Most days just getting out of the door on time, showered, and seemingly well groomed can qualify as enough self-care. I.e. You took care of yourself enough to be a functional adult for the day. Woohoo! While there is absolutely something to be said for these simple, everyday tasks, there is so much more to self-care. By the end of this post I am hopeful you will not only understand what self-care truly means, but also have some ideas on how to implement self-care into your everyday life.
Self-care is often marketed as taking a break from your busy life and booking something extravagant like a massage, mani/pedi, blow-dry, or even a weekend getaway. These are all appealing, relaxing, definitely forms of self-care, but also very misleading and a large reason why people do not practice self-care regularly. If these are the examples we are continually seeing all over magazine articles and social media, we are left feeling as though we can never partake because of time or money constraints, thus leading to the conclusion we will just never have a break. Listen, I love a good blow dry just as much as the next person but I can’t realistically get one every time I am feeling burnt out or need a break. Or, could you imagine if every time you were stressed you just booked a weekend away? It is just not realistic for the majority of us. But self-care is so much more than a smiling person getting a blow-dry or laying on a sandy beach. Self-care is mind, body, and soul. It is taking care of ourselves intellectually, spiritually, physically, and socially. We cannot be the best version of ourselves in the roles that we hold if we do not prioritize ourselves first.
Now, I have talked with many clients about self-care over the years but it was not until a hard dose of reality smacked me in the face that I truly understood the value it held. A few years ago, my type-A, workaholic self was burning out and burning out fast. I was working long hours, saying yes to every social invitation, trying to be the best wife, friend, fur baby momma, sister, daughter, and employee I could be. I was tired, I was cranky, had no free time, and I was living off Starbucks and Pinot Grigio. I was convinced if I did not keep going at the pace I was going, something was going to fall through the cracks. Something would not get done. Something “bad” would happen. I was also afraid I would be missing out on something. The problem was that I was giving to everyone and everything except to the most important person, ME. I was not paying attention to my body’s warning signs. I was not in tune with what I needed. So, nature took it’s course and my body forced itself to shut down. I was diagnosed with Bronchitis and was physically bedridden for over a full week. For a type-A, workaholic this was one of the worst case scenarios at the time. So there I laid, in bed binge watching every season of “Lost” on Netflix, convinced there was no way the world could go on without me burning myself out. But I was wrong. Life went on. Dishes got done. Groceries were taken care of. The house didn’t self destruct. My cat survived without my constant attention. I still had friends. My clients were all ok. And when I returned to my everyday routine over a week later, phone calls and emails were returned with delay and the world did not stop spinning. This was my “Ah-ha” moment. It was in this moment that I realized two things:
1.) I realized I never wanted to get that sick again because it was seriously awful.
2.) I realized I could in fact take breaks without my world falling apart. I just needed to give myself permission first.
If you are reading this and nodding along in agreement, then you are already acknowledging that you also may be in need of some self-care. You may also be thinking you have no idea where to begin. The most important place to start is by being mindful and aware of your personal warning signs. We all have them, so take a moment and reflect on what happens to you physically or emotionally when you are starting to feel burnt out. Once you are able to be in tune with yourself, you will be better able to implement strategies to protect yourself emotionally.
-Be kind to yourself. Name one positive thing about yourself daily as well as one thing you are grateful for daily. You can put these in a journal or on post-it notes around your house or car as continued reminders.
-Give yourself credit where credit is due. If you accomplish something, brag about it, pat yourself on the back. Celebrate all victories, no matter how big or small.
-Unplug from social media for at least one day a week, if not more. Social media is one of the biggest contributors to stress and anxiety.
-Rid yourself of negativity, whether it be in the form of items, people, etc. Replace the negative aspects of your life with positives.
-Be selfish and put your needs first. It is ok to say “no”. It is ok to not be available to everyone at all times. You are allowed to prioritize yourself.
-Simplify your schedule, do not overbook yourself. Evaluate the commitments you make and assess whether they are adding value or adding stress.
-Read a book you’ve been eyeing. And remember that old ancient thing called a “Library”? Yes, they still exist and yes, they are still free of cost!
-Journal.. about literally anything! There is no “wrong” thing to journal about, it can be whatever comes to your mind.
-Practice mindfulness, be present in the moment. This will reduce overthinking, anxiety, and stress.
