One of the best practices I’ve adopted in recent years is an attitude of self-care - the ability to prioritize my own health and well being first, so that I may show up as my Best Self to my family, friends and coworkers. I like to compare self-care to the oxygen mask on a plane- you need to put on your own mask first before helping those around you.
As a new mom self-care is often the first thing to go when facing the demands of new baby and it can take years to get it back. For a long time I struggled with a good dose of Mom Guilt that doing stuff purely for ME (i.e. shopping, hair appointments, lunch with my girlfriends, even napping) was selfish. After all, my kids always needed something (new shoes, braces, college fund, etc…) and I felt like I should be spending any and all free time with them.
I finally started taking time for myself at the urging of my nurse practitioner and a few of my closet friends. They could see how much I struggled with balancing a fresh divorce, a full time office job and raising four kiddos solo. These powerful women gave me the permission I couldn’t give myself to take some time to breathe, recharge and show up as my best self in the world.
Self-care looks different for everyone, but there are some general practices that anyone can benefit from. Here are some free and (fairly) easy ways to practice self-care in your own life.
There are endless studies that show how regular exercise helps reduce stress, improves moods, and adds years to your life. Most of us know we should exercise more. The general exercise recommendations for adults from the CDC is 2 ½ hours of cardio (brisk walking or higher) and muscle strengthening activities twice a week or more.
Now, if you are already struggling to take care of yourself, incorporating six days of exercise into your schedule might be enough to just send you over the cliff. I know when I’ve had a bad day/week/month the last thing I want to do is pound out extra miles on a treadmill. The good news is that there are lots of ways to incorporate exercise in a way that won’t make you want to cry.
For my health coaching clients who don’t have a current exercise routine, I suggest starting small and make weekly increments. This can as simple as a walk around the block or digging in your flower garden or speed cleaning your house. In the dark of the Maine winter, I’ve been known to dance around my bedroom like nobody’s watching, to get my 30 minutes of movement in for the day.
I think the most important part of incorporating any kind of exercise into your self-care routine is the reason behind it. I don’t exercise to lose weight. Let me repeat that. I do not exercise to lose weight. I exercise to move, to feel my blood pumping, to shake off the dust of office life, to have some time by myself. All of these reasons keep me motivated. If I exercised purely to lose weight, it would just add more stress into my already stressed out life.
Solitude (or as I refer to it Me-Time) offers many benefits – it helps the brain unwind, it gives you a chance to think deeply about your life and its purpose, and it can even make you more productive. The need for solitude varies from person to person. Some people need more time by themselves, others need less.
If you struggle to carve out time for yourself because of daycare, work or family obligations, Me-Time can be incorporated into daily activities like grocery shopping , hair appointments, even your yearly appointment to the OB/GYN (I pretend I’m at a spa and take myself out to lunch afterwards). If you have a full day of family and work, try carving out some solitude at the beginning or end of the day. My favorite Me-Time is the early morning when I’m the only one up and I can enjoy a cup of tea and a quiet house.
Just as important as it is to spend quality time with yourself, it’s also important to spend time your friends. Seeing your girlfriends has shown to have positive effect on happiness – you don’t have to waste time on small talk and can share life’s ups and downs with people who’ve got your back. After a long lunch with my girlfriends, I feel rejuvenated and joyful. It’s important to note that being social is only beneficial if you spend with people who lift you up. Avoid spending time with people who suck you dry, emotionally.
Keep Your Space Clean
Picking up your house, bedroom, office doesn’t cost a thing. Bonus, it will also get you moving. Taking time to do a daily pick up can be a healthy and cathartic ritual that contributes to your self-care with a literal lightening of your load.
Along with a general tidying up, getting rid of stuff you don’t need can help free up space both physically and mentally. Do you have that one area in your house that you avoid looking at, because it is filled with junk? Maybe it’s just a drawer, or perhaps it’s your basement or garage. Physical clutter can add an extra layer of stress to your life. You don’t have to go all Marie Kondo or Minimalist, but you should make an effort to get rid of things you don’t need or want, because over time and if left unchecked, clutter can start creeping into your personal spaces.
If you don’t feel like you have the time to pick up your house on a regular basis, you might want to invest in a house cleaner (is there any better gift for yourself?) Hiring a cleaner to come once a week or once every other week to do the big jobs (bathrooms!) can free up a surprising amount of time that you can spend doing things that enjoy.
I love that you are reading my blog. Seriously. Thank You! Now I want you to finish this article and go unplug from all electronics! J There are all kinds of evidence that unplugging from electronics is an essential part of self care. Turning off your phone, iPad, or TV 30 minutes before bedtime allows your brain to rest. For a more peaceful bedtime routine, try old fashioned reading. Taking time to unplug during the day and on weekends doesn’t hurt either.
Practice Self Discipline
This might seem counter intuitive to the idea of self-care, but exercising your willpower to make healthy changes in your life is an important part of self-care. It’s not just that self-discipline establishes healthy habits, it actually helps strengthen your brain. When you do something unpleasant (like turning off Netflix 30 minutes before bedtime) on a regular basis, it gets easier and easier the more you do it – or your brain gets stronger and stronger.
How do you feel after you’ve accomplished something that you didn’t absolutely have to do – like spring cleaning your house, working out, getting those thank you cards in the mail…that sense of accomplishment makes you feel good. And that is good for your self-care. Practicing self-discipline to do the things that you know are good for you (eating more vegetables, learning a new skill, going to be earlier) helps build confidence and happiness over time.
Schedule Time for Self-Care
Otherwise it won’t happen. Put it in your calendar so that no meetings or other obligations creep into your Me-Time.
Do you have a favorite way to practice self-care? I'd love to hear about it. Let's Connect!