Self-care seems to be getting a lot of press lately. Not surprising given the uncertainty around the world and the blurring of lines between work and home. Despite attempts of COVID to slow us down from our fast-paced lives, we continue to push our limits physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s no surprise that there is a significant rise in mental health issues all around the world, not just among adults, but also among adolescents and young adults.
For some, the notion of ‘self-care’ will trigger imagery of bubble baths and spa days, plush white bathrobes, and getting pampered from head to toe. For others, the idea of ‘self-care’ might provoke a sense of guilt because: “Who has time for that? That’d be selfish of me to indulge in self-care when everyone else is relying on me to take care of them!” And for others still, it may prompt the belief that “It’ll make me seem weak to engage in self-care.”
The truth is: Self-care IS NOT selfish. Self-care IS NOT just a ‘woman’s thing’. Self-care IS NOT the same for everyone.
In its simplest terms, self-care is any action or behavior that supports your health. It’s about finding balance in an increasingly overstimulated world. Plenty of research shows how self-care improves your health, happiness and resilience to life’s challenges. It’s exactly what we need to get us through our current reality.
At a deeper level, there are five dimensions of self-care: Physical, Emotional, Mental, Social and Spiritual. Each dimension serves as a piece to the whole. Just like the body and the tires of a car, no single piece is more valuable than another. Can you imagine a car with three working tires? Or four tires without the body of a car? Each piece needs to be attended to and properly maintained for your car to function the way it’s supposed to. And the same goes for you.
The five dimensions of self-care
Physical self-care is the most straightforward. It comes down to keeping your body well-nourished and happy. Your body, just like your car, requires three basic elements to stay in top shape: nutrition (gasoline), recovery time (rest to get gas) and movement (to stay lubricated and avoid rust from sitting in a garage all the time). For you, that means eating nourishing foods, drinking plenty of water, getting enough time for rest and sleep, and movement, whether it’s a walk or more rigorous exercise.
Pick one of these Physical Self-Care ideas to try this week:
- Go for a walk during your lunch break.
- Go for a bike ride to nowhere in particular.
- Play catch with your dog.
- Stretch your muscles or do some sit ups while you’re watching TV.
- Drink more water (throw some fruit into it and turn it into spa water!).
- Walk outside and stand in the sun for 10 minutes.
- Eat healthy foods you enjoy.
- Get to bed early. Each night go to bed 15-30 minutes earlier than you normally do to help you reach your goal!
- Don’t set an alarm and let yourself wake up naturally when you feel rested (at least 7-8 hours of sleep).
- Get a massage to ease your muscles.
Emotional self-care is about identifying, connecting, processing and nurturing your feelings and inner state. Oftentimes, people associate certain emotions (i.e., happiness, joy, excitement) as good and others (i.e., anger, frustration, sadness) as bad. This leads you to crave ‘good’ emotions and avoid or feel shame towards the ‘bad’ emotions. In reality, there are no good or bad emotions. Without one end of the spectrum you cannot have the other. How can you experience happiness without unhappiness? How would you even know what happiness means if you don’t experience the opposite?
All emotions, both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, merely give you valuable information. This information helps you to grow and expand your window of resilience. It’s like having your hand on a hot stove. The pain provides you with signals and information. Once you’ve processed that information, you now have knowledge that will help you choose the best decision the next time you encounter a similar situation.
When you deny or mask your emotions, you force yourself to be ‘numb’. You put on an armor with the belief that you are protecting yourself. In essence, you are not allowing yourself to honor your emotions. This is like holding your hand on that hot stove while looking away and gritting your teeth pretending it’s not there. Ultimately, you are left feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and even more hurt than if you had allowed yourself to process what was in front of you. This is why emotional self-care is so critical for your well-being.
Pick one of these Emotional Self-Care ideas to try this week:
- Allow yourself to experience your feelings with love, compassion and kindness to yourself (no judgement, guilt or embarrassment!). This means naming your feelings and letting yourself cry or laugh–whatever you need in the moment.
