There’s a common theme I’m seeing lately with clients in my practice—people are not taking enough time to care for themselves. This happens with everyone, but it happens most often with women. We seem hard-wired to take care of everyone else around us, but often at the expense of our own health and well-being.
Naturally we all have a desire to care for our loved ones, but often our own needs get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. It might seem like a small thing; however, it gives our subconscious a message that we shouldn’t be at the top of our list. The long-term impact of this message is actually quite detrimental.
I usually ask my clients, “What is one step you can take today to take better care of yourself?” Usually they will struggle to come up with something practical, offering excuses such as –“there’s not enough time”… “I don’t have extra money to spend”…and, “I don’t know how to do it”…
It’s not as hard as it seems. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming.
Here are some thoughts about self-care that I hope you will incorporate into your own life.
1. Self-care is not expensive
First of all, self-care doesn’t have to be a structured thing. It might mean going to a yoga or Pilates class, or it might mean taking the night off from yoga or Pilates so you can read your favorite book or spend time with friends. It’s really all about you and figuring out what replenishes you deep inside. Most of us spend a lot of time running around being too busy, and so slowing down and taking “me” time is necessary to help us stayed centered, grounded, balanced, and resilient. It also helps you to better hear that still, small voice inside that we recognize as intuition.
Self-care doesn’t have to cost money. Taking some time alone for reflection or meditation is an ideal opportunity to practice self-care. Some people need more alone time than others, but it’s good for everyone to just let go of busy-ness of the mind and reconnect with your inner self on a regular basis.
If you can afford it however, treating your body to some special care helps relieve stress and keeps it in good working order. Getting a massage is good for the body and soul. If your budget doesn’t allow for massage from a professional, see if you can trade with a friend or spouse or try using an electronic massage tool.
2. Self-care is about listening to your body
Listen to your body, and do what it tells you. The key is not to push those subtle urgings aside when they arise. Even if you only have 15 minutes to dip into that book that’s been waiting for you, take advantage of the impulse. The more you listen to your instincts, the clearer and stronger the impulses will become. This connection to yourself has benefits that you can’t even imagine that aren’t necessarily related just to self-care alone… You may notice that when you do get back to your “to do” list, you’ll find yourself more energized, focused, and productive.
If you work in an office, don’t feel discouraged. If the urge for self-care strikes, just step away from your desk for a few moments. Standing up and moving or stretching for a minute or two will get your blood flowing, change your energy, change the scenery, and help you reset for the rest of your day. You can change your mindset even by looking at some photos of friends and family for a moment.
Use your lunch time to really share with people you enjoy, or get out into the sun for some healthy vitamin D, or connect with the earth by eating your lunch sitting on the grass. Even if you just take 60 seconds a few times a day to re-center yourself, you will be nurturing that part of yourself that connects with inspiration, heart, and meaning, and it will enrich your life in positive ways. You may notice when you check back in with your body that you feel less stressed and your mood is uplifted. This is a good sign!
4. Self-care benefits you on every level
Self-care is good for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. The relaxation response that you get from taking care of yourself is the opposite of the chronic stress that plagues most of us most of the time, and we know how much damage long-term stress can cause. Taking care of yourself also sends a message to those around you about how much you value yourself and that your needs are important too.
5. If you care for others, you definitely need more self-care in your life
Having a well-cared-for body can make you feel good about yourself and your life. People who neglect their own needs are at risk of deeper levels of poor self-esteem and feelings of unhappiness or resentment. Also, people who are always caregiving often get burned out and then themselves need support from others. A burned out caregiver doesn’t have as much to give to others as one who takes time to nurture and replenish themselves on a regular basis.
6. Self-care is not the same as being selfish
Taking care of yourself does not make you selfish. It makes you a stronger, happier, more resilient person who can share their gifts and talents radiantly with those around them. Your ability to take care of others is directly proportional to your own vitality and happiness. If you are depleted and cranky, people around you will notice. When you are well cared for, you have a better capacity to uplift everyone around you simply because you are living each day with purpose and joy. Anyone who thinks that is selfish needs to have more self-care in their own lives as well!
