self-careLast night a friend and I went to a complimentary spa evening at a nearby hotel. We encountered a couple dozen other men and women who decided to take advantage of three hours of free-of-charge hand and arm scrubs, and massages; head, neck, and shoulder massages; oxygen bar; healthy foods and champagne; aromatherapy activities; henna painted designs, and other creative and relaxing activities.

All of the activities are part of self-care, which has been defined on PsychCentral as “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

People avoid self-care for a number of reasons, including putting themselves last on their list of priorities, being too busy or overbooked with work and activities, feeling guilty about taking time for themselves and/or not really understanding how easy and inexpensive self-care can be.

One woman in a professional organization of which I’m a member posted in a forum last year, “I’m so sick of people telling me to take better care of myself. I don’t have the money to get a massage or a facial.” Group members quickly pointed out that taking care of yourself didn’t have to involve paying others to pamper you; in fact self-care starts with you, and is at its essence being kind to and loving yourself.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., writes, “…self-care is personal. What feels like self-care to one person may feel like the opposite to another person. Our needs may be universal—the need for sleep, rest, food, connection, love—but how we choose to meet them is individual.”

Psychotherapists have been known to develop compassion fatigue, partly, according to a Journal of Clinical Psychology published study, due “to a chronic lack of self-care,” and plenty of other occupations that are overflowing with long, stress-filled hours, care-taking of people, or big projects also encourage pushing self-care to the back burner.

But the fact is, without self-care, we cannot do our jobs to the best of our ability or fully show up in the rest of our lives. Dr. John Duffy, an author and clinical psychologist, described self-care as  “attending to your own needs such that you are content, focused, motivated, and ‘on your game.’”

So what kinds of things can we do that cost little financially that benefit our mental, emotional, physical and maybe spiritual health?

  1. Take a few moments to look at something calm and appealing. This can be vacation photos or online photos or the view from your window, basically any scenery that you find serene. Or if you need more “professional” help, the Calm app won best app of the year last year from the Apple App Store, as it let’s you choose your goals (increase happiness, learn to meditate, develop gratitude, reduce anxiety, reduce stress, etc.) and then provides a calming photo for you to concentrate on for a length of time.
  2. Play a game you find fun, like maybe Litesprite, the first video game to win a U.S. Surgeon General award and that is being used by hospitals and clinics as part of treatment for behavioral health, cancer and diabetes.
  3. Read something you find frivolous.  It could be a magazine, newspaper, comic book or graphic novel, fiction or nonfiction. Carve at least 15 minutes from each day to set aside to read for fun and relaxation.
  4. Soak in a tub. Add bubbles or an essential oil if you want.
  5. Sip a beverage that is hot and caffeine-free (coffee, tea, matcha, Emergen-C, hot water and lemon, whatever appeals to you). Sit with the beverage and concentrate on it and how it makes you feel (as opposed to anything else around you).
  6. Meditate. A bumper sticker on a car near my house says, “Meditation: It’s not what you think.” Sometimes we make meditation unnecessarily difficult by being critical of ourselves if our minds wander. Focus on breathing deeply in and out for a number of minutes and don’t worry about whether or not your mind is clear. It’s difficult for us to get the relaxation and stress-reducing benefits of meditation if we are trying too hard to “do it right”.
  7. Take a walk outside and breathe air that hasn’t been circulated or trapped in a building. And if you like animals, ask to pet any friendly dogs you meet.
  8. For five minutes, breathe in a scent that you like. This could be from a diffuser, a perfume bottle, an essential oil, a bakery or a fellow human. Much research has shown that scents associated with fond memories have the power to boost our moods and make us feel good.
  9. Sleep. Some studies have shown that many successful people sleep fewer than eight hours per night (see this NPR report for one example), so if you’re feeling tired, sleep can feel like an indulgent self-care luxury.
  10. Give yourself permission to act like a kid again. Climb a tree. Go to the nearest elementary school and swing on the swings or climb the jungle gym or slide down a slide. Roll down a hill if one is nearby. Be silly, and in the moment, and do what you haven’t done for decades but used to love to do.

Of course, so many more creative self-care activities exist, such as writing in a journal, doing an art project, exercising, spending time near water or woods, practicing mindfulness, forgiving yourself, giving yourself a manicure and/or pedicure, laughing with a friend, walking barefoot in sand or grass, etc.

Self-care is important enough to carve a block of time out each week (or day) that is just for you. Do it regularly and you may see a change in your stress levels, your work performance, and your happiness.