It was a Friday. Just as a note, this was a good couple of years pre-COVID, so I was physically in the office at my company site. I had two back-to-back meetings that morning with a few female colleagues with whom I worked regularly. In this half day of observation, every single one of these women exhibited what are very clear signs of physical, mental and/or emotional overload. Every. Single. One. That’s a 100% percent affect ratio.

Two women were scheduled to join me in the first meeting. While we waited for the second colleague to arrive, the first discussed as pass-the-time banter how she rarely sleeps well, a fact clearly evident in the puffy circles under her eyes. The second colleague shuffled into the room about 15 minutes into our session, pallid and lethargic, which was not surprising, as she’d been violently ill with the flu 36 hours beforehand. Even so, she had hauled herself into the office to manage a full day of executive meetings, which weren’t set to wrap until six pm (on a Friday). I recommended anise tea; she concurred that it has benefits, because she drinks it daily to combat chronic tummy pain related to stress.

My second meeting that morning was a round-table demonstration of precisely the same phenomenon. There were five of us ladies in the conference room this time. The first had gained 15 pounds since moving from a work-at-home environment to the corporate office six months prior. The second was one of those sangfroid unshakable professional types who never gets rattled…but who was also currently rocking a solid case of rosacea. The third told us all about the burn marks next to her eye and on her upper eyelid, sustained while hurriedly cooking her family’s dinner earlier in the week. A burn. On her eyelid. The fourth woman looked the picture of calm seas, smooth of complexion with twinkling blue eyes…until those eyes filled like the ocean at high tide and she broke down crying, a victim of just Too Much Stuff all piling on bit by bit until the dam just had to burst. And finally, at the end of the table, there was me. ‘Ole flaky eyes.

What were we doing? I’ll admit that it was a busy time at my company–the year had started with a bang, and there was a lot to get out the door at that particular point in time. However, this company was at that point also one of the most balance-friendly corporate entities I’d been involved with, and I’ve seen a fair few. No, what I witnessed that Friday was a phenomenon not as much related to what we’re subjected to at work or home or anywhere else as it was to how we incorporate those inputs into our lives.

Imagine if, for every new responsibility we’re given, every new to-do that pops on to our ever-evolving roster, we were to add a column next to it, a column into which we scribe one additional self-care element we will gift to ourselves because we deserve it? What if, every time someone pulls at our yin, we tug in the equal and opposite direction on our yang?

Now I was perfectly crummy at high school physics, but even I can see the linearity of this argument. If you add a stressor to one side of a personal balance, you need to add an equivalent de-stressor to the other side. Otherwise, the whole thing crashes. For every forgotten-until-the-night-before school project, there should be an equivalent foot massage (at least that’s how it translates in my world). For every heavy-lift assignment at work, there should be an equal and opposite live or virtual Ladies’ Night (also my world). But how many times to we actually do that?

My friends, here is my challenge to you. Start today. Compose a list of the things that make your toes curl, or uncurl, as the case may be. Even the small stuff. Yes, one little piece of dark chocolate does have an impact (think magnesium and antioxidants, but also think deliciousness). A workout, a break from working out, a bath, a night off from giving your kids a bath, a round of golf, a slice of apple pie, a yoga class (clears throat meaningfully)–the choices are endless. But please do take the time to actually note down your ideas somewhere, just so you aren’t left trying to think up something on the fly when Le Corporal shows up at your door. Plus, simply composing a list of the things you enjoy is in itself an exercise in mindfulness, and it can be a great resource to page through anytime for a quick dose of zen.

And then, after you’ve jotted down all of these fabulous self-care ideas, act on them. Every time a new responsibility comes in, be sure to treat yourself. You deserve it. In fact, what the heck, go ahead and enjoy one of those list items right now. I’ll bet you ten francs you’re way overdue.

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