- Journal. Two ideas for prompts: 1) What are all the things you are proud of about yourself? 2) What are three things you’re excited for today?
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Create a “no” list and then say “no”.
- Sign up for emails or pings to receive daily positive affirmations and inspirations (you can try Daily Affirmations from Good Finding).
- Cuddle with your pet.
- Develop a relaxing evening ritual like sitting in your favorite nook with a cup of hot chamomile tea and a good book.
- Schedule recurring “me time” on your calendar and protect it.
- Next time you make a mistake, write down all the gifts and wisdom that you received from the mistake (without beating yourself up for it).
- Give yourself a hug.
Mental self-care gives you the space to declutter your busy mind and reduce your stress. Always being on-the-go, constantly being over-stimulated, consistently focusing our attention on the next thing we have to do, crossing things off the check-list can become… well… draining. It was pretty exhausting just writing that! Everything in your life takes up space. But you only have so much space. By slowing down and giving your mind a break to declutter, sort out and eliminate, you are creating the space that your mind needs to handle what is at hand.
Pick one of these Mental Self-Care Ideas to try this week:
- Pick up a book you’ve been wanting to read.
- Unplug from all devices and just be.
- Lay outside and star gaze.
- Solve a fun puzzle.
- Go to a museum you enjoy.
- Go for a morning walk outside before you start your day.
- Get support: therapy, counseling or talk to a friend.
- Play with your kids. Don’t just watch them play. Actually play!
- Cook your favorite dishes (or bake your favorite treat!).
- Go into nature: hike, camp, or just sit and smell the air.
Who you surround yourself with has a huge impact on how you feel about yourself. Social self-care allows you to develop and deepen your relationships in a way that nourishes both the relationship itself and you. Whether you consider yourself an introvert, an extrovert, or something in between, all humans are naturally social beings. So it’s important to consider who you surround yourself with. You don’t have to surround yourself with a lot of people. What matters is having people who will bring out the best in you. That means keeping people around who energize you and letting go of those who drain you.
Social self-care is also about how much time you spend socializing. If you over-do it, you’ll end up feeling drained and exhausted. If you under-do it, you’ll feel lonely and excluded. Find the right balance that works for you.
Pick one of these Social Self-Care ideas to try this week:
- Go to brunch with friends.
- Call your parents and genuinely ask (and want to know) how they are doing.
- Take note of friendships and relationships that are no longer nourishing you and let them go.
- If you need alone time, say no to the party and stay in.
- Go on a date with your partner.
- Take a road trip with your best friend.
- Organize a family dinner.
- Intentionally reconnect with someone you’ve lost touch with and have been wondering about.
- Watch something funny with your family.
- Join a support group for people who are going through what you’re going through.
Spiritual self-care is not just about religion, though it can be. Spirituality is about having meaning in life. It’s about nurturing your spirit, your soul, the part of you that’s bigger than yourself. This might be a calling or finding out what you believe in. It is specific to you. It’s the discernment of what truly resonates in your heart rather than what was handed to you by parents, teachers, managers, or society at large.
Pick one of these Spiritual Self-Care ideas to try this week:
- Sing your favorite song out loud while showering.
- Spend time in nature.
- Take your favorite yoga class.
- Forgive yourself for something you have held onto.
- Turn on your favorite song and just dance!
- Make time for meditation in your day (even 5 or 10 minutes can make a difference).
- Take 10-minutes and scan your body from head to toe, checking in with each part of your body.
- Volunteer for an organization with a mission that you’re passionate about.
- Say hello and smile at the homeless person you pass on the street.
- Do something nice for someone in secret.
- Hold the door open for a stranger. Don’t forget to smile too!
Globally, we still aren’t practicing enough self-care.
While most people are aware that self-care is good for your well-being, most are still not practicing enough self-care. In fact the world-wide statistics are quite daunting:
- Mental Health: 1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Mental health disorders remain widely under-reported.
- Exercise: Globally, 1 in 4 adults is not active enough. More than 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.
- Obesity: 39% of adults over 18 are overweight; 13% of adults are considered obese.
