What Self-Care Is
Self-care is about nurturing yourself, meeting your own needs, acknowledging your limits and finding healthy ways to fill yourself back up when life, relationships, expectations, responsibilities deplete you. Self-care is about helping to restore balance and connect you to the things, people and activities that bring you joy, that help you maintain your health and physical/emotional well-being, and that help you process and deal with strong emotions that inevitably come up during any given day- yes, I am essentially talking about learning how to self-sooth.
There is no ‘right way’ to experience self-care, nor is there an exhaustive list that encompasses every option. There are lots of websites, magazine articles, blogs, posts, friends, family, etc that have suggestions for what you can do for self-care but ultimately you have to decide for yourself what you need or want that day or in that moment. You may already be doing daily self-care and not even realize it- getting a good night’s sleep, eating three meals a day, getting some exercise and/or physical activity, maintaining healthy relationships, going to see a therapist/mentor/spiritual advisor, and yes, even when you put your favorite song on and sing it at the top of your lungs after a long day at work or in class- all of these are examples of self-care.
The key is to recognize when you are feeling depleted or emotionally imbalanced and choose what you want to do to fill yourself back up and to do it with the awareness– knowing that you are doing it because you want to and because it makes you feel good- then you are doing it mindfully and with intention. You know you have done self-care when you are left feeling more energized, less overwhelmed, less stressed/anxious, more happy and optimistic, more balanced, and feeling more able to help others, take care of your responsibilities, or face obstacles. If you are not feeling these things then you may need to increase your self-care and reduce the demands on your time and energy while you ‘recharge’.
The consequences of continuing to spread yourself thin without taking care of your own needs and recharging is burn out which forces you to stop and slow down and focus on yourself (getting sick, injured, or just ‘shutting down’ and hiding out in your room are all examples of ‘burn out’). Part of becoming a happy, healthy individual is learning how to create balance in your daily life so you don’t have to run yourself ragged and only take time for yourself when you burn out and have to. This is not healthy and not sustainable. You have to make yourself a priority because no one else will.
What Self-Care Isn’t
Although there are a lot of mixed messages about self-care in the media self-care is not about splurging on yourself, over-indulgence or throwing all caution and rules to the wind (despite what popular culture and the media would have you believe). If it negatively impacts you,
your health, your relationships, or your financial security then it is NOT self-care.
Eating a sweet treat at the end of a long day is one thing but bingeing on an entire container of
ice cream is another. Getting a drink with a friend can be nice and can be a form of self-care but getting wasted at the end of the week because you have ‘worked hard’ and just want to ‘let lose’ is not. You shouldn’t need to spend your rent money on a shopping spree, alter your mental and emotional state with substances or use food to fill an emotional void. If you feel bad about yourself, have regrets or have negative consequences as a result of how you are trying to “have fun”, “feel good”, or “treat yourself”, then it may in fact be unhealthy forms of coping and/or over-indulging. So the next time you want to do something for yourself and you want to know if it is self-care or not, ask yourself, “Am I going to regret this later?”, “How am I going to feel about myself and this decision tomorrow?”, “What are the possible consequences of doing this?”, and “Is this good for my body, my mind, and/or my spirit?”. Let your answers be your guide in helping you decide. If all else fails, check out a list of some of my favorites for myself and clients I have worked with in therapy.
Self Care Ideas
- Get a manicure or pedicure.
- Get a massage.
- Use a planner or a calendar to intentionally schedule “me time.”
- In the morning, listen to music that inspires and motivates you.
- Write a list of things you’re grateful to have in your life and post it somewhere you can see it often. (We have a tendency to focus on the negative, so remind yourself of the good stuff.)
- Go through your closet and purge the clothes you haven’t worn in years. Donate them to a charitable organization.
- Call someone you love just to say “hi”
- Take a relaxing bath with some aromatherapy oils (ASIN: B005IHJ556) or bubbles (ASIN: B0001783KG)
- Go on a walk and listen to your favorite podcast, book on tape, or music
- Invite a friend(s) over and watch a funny movie together or play a fun game
- Get creative/crafty and don’t care about the results- sew, scrapbook, sketch, paint, arrange some flowers, write, make some jewelry, do some adult coloring (link – this is one of my favorite artistic go-to’s) sculpt, etc.
- Make yourself something healthy and super delicious to eat and/or share (I swear by “Black Bean Brownies”)
- Read a book for fun (even if you only read few pages or chapter at a time)
- Write some positive affirmations on post-its and put them up where you will see them daily (Pinterest has some great prompts for these if you need a little Pinsperation)
- Paint your nails a fun color
- Put on your favorite karaoke songs and sing your heart out
- Go on a walk and actually stop to smell the roses (and other smelly plants)
- Go to the gym and get in a good workout
- Do some gentle yoga at home or at a local studio
- Meditate, pray or just sit quietly observing your thoughts and focusing on doing some slow deep breathing (I like doing this with a soothing aromatherapy candle like this one) (link)
- Watch an episode or two of your favorite show/sitcom – we recommend The Office (US)
- Research different Meetup groups based on your interests that are in your area and commit to try one per week
- Find some live music being performed in your area and go enjoy
- Take a nap
- Pick something you have always wanted to learn but have always put off and take steps to start learning (e.g. a new language, how to play an instrument, how to draw/paint/sew, how to play kickball)
- Make a list of goals you have for yourself that you ‘never have time for’ or keep putting off and pick one to work on (e.g. running a marathon, baking a pie, hosting a game night, working on digitizing old family photos, singing in public, taking a dance class, learning to drive stick shift etc)
- Start an inspirational Pinterest board or make an inspirational collage and hang it somewhere you will see it often
- Rearrange a room in your house to try out a new feng shui
- Snuggle an animal (if you don’t have one, go to a friend’s house who does, or check out your local animal shelter- they have lots of snuggly animals who would love some attention)
- Check out a local museum or art gallery and soak up the art, history and culture
- Go camping- get outdoors and away for a little while and totally unplug
- Put on some music and dance like a total fool!
- Go on a date night (this can be with a significant other, a family member or a close friend- the point is to have one-on-one time with someone special)
- Say “no” when you need to (practice good boundaries and set limits with others when you need to)
- Make some soothing tea and just sip it and relax
- Sleep in at least one day a week- the world can wait!
There are so many options for Self-Care out there and we are all so unique in what we need and what fills us up. I would love to hear some of your favorite ways of caring for yourself. What are your go-tos?