Self care is a broad term and can be defined in many different ways. Rather than getting hung up on a strict definition, let’s focus more on how to do it. Just like a vehicle needs the right kind of gas, regular oil changes, periodic tire rotations, and so forth, so do we need to be actively involved in self care in order to feel good and prevent breakdowns on the side of the road.
Self care really begins with the understanding that you are worth it. Taking time and prioritizing your own well-being is good for you, and benefits everyone else in your life. I never realized how important it was to engage in self care practices as when I became a parent. I was no longer an individual who was responsible for only my own needs. I had little people who were counting on me! And I am certainly not alone. Most of us have many roles in our day-to-day life which create a greater need for self care. And at the same time, these demands can make it all the more challenging to prioritize our needs.
Regardless of circumstances, self care is something we need to be proactive about and engage in daily. There is no “finish line” rather, just small, intentional decisions that should ultimately support overall well-being. Because this is such a broad concept, we could develop a pretty lengthy list of self care ideas! But, for now, I will share some starter strategies that might help. Picking just one to focus on is a great place to begin.
Say No. This is not always easy but it can be less difficult if you examine priorities before making decisions. I often have to tell myself that just because I can, doesn’t mean that I should. In our “busy” obsessed culture, saying no sometimes actually means saying “yes”. It can create time and space for relaxing, exercising, meal planning, reading, or whatever stress-relieving activity you might need.
- Before taking on something new or making an additional commitment, ask yourself “is this a priority in my life right now?”
- Timing is key. Respond to requests with, “let me check my schedule” or “how about a rain-check?” Don’t feel pressured to say yes on demand without the opportunity to think about it. Maybe you can agree to something at another time that works better for you.
- Create boundaries. This might involve letting a certain amount of time for things or only allowing a set number of activities. It could also mean putting a cap on costs and expenses. Regardless of what it is, set an upper limit and stick to it. Life can become a runaway train if we don’t set some limits.
Rest. Being stressed and overworked is not a badge of honor. Of course sleep is important, but rest is more than just sleep. It can be quiet down-time, or a walk outside during your break at work. It can also be a time-out from social media. You can decide for yourself what rest your body needs but making it a priority is the challenging part. Rest is something you have to take, it’s not just given to you.
- Meditate. There are lots of great apps to walk you through this.
- Use vacation time and it doesn’t have to be a week-long trip.
- Take a short nap or work on earlier bed times.
- Practice good sleep quality and quantity by creating a sleep ritual. This should be a high priority for self care.
- Unplug…your phone, tablet, laptop, television….you get the idea.
- Take your work email off of your phone if it is not required as part of your job.
Slow Down. The pace of life is faster than it has ever been and if you don’t slow it down for yourself, no one is going to do it for you. A fast-paced life that leaves us rushing is a creativity killer. Racing around isn’t good for anyone and can be detrimental to physical and mental health. Things like grabbing unhealthy food on the go, texting and driving, having a short temper……these are all signs that you need to slow down. Over scheduling is particularly bad for children.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Allow more time between appointments.
- Say no, as we mentioned earlier.
- Leave a little bit earlier.
- Set timers.
- Create routines and checklists. This will help prevent wasted time and help with organization.
- Journal to reflect on your experiences, thoughts and feelings.
- Listen to music.
Take Breaks. Whether it’s getting up and walking around, taking a stretch break, or having a healthy snack, breaks can help you avoid exhaustion and boost energy.
- Schedule them throughout the day if you have to.
- Set your phone timer if tend to get lost in your work.
- Besides breaking up a given day, they can also be done intermittently every few weeks. The emotional boost that a vacation provides, even if it’s just a couple of days (it doesn’t have to be a two week international trip) lasts about three to four weeks.
- Regularly taking breaks from your job will support your mental health and leave you more productive and focused.
Create a Community. The importance of connection, community, and social support cannot be stressed enough. A community can be a neighborhood or town, but it can also include your school, workplace, friends, or really any place that you spend a good amount of your time. It involves people, who can support (or challenge) your ability to be well.
- Socialize. Friends and community members can become a great support system. Laughter is the best medicine and talking with others can be too.
- Spend more time outside. Fresh air and exercise can be a great stress reliever. Use workplace resources, neighborhood streets, local parks, and school grounds to get in some physical activity.
- To the extent that you are able, be selective of who and where you spend your time. People and places can have a huge impact on your health. Negative, energy zapping people might need to be cut out of your life. Positive, uplifting people are good for the soul. You might have to make some hard choices to create space in your life which is why self care can sometimes be challenging. It involves making yourself a priority.
- Building strong relationships means creating a foundation of support that you can rely on in times of need. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You would help a close friend in their time of need.
Adjust. Keeping an open mind and being flexible, even with yourself, can lessen stress and leave you feeling more relaxed.
- Start and restart. Not every experience in life is a straight line. It’s quite natural to experience road blocks or unexpected circumstances. Be prepared for bumps and false starts.
- Having a plan B is never a bad idea.
- Realize that there are many ways to address an issue or solve a problem.
Be Curious. Exploring new places or hobbies is really good for our brain. It can distract us from stressors, allow us to immerse ourselves in something creative, or let us reconnect with a part of ourselves.
- Allow your mind to wander. Filling it up every second of downtime doesn’t allow our brain to just breathe. Rather than scrolling through social media, stare out the window, strike up a conversation, or just look around and take in your surroundings.
- Try something new. A museum, a recipe, a city. This is good for our brain and can turn out to be really fun. We can even push our comfort zone and grow a little bit!
- Become mentally absorbed in something you really enjoy. Make sure it’s good for you though! Maybe an educational podcast, Ted Talk, or how-to class could be a good first step.
Food is Fuel. This one is probably the most obvious but it can’t be left off the list. Taking care of yourself requires the proper fuel, just like the car we mentioned earlier. This is certainly easier said than done, but if you begin to look at eating as an opportunity to take care of yourself, good choices become clear.
- Drink only water.
- Eat lots of plants. This includes a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of your total calories.
- Avoid inflammatory foods like refined sugars, alcohol, fried foods and animal fats.
Have any good self-care tips? Leave them in the comments below or head over to our Instagram and let us know!