Why is it so hard for us to take time for ourselves? Life can be challenging as we juggle work, family, or other responsibilities. Putting self-care on the back burner is a big reason why we may feel overwhelmed, run down, stressed, or even burned out — And going through a pandemic did not make things any easier! When we don’t take care of ourselves, we are not equipped to deal with the pressures of life, or even have the energy to take care of others.
But what exactly is self-care?
Self-care is defined as the intentional practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health, well-being, and happiness, in particular during times of stress. There are different forms of self-care that promote physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. These daily activities or rituals don’t even have to be time-consuming or particularly hard. Often, it’s the small things that can make the biggest difference. In this article, I’ll describe a few strategies to help you take better care of yourself.
Physical self-care involves what kinds of food you are putting into your body, how much sleep you are getting, and how much physical activity you pursue each day. The CDC recommends an average of 150 minutes of physical activity each week. There are lots of ways to accomplish this, including walking, biking, playing sports, etc. The important thing is that you keep moving! As far as food, the most common recommendations are to eat 2-3 cups of vegetables, 1-2 cups of fruit, ½ cup of whole grains, and poultry, fish, or lean meat. Follow this link for CDC dietary guidelines.
The way we think impacts our mental self-care. We all have an inner critic who often encourages us to think negatively about ourselves. It’s important to recognize that we are NOT our thoughts, and to show ourselves grace when we make mistakes. As Mel Robbins states in her book “The High 5 Habit”, one of the most important revelations you can have is “that your life and your happiness begins and ends inside your own mind.” Staying positive despite the curve balls that life can throw at you is vital. Mental Self-Care also involves keeping your mind active and challenging yourself to think new thoughts, like reading books, listening to podcasts, etc. Finally, daily positive self-affirmations can help to set the tone for the day.
Taking care of your spirit does not necessarily mean religion, although for some that may be a part of their self-care. Some have defined spiritual self-care as taking care of yourself and connecting with either your higher power or your own inner power so that you can be the best version of yourself. It also involves being true to your own value system and checking in with yourself frequently to ensure that your lifestyle is in line with what you believe is right. I believe that some of the best ways to nurture your spirit is to find time to be alone and especially to be in nature.
Finally, it is important to be aware of our own emotions and recognize that we can control them. As Daniel Goleman describes in his book “Emotional Intelligence”, it is possible to recognize our own emotions and those of others and use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. We should not try to suppress our emotions, but acknowledge and express our feelings: sadness, fear, frustration, anger; and be curious and accepting of them, without being judgmental. We should also strive for positive emotions and watch for the triggers that invoke negative ones. One of the most powerful emotions that we can choose to have each day is gratitude. Gratitude is a simple, but powerful tool that can be practiced every day, with long lasting effect. A simple strategy would be waking each morning and think of five things that you are grateful for. Then go and take on the day!
In conclusion, we encourage you to assess which areas in your life need attention and self-care. Don’t try to attend to everything at once. Just begin incorporating small and simple habits or daily rituals that help you take better care of yourself. No one is going to take better care of you than you!