Self-care. What does that even mean? I know for me, it always sounds like one of those things that's easier said than done. Especially when it feels like there are a million and one other things vying for my time and attention. But the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that self-care is not only important but essential to keeping your sanity and well-being intact. So in case you're still on the fence about whether or not self-care is something you should be incorporating into your life, here are five reasons why you absolutely should!
- Self-care helps to reduce stress levels
- It can improve your mood and overall happiness
- It can help strengthen relationships
- It can help reduce anxiety and depression
- Improves your focus and mental clarity
Ok, I’ve convinced you, but what does self-care look like? Well, it can look like a variety of things! Let’s look at the different types of self-care and some examples of what self-care looks like in action!
Types of Self Care
Emotional self-care is best described as caring for the emotional body by bringing awareness to your emotional trends. Imagine this: You’ve just got home from work and man are you beat! You’ve been in back-to-back meetings all day, the ride home was crowded and uncomfortable and now that you’re home all you want to do is lie in bed and get lost in Netflix. But, wait, what’s that sound? Oh, it’s your amazing little kid demanding dinner…NOW! Most of us are hard-wired to ignore our emotional needs. We learn very early on to push how we’re feeling to the side and get the job done. But guess what, we can do both! We can attend to others AND make time for emotional selves! Here are some examples of how to practice emotional self-care.
- Journaling: There are so many ways to use journaling as a way to care for your emotional self. The tried and true method of just journaling how you feel always works! With this method, you simply begin writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or any of those rules you learned in English. This is your time to get those thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto paper - no judgment. If you like a little more structure to your activities you might enjoy using journal prompts. You can use the same prompt each day (for example, “What was your favorite thing about today”) or maybe mix it up with a different prompt every day.
- Practicing Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the state of being present and aware. If you’re anything like me you are constantly drifting off in thought! Way too often, I’m in a meeting when my brain decides to drift off into thought about what’s for dinner. When I finally snap back, my colleagues are on an entirely different topic and I have to use context clues to figure out what we’re talking about! If you’ve been there before then you’ve experienced what it’s like to NOT be present - mindfulness is the exact opposite! Some of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness are meditating or practicing yoga. Both encourage me to get out of the torrent of thoughts speeding a mile a minute and simply focus on my breath. To get started, find a quiet place to sit (or lie) in a comfortable position and focus on the inhale and exhale of your breath. The idea is not to try and stop your thoughts (you’ll find it’s nearly impossible!), rather, just observe them. If you struggle with staying still for long periods, you might try walking meditation. Yep, it’s a thing! Simply start on a walk and, while you’re walking, observe your surroundings. Feel your breath inhale and exhale. Notice what it feels like for the heels of your foot to hit the sidewalk. Observe the trees, flowers, or whatever else you see. Whenever you find yourself thinking simply make note that you’ve drifted into thought and redirect your mind to observing your surroundings.
If you’re anything like me, physical care is the first thing I think about when I think of taking care of myself. Like many, I’ve fallen victim to obsessing over my physical appearance often to my detriment. Physical self-care is not forcing your body to work to exhaustion. Physical self-care is caring for the physical body through activity or movement. Here are some examples of practicing physical self-care.
- Yoga: Yoga is my absolute favorite way to move my body. No matter what sort of movement you’re into, there’s a yoga practice for it! If you enjoy fast-paced HIIT workouts, you might enjoy power vinyasa flows where you can expect to move swiftly from one pose to another and build strength. If you’re more into relaxing and easy flows, maybe you’d enjoy yin yoga which focuses more on relaxing the body fully and using deep breaths to focus your mind on the present. One of my favorite types of flows is a slow flow which uses vinyasa style flows but is practiced at a slower pace to tune into your body - it feels delicious! My point is, don’t let Instagram influencers make you feel like yoga isn’t accessible to you. There is a yoga for every body and yoga is for everybody!
