What do you do to take care of yourself? Do you make time for activities that the sole purpose of the activity is just to restore yourself or improve your well-being?
Self-care is far too often overlooked but is vital to our overall health. Sometimes we feel “selfish” when we take time for ourselves. Many of us probably feel as though we don’t have enough time to set aside for “me time”. Whatever the reason, don’t let it be your excuse! When you’re on an airplane the flight attendants tell you that, in the event of an emergency, you should put on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else put on their mask. This is because you will be no use to anyone if you pass out! Once you have your mask on, you are then free to think more clearly and to help others. The same applies to good self-care. If we are run down, burnt out, stressed out, exhausted, and overwhelmed, how can we expect to be able to give our best effort in our jobs, relationships, commitments, or goals? Without proper self-care, all the areas of your life are bound to suffer. Some of the benefits of self-care include reduced stress, feeling more energized, increased self-esteem/self-worth, better relationships, and increased life satisfaction.
The key here is to look for healthy self-care habits. Often we can turn to unhealthy behaviors that make us feel better temporarily but can actually do more harm than good in the long run if we rely too heavily on them (alcohol or drug abuse, isolating ourselves from others, excessive shopping/gaming/gambling, excessive sleeping in order to avoid or escape, etc.). Self-care is about using healthy, balanced behaviors to reduce stress (rather than just masking it or avoiding it).
I believe there are five aspects of ourselves that deserve our time and attention: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social. If your self-care in lacking in any of these areas, you will likely start noticing some of the signs I mentioned above (exhaustion, stress, etc.). There are a multitude of ways that you can take care of each of these aspects of yourself, but I will list some examples below that you can try. Look for things that you already enjoy doing so that you can build on those or try a new one to challenge yourself a little.
- Take a walk
- Get a massage
- Take a hot bath
- Join a group exercise class
- Read challenging or interesting material (self-help, educational, etc.)
- Participate in thoughtful or intellectual conversation with a friend
- Set a goal to learn a new skill
- Listen to an interesting podcast
- Try challenging puzzles or brain teasers (crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, etc.)
- Read a book in a genre that you love
- Cry – for as long as you need to
- Watch your favorite movie
- Go to therapy
- Attend religious services
- Read spiritual or religious material
- Rituals (burn incense, light candles, attend confession, etc.)
- Spend quality time with friends and family
- Call/write someone you care about
- Attend a support group
- Join a local social club
- Go on a date with your significant other
Again, there are a lot of ways that you can practice good self-care; it’s just a matter of finding what works for you. Think of the things that you already know you enjoy doing and make the decision to set aside time for it. Be intentional about this time – even if it means you must literally schedule it into your day (i.e., “Tonight at 8:30 after my children are in bed, I will take a bubble bath and read a book.”). Make sure that you are also paying attention to each of the areas listed above so that they are in balance with each other.
Similar to the airplane mask example, I often tell my clients “You can’t pour from an empty glass.” We cannot expect to continuously pour ourselves out without stopping to refill ourselves. Self-care is not about being selfish; it’s about doing the things that help you to be the very best version of yourself.