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Can we talk about self-care for a sec?
I think there’s a common notion that it’s little more than a bubble bath and a mani/pedi which is total BS. Self-care isn’t something you can just check-off after a 45-minute massage on a slow Tuesday. It’s a form of ritual borne from a conscious choice that shapes how you value yourself and your health.
If you’re feeling exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed, disconnected and slightly, if not terribly depressed, what do you think a pedicure will do for that? Nothing. You’ll just be everything I just mentioned, but with pretty toes. So if you’re feeling all those things I just mentioned and you want to start feeling differently then it’s time to take a step back, understand the core issues that are driving the exhaustion, disconnection and overwhelm and then –
- take action to resolve what you can
- cultivate acceptance for what you can’t change – either in yourself, in others, or in your circumstances
- put yourself first (most of) the time, which is something women are notoriously bad at (I’m super guilty of this)
These are the principles of true self-care in action.
Let me give you an example.
When I was 32 and freshly divorced, I spent many late nights at bars with a cocktail in hand, dancing the night away and surviving on 4 or 5 hours sleep. I was young, so I thought I could handle it, but as it turned out, I could not. Some of the repercussions that stemmed from my behavior were immediate, but some of them took a lot longer to reveal themselves. The effects of poor diet and smoking put years on my skin (I no longer smoke of course), the late nights and partying put my career on a slow, unsuccessful burn for several years and the quality of my friendships weren’t something I was proud of.
By the time I left for Californa when I was 36, I was ready for a big life change that involved a lot more self-care and a lot less self-sabotage. I realized a big part of my behavior was driven by a fear of being alone. When I was able to understand the underlying issue, I was able to recreate a healthier lifestyle for myself in my new city (where I was very much alone!).
Back to your version of self-care
You can google a million ways to practice self-care in your life, but the tactics aren’t as important as understanding why you need it, and what the end result should look like – a healthy, engaged, reasonably happy version of yourself.
Why you need to start prioritizing self-care
Because no one else will do it for you. Life is busy, full and totally distracting. Most of us are just trying to get through the day without setting anything on fire, so don’t assume that if your feelings of exhaustion or overwhelm with others that they will do something about it. They’re exhausted and overwhelmed, too, so it’s 100% your responsibility to take care of your own body, mind, and spirit. You can’t outsource this.
What will happen if you don’t prioritize self-care?
When you’re young, you’re resilient and it’s easy to bounce back from late nights, poor eating habits or stress. But those habits compound and the damage is like an iceberg, slowing building mass beneath the surface of your life. One day, you will wake up and wonder why you’re so tired, unhealthy, overweight and sad. When that happens, know that you took your health and wellness for granted for too long. It’s not a life sentence mind you. You can turn it around at any age.
How to start a self-care practice?
Start with taking an honest look at your life.
- What are you doing that’s causing stress?
- Are you working too much?
- Not getting enough sleep?
- Are your finances a mess?
- Do you have quality relationships with friends and family?
- Are you moving your body enough?
- Do you take time to play?
These are just a few prompts to consider, but you probably know the areas of contention in your life. The goal is not to create a perfect life, for that’s a form of stress in itself. Instead, think about the top thing that’s having the biggest negative impact on you and start there. Chances are, if you can resolve or at least improve the worst stressor in your life, it will have a trickle effect into other areas that need improvement as well.
For example, so many of us work too many hours at a job that’s an hour away and when we get home at night, we’re too exhausted to do anything but loaf on the couch. That job is having a negative impact on your health in so many ways that even if you love the work, it’s not serving you. Humans weren’t created to spend their entire day working, commuting, getting ready for or thinking about work. But that’s often what we do. Putting a stop to that is a great example of self-care.
Self-care in practice
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but a good start to making a practice of self-care that can dramatically improve your life and reduce stress.
- Have a non-negotiable bedtime/lights out ritual. Don’t go to bed at 9 pm and play on your phone or watch Netflix until 11:30. Sleep is foundational to self-care, so don’t compromise here.
- Eat more veggies. I’m not asking you to give up your favorite treats, but start eating more greens and I can tell you that you’ll crave less junk food.
- Drink more water – from better brain function to improved digestion and skin appearance, drinking more water can do SO much for your health and wellness. Aim to get at least half your body weight in ounces every day (so if you’re 130lbs, that’s 70 ounces of water).
- Cultivate self-awareness. Look at your life. Is there room for self-care in it? What self-destructive behaviors are you engaging and why? The more you can identify fears and limiting beliefs, the faster you will move past them.
Other self-care ideas
- Get 15 minutes in the sun every morning
- Drink Sleepytime tea before bed as a nighttime ritual
- Make Sundays your yoga days with a friend
- Meal prep once a week so you have healthy food in the fridge for the week.
- Delete your Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter app. Whichever seems to piss you off the most or make you feel less-than should be your first choice
- Try a lavender-scented eye mask to help calm a busy mind and fall asleep faster.
- Find a few wellness blogs to follow that inspire you to think about ways you can improve your life.
- Take up a new sport you can look forward to learning and improving. Tennis anyone?
- Challenge yourself to get 10,000 steps a day
- Have a little less time on your schedule for toxic or negative people – you don’t have to ditch them (unless you’re ready to), but just hang out with them less often
- Journal your journey. Checking in with yourself on the daily can be helpful to stay on track and see progress.
- Read The Self-Love Experiment by Tarcher Perigee
How do you know when you’re self-caring like a boss?
The practice of self-care is never complete. It’s like breathing. We can continue to stay aware of it and evolve it to suit our life circumstances, but it doesn’t stop.
Put yourself on your priority list, friends. This is the only life you’ve got, so if you’re constantly on the struggle bus and making the assumption that it will just get better down the road, know that this is unlikely unless you do something to make a change. You can start now, or wait until you’ve hit rock bottom. Very often people don’t feel the motivation to change until the pain of staying the same is no longer an option. You can get ahead of that and start living a well-cared-for life now.
to your health
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and author of The Fit Habit. Here she shares simple, healthy recipes, home workout ideas and practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.