- Eating healthier: I know, I know, you’ve heard this a million times but did you know eating healthier is a form of self-care? Your body is your vehicle and just like we’re careful not to put regular gas in a premium tank, it’s also important to be conscious of what you’re fueling your body with. No need to go cold turkey and throw away everything in your cabinets! Start small and maybe look to add more veggies to your plate. Maybe try meatless Mondays. Taking small steps will be much easier to digest (pun intended) than going all in.
We were born with an incredibly complex organ we call the brain, or more casually, the mind. But just because the mind is a complex system doesn’t mean you can’t still take care of it. You can care for the intellectual mind by engaging in activities that stimulate your mind.
- Reading: Reading has always been a hobby of mine. When I was a kid, most other kids got in trouble for being the class clown or not paying attention - I got in trouble for reading when I should have been listening! What I love most about reading is that you get to escape your everyday thoughts and immerse yourself in whatever world you’d like! Love reading romance novels starring the lonely (and secretly drop-dead gorgeous) bookstore owner? Or maybe you’re more into edge-of-your-seat thrillers? Whatever your thing is, there’s a book waiting to be read.
- Watching documentaries: Anyone obsessed with binge-watching Netflix? Yea, me too! Documentaries are a great way to care for yourself by stimulating your mind. They’re chock full of learning experiences from all sorts of topics, no matter what you’re into. If this will be your first time tuning into a documentary, congratulations, and welcome to the endless hole of knowledge!
Practical self-care is taking care of yourself by performing activities that reduce the potential for future stresses. Nobody enjoys folding clothes but think about how accomplished you feel when everything is folded and put away. Can you say accomplished?! This is a form of self-care - you’re performing practical tasks that will help reduce frustrations in the future. Can you imagine how overwhelmed you’d feel if you just let the clothes pile up until they toppled over? I’m feeling overwhelmed just thinking about it! Here are a few ways to practice practical self-care.
- Organizing closet: I despise disorganization! Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite past times is avoiding work that needs to be done and lazing around but I simply can’t if there’s visible disorganization afoot! Organizing your closet or any other area in your house that’s getting cluttered is a perfect example of practical self-care! Your future self will thank you every time they walk past that beautiful closet!
- Setting out your clothes the night before: Most of us have been working from home over the past few years but it does feel like we’re nearing some sort of normalcy and it’s time to crawl out of hiding and get out in the world. One of my old habits was to set my work clothes out the night before. It helps when you wake up cursing the day - at least you don’t have to search for clothes! Even if you’re a natural morning person, the time saved searching for an outfit for the day could be spent on you - journaling perhaps.
Whether you’re a social butterfly or an introvert, humans are still social beings which means we all crave human connection. You can care for your social being by engaging in activities that nurture relationships with others.
- Girl's night out: Yep, girls' night is self-care - can you believe it?! In all seriousness, doing things that strengthen your relationship with your loved ones is so good for your mental. Especially during this pandemic, I think we’ve all spent more time with ourselves than we ever imagined we could spend! So go ahead and call the girls, call up the guys and find some fun to get into. Even if you’re an introvert like me, social self-care is still an important part of caring for yourself. Maybe you’d enjoy participating in a shared hobby? You could even get together virtually and have a ton of fun! Don’t limit yourself - get creative and have some social fun!
- Find a hobby group: Participating in a hobby group is another great way to nurture your social needs. Maybe you don’t have a ton of friends or maybe your go-to group of friends isn’t into the same things you are. No biggie - hobby groups are a great way to have fun and meet new people. No matter what you’re into, I’m confident there’s a group for you! Don’t know where to start? Facebook and Instagram are great places to explore your hobby and find events in your area! If you love cooking, you could look for Facebook groups where they share recipes and help each other with challenges. Maybe you’re a mom looking for other moms in the area - a quick Facebook search is bound to provide a wealth of local mom groups and upcoming events. If all else fails, Google is always a great search engine. You can start with your favorite hobby + your city in the search bar and use Google’s search suggestions until you find something that interests you.
