“Self-care is the most important investment we can make in our life. You can’t put 100,000 miles on a car if you don’t stop every so often to change the oil,” said Lisa Richberg, LMHC, a therapist who specializes in co-morbid eating disorders and addictions, anxiety and depression.
But self-care isn’t another “should” or another task to scribble on our to-do list. It isn’t another chore or something else to feel guilty about—because there’s no time, because you’re too busy, because… because ….
Self-care can be small. Remember self-care can be anything that helps you reconnect to yourself, anything that nourishes you, anything that helps you build a kinder, deeper, healthier relationship with yourself. Below are five small—yet significant—acts you can try today.
Get regular doses of relaxation. Richberg sets phone reminders to get up from her desk and stretch throughout the day. “I try to take a short walk outside daily, concentrating on the scenery and the sounds around me.” When she’s stressed at work, she takes a mini-vacation for several minutes. That is, she usually thinks about being on a deserted beach, which brings her peace and calm. “I can feel my blood pressure and heart rate lower.”
Self-reflect in the evenings. Before bed, for 10-15 minutes, Richberg sips a cup of tea, lights a candle, and reflects on her day. She suggested asking ourselves these questions: “How did the day go? What went well? What might have gone better? What is one commitment I can make to myself for tomorrow?” (Here are other questions you can ask.)
Experiment with different ways to journal. Journaling is very personal, Richberg said. Which is why each of her clients does it differently. “Some clients write poetry. Some use stream of consciousness. Some choose to have a set time to write in their journals, such as before bed or when they first wake up, as a means of mentally preparing for the day. Some clients choose to journal at various times throughout the day when experiencing stress, higher anxiety or difficult situations.” What sounds helpful or soothing or satisfying to you? Start there.
Tune into your emotions. To do this, Richberg teaches her clients mindfulness meditation. Start by focusing on your breath. Or, if that’s too anxiety provoking, focus on something else, such as “the warmth and scent connected with holding a mug of warm tea, or observing the swaying of a tree, or of clouds rolling by.” Then notice the feelings that surface and where these feelings are sitting in your body. Allow your thoughts to come and go as they please, without following (or trying to stop) them. Simply refocus on your breath, the tea, the tree, the clouds, or whatever else you chose as your focus point.
Write words of comfort. In his book Paths to Happiness: 50 Ways to Add Joy to Your Life Every Day, psychologist Edward Hoffman, Ph.D, suggests this practice for cultivating self-compassion: Recount a moment in your day that you regret; write it down; then “write some kindly, reassuring words of comfort toward yourself.”
For instance, maybe you snapped at your spouse. Maybe you yelled at your kids. Maybe you made an error at work. Maybe you ate too much. Maybe you were running late. Maybe the only “productive” thing you did all day is breathe (though this sounds pretty productive to me). Hoffman shares this example of the kind words you might write: “It’s OK. We all make mistakes. I’ll do better next time.”
Self-care is personal. So if these practices don’t nourish you, adapt them so they do. Make any changes you like. Or try other approaches. The key is to explore and experiment. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.