In a world where our obligations to our family, friends, job, and community can seem overwhelming, tending to our own needs often falls by the wayside. We may feel guilty about taking time for ourselves, yet we neglect self-care at our peril.
Reasons why self-care is important:
- Self-care demonstrates that you know your personal worth. Taking care of yourself demonstrates not only to you but also to those around you that you value yourself. It tends to be the case that we teach other people how to treat us by how we treat ourselves.
- Self-care fosters a healthy work-life balance. We are so much more than our jobs. When you leave the office in time to get home for dinner, take a bubble bath, or to curl up with a good book, you ensure that your personal life isn’t ignored.
- Self-care is a vital component of stress management. You need to know when to say no to competing demands on your time and yes to those activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation.
- Self-care entails that you know your priorities, and that if you don’t, you take the time to clarify your personal values and what gives you pleasure. There simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything we’re being asked to or would like to do. So, we need to determine what to spend time and energy doing and what we may need to leave undone.
- Self-care increases your productivity. Although it may seem paradoxical, once you’ve taken time for yourself, you’re more able to tend to important matters. You can discern what really needs to get done and what can wait (or be crossed off your list), rather than frantically trying to put out multiple fires.
- Self-care often translates to better physical health. You are attending to your basic needs such as adequate sleep, healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and social connection, all of which promote good health and improved resistance to disease. When you take care of yourself, you engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which shifts you into rest, relax, and repair mode.
- Self-care leads to greater resilience across all areas of life. When you’re in optimal physical, mental, and emotional form (due to noticing and attending to your needs), you’re better able to cope with challenges, setbacks, and unforeseen situations. Contrast this to days when you’ve only had five hours of fitful sleep, skipped breakfast due to running late, and mentally berated yourself – not exactly a recipe for success.
- Self-care improves your mood and energy levels. When you befriend yourself in thought and action throughout the day, you foster good emotional and mental health. Just imagine how having a wonderful best friend by your side 24/7 would boost your spirits and decrease your anxiety. Well, with self-care you have that friend – in yourself. You don’t beat yourself up mentally for perceived shortcomings, catastrophize about actual or potential events, or tell yourself that “it’s no use trying”, all of which can destroy your peace of mind and drain you of energy and motivation. Instead, you remind yourself in word and action of your strengths, value, and all that you have going for you.
Examples of self-care:
For your body:
- Get adequate, good-quality sleep. This sets the stage for mental clarity, sufficient energy, a balanced mood, optimal creativity, and robust immunity to disease.
- Eat a healthy diet. What you consume can have dramatic effects on your health, either positive or negative. A well-rounded nutritional plan can help your mental clarity, balance your moods, increase your energy, contribute to deep sleep, and reduce inflammation.
- Prepare some meals for yourself. Rather than relying on energy bars, drive-throughs, or frozen dinners, take the time to wash and chop up vegetables, grill a turkey patty, or make home-made soup. As you do so, stay focused on the moment and how your actions show kindness towards yourself.
- Exercise regularly (daily, if possible), if only for a few minutes. If you can’t make it to the gym, take a walk in your neighborhood.
For your mind:
- Spend some time every day practicing mindfulness, to get grounded, calm your mind, and release your concerns about the future, past, or other matters.
- Put your attention single-mindedly on an everyday activity, such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, or folding the laundry. Do one thing at a time. Remember the fable about the hare and the tortoise – rather than darting quickly about and getting off-track, single-mindedness and focus wins the day.
- Exercise your brain. Read a book (hint: try an actual, physical book for the tactile experience, rather than on an iBook or Kindle), do a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, learn a new language, take piano lessons, or go to night school. We never lose the capacity to learn.
- Get (or stay) organized. A pile of unfinished projects, excessive to-do list, cluttered home or office, or erratic day-to-day routine can increase your stress level exponentially. When you put time into organizing your life, by creating a schedule, setting your top three intentions for the day or week, and cleaning up the visual mess around you, you feel more on top of things and less frazzled.
- Do something you’ve been putting off for awhile. This exercises your “can-do” muscle and increases your sense of self-efficacy.
For your soul:
- Set boundaries. Say no to requests (from others and from yourself) that would interfere with your taking care of your top priorities.
- Choose carefully with whom you spend time. While none of us can be in a great mood all of the time, pick people who generally have a positive and can-do attitude and who treat you with kindness and support. Their attitudes are likely to rub off on you, and you can share this life-enhancing energy with them and others.
- In a similar vein, maintain your friendships. Doing so takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. Social connection is a must for all of us. Make sure that your connection to others is face-to-face, at least in part, rather than solely via texting, emailing, social media, and/or phone calls. People run the gamut regarding the amount of social contact we need, so consider your personality and what works best for you.
- Have a hearty laugh every day. Humor can give us a renewed perspective on life, even when it comes to difficulties, and can bond us to others.
- Spend time outdoors, in nature. Take a walk on a tree-lined street, in a park, or just watch the sunset.
- Expand your horizons. This might entail taking a different route to work, having lunch with a friend you haven’t seen for awhile, making a new friend, seeing a movie you generally wouldn’t consider. Doing things differently helps create new neural pathways in your brain.
- Treat yourself as you would your best friend. If you wouldn’t say something to them, don’t say it to yourself.
- Practice self-compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness, for yourself and others. Our inner dialogue with the committee in our head can make or break us – work on making yours positive and solution-focused.
- Look for and appreciate the good. On your morning walk or commute to work, discover three things to admire and for which to give thanks. What we focus on grows.
- Help someone else.
- Say kind things and show interest in others.
- Let go of overthinking.
- Nurture your spirituality, which can be thought of as a connection with something larger than you that gives you a sense of meaning, purpose, and strength. This may or may not involve organized religion. People can find solace in nature, music, volunteering for a cause close to their hearts, praying, meditation, or a religious service.
- Make a list of 5-10 things that really make you feel alive and consider how you can incorporate these into your life.
- Say affirmations that remind you of your sense of purpose.
Remember that self-care is analogous to putting on your own oxygen mask before you help others to do so. You owe it to the world to conduct careful and consistent self-maintenance.