If you’re a churchgoer you’re probably well versed in caring for your spiritual self. But you don’t have to be a weekly churchgoer or even have a defined faith to be spiritual. You can care for the spiritual body by engaging in activities that allow you to see and think beyond yourself. Engaging in fellowship at church is just one way to nurture the spirit. Here are a few of my favorite ways to practice spiritual self-care.
- Volunteering: Volunteering is one of those activities where you can almost feel your insides smile. Being spiritual is not about who you worship, rather, it’s about seeing the bigger picture. You are the center of your world and, thus, the star of the show but you are not the only person in this world. I think we’ve all figured that out by now but it’s very easy to get so wrapped up in your thoughts you forget that there are much bigger problems in the world than your struggles. Volunteering is a way to see that in action. You can find local volunteer opportunities at your nearest homeless shelter or food pantry or, to broaden your options, a quick Google search will pull up several opportunities. There are now even ways to volunteer from home! How’s that for accessible?
- Being in nature: If you’ve never been surrounded by (mostly) untouched nature, do yourself a favor and get to your local forest preserve or national park immediately! There’s something about walking through nature that helps you see how small you are on this big blue marble. From trees that grow taller than city buildings to the beautiful sounds of birds and other animals scurrying about, nature is full of awe-inspiring beauty. Whether you chose to go on a hike through your favorite preserve or maybe have a picnic at your favorite park, there’s no wrong way to get into nature.
As adults, we simply have to work, or at least find a way to pay the bills! And while many of us are in jobs that may not have been your first pick, your professional life can be just as fulfilling as your personal life. Caring for the professional in you is done by engaging in activities that support you in feeling fulfilled in your career path. Whether you’re happy in your role or looking to climb the ladder or maybe even start your own business, you’ll be well on your way by practicing professional self-care. Here are a few examples to get you started.
- Work-life balance: Maybe it’s just me but I feel like working from home has completely blurred the line between work and personal life. Yes, I have set working hours but if I see an email at 9p, I’m probably going to respond. While there’s nothing wrong with climbing the ladder of professional success, it’s important to establish boundaries to reduce burnout. It’s okay to log off your laptop at 5p and not log back in until the next morning. I think you’ll find that establishing boundaries between when you work and when you engage in personal activities leads to a happier you at work and home.
- Setting professional goals: A few years ago, I reached full burnout. I was tired of going to work, tired of chasing company goals, tired of having meetings over and over…I just felt like there must be more to life than this! Turns out that what I was missing was goals. I was no longer being challenged and, with no work-life balance, I was just tired of it all. Setting goals changed everything for me. This job that I had begun to hate became exciting again! I’d like to think it was this new energy that led to my promotion. Whether you’re an employee looking to reach the next level of responsibility at your company or you're striking out on your own to work for yourself, having professional goals keeps you focused on what fulfills you.
Self Care Tips for Beginners
So we’ve talked about the different ways you can care for yourself. Now, it’s time for you to set off into the world with a new outlook on what self-care means! Before you set off, here are a few tips for beginners to help you stick to your new commitment to yourself.
- It can be overwhelming to attempt to incorporate every type of self-care all at once. Try to focus on 1-2 areas at a time rather than trying to tackle them all at once
- Find 1 or 2 habits you’d like to focus on and find a way to work them into your current schedule. For example, if you’re planning to add exercise to your daily regimen, find a way to incorporate it into your normal schedule. Do you normally turn on Netflix as soon as you get home? Instead, maybe dedicate the first 15 minutes to youtube exercise videos before you move on to your night of Netflix and chill.
- Start with building habits you can look forward to. For example, if you hate exercising, then committing to daily hour-long workout sessions may not be the path to success. Start small - even 15 minutes a day makes a difference!
- Whatever new habit you choose, commit to performing that habit daily for at least 30 days. The point here is to create a habit for yourself - something you think about automatically like waking up and brushing your teeth.
- Never stop looking for ways to take care of yourself!
So there you have it! A comprehensive look at the different types of self-care and how to go about incorporating them into your life. Do any of these resonate with you? What is your favorite way to practice self-care? Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!