When asked the question: “Do you take care of yourself?” most of us will answer “yes” — we’d even think, “What kind of question is this? Of course, I care about myself.”
When I was asked to write a blog for ACC regarding mental health I thought about what would be something that would be universal. By that I mean what would be something that everyone could benefit from. And some consideration I decided to discuss self-care.
I feel self-care is woefully under valued today and there are several reasons for this. What I would like to begin with is what self-care is and then segue to what self-care is not.
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Proper self-care is the key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also the key to a good relationship with oneself and others.
Now, knowing what self-care is not might be even more important. It is not something that we force ourselves to do, or something we don’t enjoy doing. Self-care is something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.
Self-care is not a selfish act either. It is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves, being subsequently, able to take care of others as well. That is, if I don’t take enough care of myself, I won’t be in the place to give to my loved ones either.
Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. Most of us are crazy busy, have stressful jobs, constant homework, or are too consumed with technology to make time for ourselves. Me-time is usually last on the agenda. Worse, we can sometimes feel guilty about taking the time required to take care of ourselves. So, getting started with self-care can be challenging.
Where do you start? Well, there are some golden rules:
- Stick to the basics. Over time you will find your own rhythm and routine. You will be able to implement more and identify more particular forms of self-care that work for you.
- Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such. Add certain activities to your calendar, announce your plans to others in order to increase your commitment, and actively look for opportunities to practice self-care. What I often emphasize to my clients is that keeping a conscious mind is what counts. In other words if you don’t see something as self-care or don’t do something in order to take care of yourself, it won’t work as such. Be aware of what you do, why you do it, how it feels, and what the outcomes are.
- Although self-care means different things to different people, there’s a basic checklist that can be followed by all of us:
- Create a “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
- Promote a nutritious, healthy diet.
- Get enough sleep. Adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- Exercise. In contrast to what many people think, exercise is as good for our emotional health as it is for our physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy. In line with the self-care conditions, what’s important is that you choose a form of exercise that you like!
- Follow-up with medical care. It is not unusual to put off checkups or visits to the doctor.
- Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation. You can do these exercises at any time of the day.
- Spend enough time with your loved ones.
- Do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a walk or spending 30 minutes unwinding.
- Do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
- Look for opportunities to laugh!
- Set up a 15-day self-care routine and see how you feel before and after. And never forget: as with everything, self-care takes practice!
Self-care looks different for different people. For example, I have a friend who loves to relax by playing video games. Relaxing and playing video games is a form of self-care for him.
Even though self-care is unique depending on the person, there are some broad areas of self-care that can be helpful to consider for almost everyone. Here are 8 areas to think about:
- Sleep. When our lives get busy, sleep can be one of the first things to go. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function at their best.
- Healthy food. It’s important to get enough healthy food and nutrients throughout your day. If you are skipping meals, or eating McDonald's every day, you won’t be at your best.
- Water. Most people don’t drink enough water. Our body needs lots of water to function at a high level.
- Exercise. We aren’t designed to sit down all day every day. Our bodies need to move. It’s a good idea to engage in vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week.
- Friends and family. For many of us, we recharge by spending time with our friends and family. Social connections are essential to self-care.
- Leisure time. What do you like to do for fun? How do you like to relax? Maybe you’re like my friend, who enjoys video games. Maybe you like reading or watching movies? Whatever you enjoy doing, make sure you carve out some time in your schedule for relaxation.
- Meditation. Many people swear by the benefits of meditation. Meditation allows you to relax and focus on your breath or a calming word or phrase. Meditation enables you to be more mindful of your thoughts and feelings, and not let them dominate your experience.
- Journaling. Journaling can come in many different forms. Written form, audio, video. It helps get thoughts out of your head and on to the paper. Processing use any medium allows the possibility of insight and/or at the very least releasing thoughts or feelings.
How can we prioritize time for self-care? If you’re like most of us, your life is already maxed out. It might feel impossible to squeeze in a self-care activity to an already full schedule. Here is a 3-step process for how to implement self-care into your life:
- Get in touch with the benefits. The first step is to decide for yourself if you really want to prioritize self-care. Is this something you want to make a priority? One way to do this is to think about what good things might happen in your life if you were to prioritize self-care (e.g., higher levels of happiness, meaning in life, connection with others). Also, what bad things might happen in your life if you fail to prioritize self-care (e.g., increased stress, irritability, stress-related illnesses).
- Boundaries and limits. Often the first step to implementing self-care in your life is to think about where you need to do less. Most of our lives are so packed with activities that are extraneous to our core mission and purpose. What could you cut out of your life to make more time for self-care? Are there any activities you are doing that are timewasters? For example, could you limit the time you spend watching TV or browsing social media? Could you limit e-mail to once per day? Is there anything in your life that you should say “no” to?
- Start small. When it comes to implementing self-care in your life, it’s important to start small. Pick one self-care activity from the list that you think will give you the most bang for your buck. For the next week, think about what you could do to implement this one self-care activity into your life. For example, maybe the area you identified was sleep. You could make a goal to not look at social media before bed and try to set a bedtime that would give you adequate sleep. If the first self-care activity went well, you might want to add something the following week. But move slowly. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Remember, this is for you and should be enjoyable. This should not be a chore or stressful. Have fun seeking out how to have fun!