- Depression: 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
- Suicide: Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.
- Stress: Globally, 35% feel stressed “a lot of the day” prior based on a Gallup Poll. US leads at about 55% of adults stating they had experienced stress during “a lot of the day” prior.
Busting the myths of self-care.
So what makes practicing self-care so challenging? A lot of it comes down to all the myths and misnomer around the notion of self-care. So let’s bust some of those!
MYTH #1: “Self-Care means allowing myself to indulge!”
TRUTH: Self-care is not the same as indulgences. Self-care involves habits and behaviors that nourish your life for the long term. It’s about supporting your wellness and quality of life. Indulgences, on the other hand, are quick fixes that might help you feel better temporarily, but tend to have negative consequences in the long-term. Oftentimes, they are “treats” without moderation like eating an entire box of chocolate chip cookies while partaking in a TV marathon. It might feel good in the moment, but does not serve to nourish you physically, mentally or emotionally in the long-term. Same goes for things like alcohol, drugs, or playing video games all day long.
MYTH #2: “There’s only one way to self-care.”
TRUTH: Another barrier to practicing self-care is the notion that there’s only one way to do it. People tend to conjure up images of bubble baths and massages. While that might be a form of self-care for some people, there isn’t a single right way to do it.
First, you need to figure out what it is you need to take care of. Is it physical? Emotional? Mental? Social? Spiritual? Or a blend? Does your body crave an afternoon run? Or does your mind need some quiet time to meditate? Does your emotional state need some solitude to journal? Or does your soul need some time in nature? Or perhaps your social self might be craving some quality time with friends.
Self-care is about understanding yourself deeply to know what it is you need to feel more nourished. It is not a one-size fits all.
MYTH #3: “Self-care is selfish.”
TRUTH: We are all individual components of a larger system. Everything we say and do has an impact over everyone around us whether it’s family, friends, colleagues, community or even strangers. The overall health of the larger system is dependent on the well being of each of its individual components–that’s you!
Let’s just imagine for example, the difference between getting sleep or not. Let’s say you barely got any sleep last night, you are exhausted in the morning, your daughter is whining and you just lose your patience and snap at her, which makes her feel hurt, ashamed and unloved. Had you taken care of yourself first and gotten a full night’s sleep, you would have had more patience and your response would have been more loving.
Self-care is about taking care of your own emotional reserves FIRST before helping others. It’s just like the airplane oxygen mask–help yourself before helping others. When you take care of yourself, you will feel happier, healthier and more alive. This means you’ll have more to give to the people you love.
MYTH #4: “I don’t have time for self-care.”
TRUTH: Self-care doesn’t have to take a tremendous amount of time. It can be short and simple. You can step outside and stand under the sun for ten minutes or do five minutes of jumping jacks. It’s quite possible to incorporate breaks and moments of self-care throughout your day and week even with just five or ten minutes here and there.
The other misnomer with needing time for self-care is the focus we always have on managing time. True effectiveness comes from managing your energy rather than time. You’ll make slow progress working on something when you are mentally drained and stressed. On the other hand, when you’re feeling energized and balanced, you’ll be able to get many things done with less time. The quality of your output will be better too! So rather than focus on managing time and thinking about how little time you have (we all have the same amount of it!), shift your focus to managing energy. And managing energy starts with taking care of your well-being: self-care!
It’s ok to not always be 100%!
Self-care isn’t about being at 100% all the time. In fact, it’s ok to not always be 100%, to not always feel happy, joyous, wonderful. Particularly now. But we do need to notice when we aren’t at 100%. It’s our body’s way of saying: Time for some down time, time to get some rest, time to take care of yourself. Our bodies are brilliant things and will give us signals for what it needs. All we need to do is learn to listen to it!
So what do you need to care for yourself right now? Movement? Some nature? Sleep? Playtime with your pet? Phone date with a friend? A book and a hot cup of tea?
Just like your car, you need regular maintenance too. But unlike your car, you are irreplaceable. So treat yourself with love and care. Because you are worth it.