As fitness and wellness professionals, you give everything you’ve got—week after week, month after month. But what about you? How do you tend to your own needs as you serve others?
If you hope to avoid burnout, practicing self-care is essential. “Self-care” means promoting the health of one’s five senses, both at work and beyond. In the stress of the workplace, the sympathetic nervous system dominates, keeping us caught in “fight or flight” mode. Self-care techniques, on the other hand, turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, helping the body to heal itself and relax.
Victory for the Voice
In the morning, doing vocal exercises to wake up the voice should become a habit. You will find videos of simple voice exercises on my website, www.findlawrence.com. (Click on “Free Stuff” and then “Clips, Chory and Handouts.” Scroll down to “Spa for the Soul” and select “Speech-Therapy Pathology Videos.”)
To take care of your voice, politely require clubs to provide microphones, where appropriate, for all indoor classes (ACE 2011). Prudent use of a microphone includes knowing how to set the volume so that the spoken word is always audible above the music volume.
When you are not using a microphone (e.g., when teaching yoga or outdoor classes), learn to project the voice using a lower-than-normal pitch, even during moments of excitement when your volume spikes. Hydrate the voice before, during and after class with room-temperature or cool liquids, and consider keeping a glycerine-rich lozenge in the mouth when you must speak at length. Unlike liquids that you sip periodically, the lozenge will coat your throat every time you swallow.
Empowering the Eyes
We use our eyes nonstop—and not always in the best of environments. In dimly lit yoga studios or dark indoor cycling rooms, our instructor eyes often strain to observe our clients’ form. After class, as you go from the dark environment to a brighter area, diminish the shock to the optic nerve by gently looking outside the room (to where the light is brighter) for 5 seconds. This will allow the pupils to adjust before you step into the light. If the light control has a dimmer switch, use it slowly when changing the ambient lighting after a darker class.
Very slow blinking helps hydrate the eyes and massages the optic nerve (Rowe & MacLean 2004). For one full minute, just close and open your eyes as slowly as you can. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that doing slow blinking in a dimly lit area while looking at a candle flame enhances the effectiveness of the exercise (Rowe & MacLean 2004).
Helping the Hearing
Music is a key element driving most group fitness experiences. Self-care for the ears includes keeping sound levels below the 85-decibel maximum in all our classes. Today, most smartphones have free, downloadable applications that can provide a decibel rating for ambient noise. Use one of these apps to learn appropriate volume levels and settings for music systems in classes and gym floors.
Also, consider compiling a music playlist that is just for you. This may protect against eardrum fatigue, according to a 2004 JAMA study: “Having a softer volume for personal use music that is different from work music not only promotes ear health, but also helps to create a parasympathetic, relaxation response” (Friedrich 2004).
Tapping Into Touch
Managing the damage to muscles from everyday stress requires regular self-massage or myofascial release, as these techniques help “clean” the muscles by getting rid of knots and dispersing built-up collagen. Just using a tennis ball every evening to massage larger muscles can help them recover from the stresses of teaching exercise classes.
For more information on self-massage, consult sites like www.meltmethod.com (for guidelines on myofascial release) and www.acefitness.org (for foot care programs).
Nurturing the Nose
In our line of work, our noses must tolerate a range of odors, from rusting metal to sweating bodies. In the presence of smells we would rather avoid, the sympathetic nervous system of the brain sends messages to the body to inhale and exhale less deeply, and, consequently, this keeps us from being more relaxed. Over time, the negative side effects of shallow breathing include overuse injuries, fatigue and even insomnia (Farhi 1996).
To enhance the sympathetic nervous system, experiment with using aromatherapy. When our environment smells great, we breathe more deeply, so doing something as simple as adding a few drops of lavender oil to the driving wheel of your car will help you breathe better when rushing between classes.
Consider burning an aromatherapy soy candle near your computer when checking email so that you deepen your breathing even though the rest of your body may not be working. Finally, adding a few drops of essential oil to your own body moisturizer may help you breathe more fully as you are hurrying from the shower to your next class.
I encourage you to have aromatherapy scents that you refrain from using with classes so that your brain never associates them with the work environment.
For more self-care strategies, plus full references, please see “Self-Care: Managing the Damage” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.