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Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe: Forget Self-Care, Embrace Self-Stewardship

Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe: Forget Self-Care, Embrace Self-Stewardship

“Our relationship with self-care is fractured and we are going in the wrong direction.” In honour of Women’s History Month, Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe shared this truth, as she calls it, in an article for, exploring how women can reclaim their wellness through self-stewardship instead of the often-misconstrued notion of self-care.

Robyne is an award-winning education and psychology instructor, who specializes in resiliency, navigating stress and change, wellness in the workplace, and optimal performance, both at home and work. In her fascinating article, she explores women’s complex history within society and how it’s led to perpetual burnout, and, most importantly, how to counteract it to find balance in an increasingly complex world. Read her article below.

Women know that self-care is needed to navigate their lives, yet the need alone does not change our behaviour. Women are stealing from tomorrow’s energy just to make it through today. Women are deeply depleted, even to the state of burnout, yet still question, have I done enough? Am I enough?

There are many pressure points at play that impact our history with self-care. As professionals who are also mothers and caregivers, I see a brutal dichotomy, where we are supposed to work as though we don’t have families and raise our families as if we do not work outside the home.

As women, we hold deep gratitude and reverence for our fore-grandmothers who fought for our rights, as we should. And during this revolution for womanhood, there was no re-negotiating the distribution of the existing roles and responsibilities women held at the time. We boldly claimed new roles in society while we already had full-time responsibilities.

I see this omnipresent shadow of expectation even to this day when company stops by unexpectantly! The state of the house reflects me, not the other four people who live here! I take this as a personal failure when the baseboards are not cleaned or if dishes are lingering in the sink, even after working a 50-hour workweek. Practices of self-care are very far down the priority list while trying to raise good humans, earn a living, serve the community, strive for self-actualization while also fitting into skinny jeans.

How can women prioritize self-care when we have been conditioned to take care of ourselves only when all the other work is done, especially when the other work is never done. It is like shoveling the driveway while it is still snowing.

Self-care is being weaponized. Live and work within relentless conditions and if you are struggling to keep up, up your self-care routine. The work and the invisible labour are an endless cycle. The remedy here will involve unlearning and releasing unsustainable expectations and norms that have been established for us. We must move beyond self-care to self-stewardship. This is not business as usual. The ship is going down as women’s emotional and mental health is declining and we will take society down with us in the process!

Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” This is what we need to commit to. You must entrust your wellness to yourself. When we entrust something, it recognizes the preciousness and value of what needs protecting. You! This is not selfish, this is science. We must protect our greatest assets — US — the caregivers. Our society is built on the backs of caregivers. No one is coming to rescue us. WE are who WE have been waiting for! So, where do we begin? My invitation is to focus each day on doing one act of self-stewardship for your head, body, and heart.

Head: Seeing the World

The reality is that we cannot outthink stress, but we can tend to the reactions of stress and overwhelm in a compassionate and action-oriented way. To do this, we need to be mindful. We need to be in the present moment. Most people I work with are either stuck in their past, and feel guilt, shame, and disappointment or they are stuck in the future and feel anxiety, fear, and a lack of certainty.

The last two years has been a painful awakening that certainty and order are an illusion many cling to as life lines. The intention is to strive for 80% of the time being in the moment, let your mind wonder as it naturally will to the past and future, and gently, without judgment, invite it back to the place where you are able to have the most probability of influence, the present.

If you notice you are on autopilot and the feeling factory starts to flare, you’re upset and don’t even know why, ask yourself this, what story am I telling myself right now? Chances are the narratives are not supportive. Bring yourself to the present moment and make the next right decision for you. You don’t have to figure everything out, just your next one move.

Body: Being in the World

As Woman’s History Month celebrates brilliant contributions of extraordinary women, there is one woman’s work that impacts millions of us, it is relatively unknown, yet it harms many of us. As the suffragette movement was gaining steam, the “1200 calorie diet” was first introduced in a newspaper article by medical doctor Lulu Hunt Peters and later in the book, Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories published in 1918. Dr. Peter’s book became the first diet-book bestseller and remained in the top ten non-fiction best-selling books from 1922-1926. The 1200 miracle calorie claim said a person can eat whatever they wanted, as long as they didn’t eat more than 1200 calories in a day.

Dr. Peters also claimed that since rationing food post WWI was still in effect in many countries, eating only 1200 calories made rationing more pleasant. “For every pang of hunger we feel we can have a double joy, that knowing we are saving worse pangs in some little children, and that of knowing that for every pang we feel we lose a pound.”  Peters offered calorie counting as a patriotic and moral duty that women should undertake to support the troops, and perhaps the patriarchy? To care for our bodies, we need to feed our bodies.

The diet culture is a billion-dollar industry of misinformation with origins stemming from finding means of oppressing women. As author Christy Harrison wrote, “if women are busy trying to shrink themselves, they won’t have the time or energy to shake things up. It’s hard to smash the patriarchy on an empty stomach or with a head full of food and body concerns, and that’s exactly the point of diet culture.” (p. 33).

Self-stewardship practices for taking care of our bodies needs to be rooted in love, self-respect, real science for what our bodies actually need, and a commitment to repair the damage many of us have afflicted upon ourselves for decades. You cannot hate yourself healthy. Relationship repair is needed here.

Heart: Feeling the World

Being able to hold hope and live hope-filled is a powerful state of being. We can cultivate our capacity to work towards the highest good for all people, when we share hope-filled stories and celebrate the human spirit. Be inspired, means to be “in-spirit” with others. We can transcend the daily pressures and hold a perspective that frees us from the world’s unreasonable and unattainable expectations. Finding ways to feel alive again is important heart work. It is when we can hold hope, we can also foster empathy, compassion, peace, ease, spaciousness, and fulfilment. You will never get enough of what you do not need. Seek out what fills your soul. Perhaps it is music, solitude, comradery, nature, merriment, or maybe service. When we feel well, we do well.

A daily commitment to one act of self-stewardship can change lives. When we start aligning our head, body, and heart towards the greatest good for all through self-stewardship, we claim our right to be a whole person. To have the privilege of living a good life. Mother Theresa said, to change the world, go home and love your family. Remember YOU are part of the family too. You are entrusted with protecting yourself. You are worthy of your wellness. Productivity and exhaustion do not have to be the only times you feel your worthiness.

Our fore-grandmothers believed enough in us to fight for us. They took us further than many could have ever imagined. Now it is our time. It is our time to write the next chapter that will advance womanhood. That while we carry the weight and responsibility of the world, we have the right to feel and be well too. We fight for our daughters and their future by unapologetically living a life that recognizes and honours our needs and right to rest and recovery. Let us be the ones who erase the misguided belief that we must only tend to our own needs when everyone else’s needs have been met. Let us all grow into the strength that is needed to live our lives well. And may this emerging strength include a commitment to self-stewardship for everyone’s sake.

Described as one of the most sought-after, engaging, thought-provoking, and truly transformative international speakers and scholars in her field, Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe’s inspirational and actionable keynotes offer accessible and practical strategies, grounded in global research, that help foster resiliency and wellness within ourselves and others.

Contact us to learn more about Robyne and how to book her for your next event.  

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