-Consider seeing a therapist. Obviously I am partial to this suggestion but it really is a great outlet to work through stress, anxiety, depression, and so much more. You have someone you can vent to, confidentially, who is not emotionally attached to you. How cool is that? Honestly, it’s pretty cool.
-Declutter and get rid of excess junk around your house, your car, your e-mails. You’ll instantly feel relief.
-Evaluate those around you and their roles in your life. Is your inner circle lifting your up, or dragging you down? Make adjustments as you see fit and do not feel bad about it.
-We only get one body, so take good care of it and do not take your health for granted. You never realize it’s value until it’s compromised.
-Eat healthy, balanced meals. But also allow yourself to indulge once in a while.
-Limit alcohol intake, but do not feel bad if you need a glass of wine or champagne to unwind once in a while either.
-Limit caffeine intake as too much caffeine can increase stress. Try some decaf herbal tea instead.
-Do not avoid the doctor’s office! Your doctor is your friend and wants to help you stay healthy. If you do not like your doctor, find a new one! Go for regular check-ups, blood-work, skin checks, etc.
-Your smile is one of your best features, so take care of those pearly whites too! Get regular cleanings at the dentist. Your dentist is your friend too, guys. It’s not their fault the equipment looks so scary.
-Move your body daily. This does not mean you need to do a high intensity interval training such as Spin or running daily. It can be as as simple as a light walk, a bike-ride, yoga, pilates, or simply stretching. But do not sit all day long. Move!
-Take vitamins and if you are unsure about which ones are best for you, consult with your doctor.
-Put on some music and have a dance party. Seems silly, but it’ll loosen your body up and put a smile on your face.
Take a bath, do an at home face mask, or a body scrub.
-Go for a massage, see a chiropractor, or an acupuncturist.
-Don’t forget to BREATHE! Breathing is the most natural thing to do, yet the most challenging during times of stress and anxiety.
-Get enough sleep each night and take naps when you can without guilt. Naps are magical. Embrace them.
-Go to church or another place of worship. There is something to be said about the sense of community which comes with these types of venues.
-Read a spiritual book.
-Pray. About anything and everything. The power of prayer is so incredibly important for our souls.
-Explore nature-go for a hike, sit outside and breathe in the fresh air, feel the sunlight on your skin. Stuffy office air will increase risk of illness, so make sure you’re taking advantage of all that mother nature has to offer us.
-Help someone, give back, volunteer. But wait, isn’t this the opposite of self-care since you’re doing for others? No. Because when you give your time to those in need, it fulfills something inside of YOU. It’s healing for YOU. Try it, it’s incredibly powerful and will spark something inside of you. It can be as simple as donating old clothes and shoes.
Light a candle or use essential oils to give your senses a little treat.
-Watch something that inspires you or watch something that makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurts. There is no shame in binge watching a series on Netflix every once in a while.
-Have a lounge day where you clear you calendar, stay in your sweats, and do NOTHING. If you are like me, sometimes doing nothing may feel worse than being too busy, but I promise you need these days every once in a while to recharge.
-Snuggle with your pets or your kids. Human children and fur baby children can be wilding healing for your soul.
-Spend time with those who make you feel GOOD. Sometimes a dinner or lunch with friends can be the best medicine. Talking, laughing, supporting each other are all good for the soul.
-Track your happy. When you are having a good day, document it. What is the weather like? Who are you with? What are you wearing? What did you do that day? Once you start to recognize what makes you most happy, you can repeat it.
If you are not ready to give yourself permission to practice self-care, then I am giving you permission to practice self-care. You are a person, with needs and with limitations. You are not a robot and you will burn out. Self-care should not be looked at as an option, but instead an obligation. Try one thing everyday for the next 30 days. Remember, it does not need to be costly or time consuming. It can be something small, yet effective. Make note of where you are at mentally, physically, and emotionally when you start, and then in 30 days, after you have successfully practiced daily self-care, make note of how you feel and compare. I promise you will notice a difference.
* * *
Sarah Marandi-Steeves, LCSW, PLLC
About Sarah: Sarah is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has a thriving private practice which focuses on children, families, and adults based out of Poughkeepsie, NY. Sarah also provides consults for therapists looking to begin their private practices as well as supervision for therapists looking to earn their clinical hours. Sarah also writes for marriage.com. Learn more about her services at smsteeves.com.