Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a trend with my clients and on social media.
People are bringing up the idea of self-care and asking how to create a more balanced lifestyle for themselves and their families. I’m so happy to now see this becoming a more common topic of conversation. Managing stress and anxiety is key to a happy and healthy life.
As therapists, we see that when people regularly practice self-care, they feel less stress. Even though this seems pretty obvious, it’s shocking how often it's missed. We often put caring for ourselves at the bottom of our list, because we see it as unproductive, unnecessary, or maybe even a little selfish. This could not be further from the truth.
Self-Care Is Essential
Self-care can be defined as the practices (activities/thoughts) a person uses to feel healthier - physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally.
Good self-care helps us to avoid burnout and is absolutely essential in maintaining the physical and emotional energy we need to have a happy, fulfilling and productive life.
Some of these practices are universal and important for everyone, like quality sleep and a healthy diet. However, most practices vary from person to person, so it’s important to find the things that are best for you.
The #1 Mistake
The biggest mistake we see is people not making self-care a priority. What’s important is that the practices are used regularly, especially when you’re having a busier or more stressful time. Often, we do less self care when we need it most, because we think we don’t have the time.
When we feel too busy, that’s exactly when we need to prioritize our self-care. It helps us feel better, be more productive, and handle the stress in a healthier way. Plus it helps us to be kinder and better people (translation: our family, friends, and colleagues can tolerate us!).
Here are 7 self-care practices to try today:
Get Quality Sleep: Yes, we’ve all heard this before. And yes, this means the recommended 7-9 hours per night (I know you’re rolling your eyes but hear me out). Like it or not, our bodies and brains recharge during this time, so it’s essential. Without good quality sleep in this quantity, you won’t be functioning at your best. You can try to say that you function fine on less sleep, but you actually don’t know what you’re missing. Our brains “trick us” into believing we’re rested even when we’re not! People make more mistakes, have slower reaction times, and don’t process information as well - but won’t notice the difference, and think they’re doing fine. If you have sleep issues that keep you from getting quality sleep, I suggest you make an appointment with your physician to figure out solutions.
Eat Healthy Foods Regularly: From what the medical and science communities tell us, food energizes our bodies, and also feeds our brains. When we’re hungry, we don’t function as well. Minimizing caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, and increasing healthy foods will help you function better. If you aren’t sure about how to change your diet in a way that’s best for you, make an appointment with a nutritionist or your physician.
Mindfulness Practices: This means taking a few minutes (or more if you have them!) every day to pay attention to what’s really happening in yourself in a nonjudgmental way. I suggest to start by taking very slow, deep breaths. Listen to the noise your breath makes as you inhale, and feel your chest fill with air. Then, slowly let the air out, paying attention to the sound and sensation as your lungs empty. Repeat this several times, ideally for 2 minutes or more. Notice how you feel throughout the process and after.
Laugh!: Laughter’s the best medicine, right? If nothing else, it sure helps to improve our mood and outlook on life. I find that a few minutes of genuine laughter with my kids, husband, or a good friend, goes a long way to helping me enjoy life and put everything else in perspective. Find something funny when you need a break today!
Get Outside: Heading outdoors to get fresh air, enjoy nature, or get your body moving through some exercise has so many benefits! I often hear clients tell me about how their mood improved, their stress lessened, and they relaxed more by spending time outdoors. A little fresh air and movement can refresh our minds.
Spend Time with Your People: We are often so busy, that we neglect time with family and friends. Carving out some intentional time with people we enjoy reminds us what’s really important. These relationships matter. To keep the relationships healthy, and our priorities in line, plan time with the people you care about.
Be Creative: This takes a wide variety of forms, depending on what you enjoy. I love to paint on canvasses with my kids. It’s crazy, messy, and hard to tell what you’re looking at when we’re done (we call them ‘abstract’) - but it can lift my spirits really quickly. I know people who unleash their creativity when they write, doodle, do improv, craft, garden, cook, decorate, or color. It’s important to tap into this part of our brain and give ourselves the freedom to create. You’ll find yourself able to handle the stress of life in a much better way.
Whatever you do for self-care, try to do it regularly and consistently. You’ll likely find yourself more focused, feeling better, and ready to take on your challenges.
I’m here if you want to talk. Take care!