7. Self-care might mean saying “no” sometimes
We are accustomed to wanting to say “yes” to requests for our time and our energy. Self-care can mean learning to say no sometimes. Cheryl Richardson has a book called The Art of Extreme Self-Care. She advises that one of the things we can learn to do for ourselves is learn how to say “no”. She made a practice of disappointing one person every day just to be able to get comfortable saying no. We are conditioned not to disappoint anyone and make them feel badly, but sometimes you need to say no to another person in order to say yes to yourself. This does not make you a bad person.
8. Self-care may require new priorities
You may have to compromise on something to create more time for self-care – maybe the laundry has to wait another day or doesn’t get folded properly, but in the greater scheme of things, the laundry isn’t that important anyway and self-care is. We all deserve at least ten minutes a day to focus on ourselves. Schedule it into your daily calendar if necessary to make it happen!
9. Self-care sets a good example for children
If you are a parent, you are likely to see your kids as your first priority. Remember that your kids are learning directly from you how to grow up and be parents themselves. If you are a person who never focuses on yourself, that is exactly what you are teaching your children to do when they get older. What kind of adults do you want your children to become? Be a role model for that now and save them the trouble of having to learn those lessons the hard way. Self-care sets an important example for your kids about the balance between taking care of yourself and caring for others.
If you have ever been in a plane, you know the safety procedure is to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you. This is a great metaphor for self-care and the priority it should take in your life. Self-care is critical to our personal well-being and to our relationships with the people around us. It empowers us to be more available and generous with the people around us in an authentic way, while modeling to them how we want to be treated.
10. You are not a victim of your circumstances
If you feel like a victim of your “crazy” schedule and life, check in with yourself to see whether you have created this pattern to give you an excuse for being fully present—with yourself or with others. Many of us get in our own way and block the very thing we want the most in life. Busy-ness might be one of those distractions that helps us to not take a deeper level of responsibility for our lives. Learn to be brutally honest with yourself about why you do the things you do. If you want to make a new choice you first have to get conscious about the current choices you are making.
Taking good care of ourselves may require courage and commitment. Most of us do have busy lives, and we may need to make changes in our habits, and perhaps rock the boat a little with those around us in order to keep our self-care commitments. But if you have the willingness to see it through, you will not want to look back!
* Take a hot bath with some magnesium salts or essential oils. While you are in the bath, exfoliate your skin with a salt rub and deep-condition your hair with some coconut oil. After the bath, take care of your feet by using a pumice stone to remove dead skin and follow this with some natural moisturizing cream. After you get out, rub coconut oil into your skin and let it penetrate, leaving your skin soft and silky. Add a few candles into the mix and you can create an entire spa experience for yourself in one hour!
* Give yourself a face mask – you can use some ripe fruit, mash it up with a little raw organic honey, leave it on your skin 10-15 minutes and then rinse for a refreshing facelift.
* Give yourself a manicure. File your nails and rub coconut oil into the cuticles.
* Look at your lifestyle patterns and see where you can add in a healthy meal or a walk around the block. When can you plan that extra 30-60 minutes of sleep? What task or activity in your day is not necessary and can be left to a later time?
* If you enjoy being in the kitchen, when can you make YOUR favorite dish and not just someone else’s favorite food? Enjoy your food mindfully.
* How about calling that friend that you haven’t had time to connect with in a while? Or organizing that drawer or closet? Or maybe you’ve been wanting to try a new hobby—when will you commit to taking the first step?
Self-care can look like sitting on the sofa and listening to your favorite music, writing in your journal, or starting a blog. It can be anything that directly speaks to your heart, your passions, your interests and your needs for optimal well-being. It’s about valuing that voice inside of you that knows what is best for you and then having the strength to follow through and taking that impulse through to action.
Self-care can be active or passive, but the important thing is that you are taking some time just for you to relax, refocus, and enjoy your life. Breathe deeply. Be present…