The practice of self-care is best described as any activity that we intentionally practice to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Good self-care is key to improved moods, reduced anxiety, decreased depressive symptoms and prevents professional and personal burn out. Many people don’t realize that practicing self-care can also boost our immune system, increase productivity and serve as a vital role in maintaining good relationships with oneself and others. Without practicing self-care we are prone to resentments, fatigue and possible depressive symptoms.
In our Saturday Morning Mindfulness Group we often talk about our day to day activities and tasks as “nurturing,” “depleting” or both. Behaviors that we may consider “nurturing” will refuel and recharge us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Exercise, walking, pursuing a hobby, meditation, spending time with a friend can all be an act of nurturance and have a calming and healthy effect on our overall wellness. Other behaviors we practice during the day may not be as healthy for us. Being around negative people, being manipulated into a task that we don’t want to do, not getting enough rest, working excessively long hours can all be considered “depleting” on our daily checkoff list. The key with practicing self-care is being mindful we are not constantly depleting ourselves without giving our selves the nurturing we need to recharge. I often tell clients that if we don’t fill our own buckets, eventually we will have nothing left in the bucket to give to anyone else.
Remember self-care isn’t about being selfish. When we consider our own needs, we take care of ourselves and as a result take care of those around us that depend on us. When our bucket is full, we have more to offer to others.
Whatever is regularly practiced is strengthened.
Here are 9 simple healthy habits we can create to bring Self-Care into our lives this year:
1. Identify a Self-Care Plan. Often many of us talk about self-care and don’t always know where to start. Self-care starts with knowing what it is we need and enjoy. Is it time with family? Exercise? Hiking? A massage? Sitting on the beach for an afternoon? Or simply reading that new book you keep putting off? Take a moment and create a Self-Care plan that works for you. Without it you may just keep putting it off because you don’t know where to start. This plan can simply be a short list of activities that you would like to do each week/day/month to help you keep self-care as a priority in your life. Remember this plan consists of activities that “nurture” and don’t “deplete.”
2. Make self-care non-negotiable. No excuses. Be relentless. When you feel there is no time for self-care, stick with the plan the best you can, when you feel you can’t take time out - find the time, when your body and mind is telling you are burned out and need time for self-care – listen to it. Again, remind yourself that caring for yourself is the ultimate act of love for you and those you care for.
3. Schedule Self-Care time. If your week is anything like mine, it can be exhausting. Every Sunday afternoon I schedule some sacred down time for me, only interrupted by time with my family, a restorative yoga class or afternoon walk with my four-legged friend Penny. Do I do it perfectly? Nope. Life happens everyday, and every week. Kids need rides, problems with the house disrupt my Sunday afternoon and things don’t always go as I plan. We adjust and do the best we can with the circumstance we have. But making that effort to put it on a calendar as opposed to just saying “I’ll get to it” makes a big difference.
4. It’s OK to say "NO." How can such a small word, so easy to pronounce often become so difficult for some of us to say regularly? Saying no can be an act of self-love and helps enable good boundaries. Over commitment is one of the greatest distractions to self-care and contributes to burnout and resentment. Establishing healthy, reasonable limits for your time and efforts is something we all need to practice in order to create healthy boundaries.
5. Ask for help when you need it. Many of us learned that asking for help is a bad thing. Often our ego is the one thing that can get between us and our own health and happiness. Contrary to being a liability, asking for help when we need it can be our greatest asset. Asking for help encourages social connections, gives us opportunity to learn, develops a growth mindset and can reduce stress. As a result of this, asking for help actually can be good for our health mentally and physically. Stop trying to think you have to do it all alone!
6. Choose progress over perfection. How often do we unintentionally sabotage our efforts for self-care because we don’t do things perfectly? If perfection is our goal we will certainly fail. For many of us self-care ebbs and flows depending on a dozen variables in our lives. When we forget about self-care we have the opportunity to come back to it. Better to practice an act of self-care once a week or once a month then nothing at all. Do what you can and don’t get caught up with having to do anything perfectly.
7. Practice self-compassion. Recent research has shown that the act of practicing self-compassion consistently has a direct correlation with psychological well-being. Again treating ourselves with self-compassion is an act of “nurturing” as opposed to a “depleting” action. Being gentle and forgiving of yourself as you strive to introduce self-care into your new year is an act of self-love. Be gentle with yourself!
8. Learn to do self-care sprints. Don’t have time all Sunday afternoon for reading, yoga and dog walking? No problem! Break up all of your self-care goals into mini activities that are doable. How about a 5-minute meditation? Walk for 10 minutes only as opposed to nothing at all! Focus on what you can do as opposed to what you can’t. Start with these smaller “self-care sprints” to get the ball rolling and start the new habits.
9. Be mindful of negative self-talk. Henry ford once wrote “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”. The words we use to build us up or tear us down are so vitally important to the practice of self-care. If we haven’t been able to regularly practice self-care let’s avoid using phrases like “I can’t”. Instead let’s try to remember the word YET. “I haven’t been able to make time for myself YET this week”. The words we use matter and especially the ones we use with ourselves when trying to attempt change.
Don’t be discouraged when starting a new pattern. Normally it takes 3 weeks to create a new habit. Stay as consistent as you can, do your best each day and be gentle with yourself along the way. The gift of self-care is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those around you. For more help with developing a self-care plan right for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.