A few weeks back, I needed a moment. I needed a moment to stretch my legs, see the sun, and get out from behind my computer and the furious flurry of deadlines and to-do lists. I was exhausted, struggling to focus, and my productivity was getting slower and slower by the second. Luckily, I could step out to take a quick lunch, so I booked it over to the Nelson Atkins to get a new perspective. To fit it into my lunchtime, I was only actually there for roughly 15 minutes, but it was enough to give myself just a bit of space and a refresh for the rest of the workday, and admission to the Nelson Atkins is free for their normal exhibits, so it was also easy on my wallet. Thanks, Nelson Atkins Museum! 

While I was there, I took a moment to observe one of Monet’s Water Lillies paintings. the environment to host the painting is designed to offer an idea of what it would have been like for Monet to actually paint. The lighting changes to reflect the different positions of the sun throughout the day, and furthermore, the sound changes from morning bird songs all the way to evening crickets. It’s a really gorgeous and moving experience wrapped up in 10 minutes of time. And something magical happened while I was there taking it in. With the change in the lighting, there was also a significant change in the painting. From rosey hues in dawn to beautiful and vibrant greens of day, and then settled into purples and deep blues of evening, all in that 10  minutes. I would have never noticed it typically. In a museum, I more often take a look at the art, briefly skim the caption and move on. Had I done the same here, I would have missed the transformation completely. And it wasn’t the only thing to transform.

While I sat there, I observed quietly, focusing only on the art and not on my email and endless todos. I breathed deeply, I could feel the tension lessening, and even better, I was a little less brain-foggy. I could feel that I was holding a little less stress in my body and I could sense a bit more of a spring in my step and energy to move through the rest of the workday. Now, that’s not to say that my to-do list got any shorter in that time nor that my email inbox got any emptier. I still had more than plenty to do, but how I felt about it shifted and my focus and energy were a bit better.

In speaking with one of my friends that is a therapist by trade, he mentioned that this phenomenon is not uncommon. Even 5 minutes of getting outside or taking a break in some way can be critical for our focus and mental health. He shared a concept of us needing to fill four different buckets – Mental, Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual. In doing so, we are better able to maintain our energy. This is consistent with a book titled The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr, EdD – where the author shares that managing energy is as important as managing time.

These four buckets are described by R. Michael and updated by Elizabeth Pratt in Psych Central as the following:

Physical self care relates to eating healthy, getting good sleep, and exercising. The physical self and the mental self are interconnected. When you physically feel good, your mental health is increased. The opposite is true as well. When you are not caring for your physical self, your mental health is affected. Examples of physical self care includes eating fresh fruit and vegetables, taking naps when needed, and getting your body moving through exercise.

Emotional self care is practicing values that are near and dear to your heart. This includes examining your emotions and sorting through how you feel about different scenarios that occur throughout your life. This can be done by identifying how you are feeling and then moving forward in a positive way that brings closure and peace. Some of these practices include forgiveness and kindness.

Social self care encompasses all types of social supports. It involves all of the relationships in your life. It can help to broader or to narrow relationships. One of the biggest types of social self care is setting boundaries with the people around you. Boundaries are so important because they allow you to set the expectations of how you would like to be treated by others. Other types of social self care include spending time with friends and family and asking for help when needed.

The last type of self care is spiritual self care. This type of self care allows you to connect with yourself on a deep and meaningful level. This can include taking time to practice religion or practicing meditation and mindfulness exercises. Spiritual self care can also include connecting with nature through walks and hikes. 

The key point here is that so often we treat self-care as a thing to fit in after we have scheduled and accomplished all of our to-dos, but we can’t give from an empty bucket, and there are major physical and mental health consequences if we do. And these consequences hit our historically excluded and most marginalized community members the hardest.

But there is a lot to be gained in slowing down and filling our buckets, including better physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. When we have lower stress, we make better decisions and are more able to mitigate the prevalence and impact of bias in our daily practice. In slowing down we are better able to approach with curiosity instead of defense. Slowing down and self-care can also improve our relationships, retention, and performance.

So I ask you, what can you do to fill your bucket? And additionally, what can you do within your sphere of influence – whether it be in a classroom, student organization, or office – to advocate for prioritizing self-care as part of our culture of care at UMKC? While self-care can feel like individual responsibility, organizational prioritization can make it far more accessible on an individual level.