Self-Care Essentials: Take time for YOU and assess what’s on your plate
Coping in a “toxic” world and from other environmental pressures can be extremely challenging and difficult. For example, how often do you watch a story on the news that makes you cringe or experience fear and a heightened level of distress after listening to NPR? Ironically, when individuals are most stressed, self-care is typically the first priority neglected. Part of the trouble relates to understanding how one can demonstrate and practice self-care while a second difficulty is challenging the myth that self-care is selfish, self-indulgent, or self-pampering. Additionally, to stop the glorification of being busy—which is repeatedly reinforced by society.
Unfortunately, when human beings engage in poor self-care and make little time for themselves, emotions intensify and feelings of regret and guilt follow. The development of insomnia, addictions, self-harm behaviors, a hot temper, suicidality, and physical illnesses develop in response to minimal self-care, poor stress management, and over-commitment. While self-care is unique for everyone, there are several steps and strategies for enhancing self-care, and for achieving better life balance overall.
Self-Care and Physical Health: It isn’t always reasonable or realistic to assume that everyone can eat three square meals a day. However, it is essential that adequate nutrition is consumed daily (e.g., drink a boost). Sleeping 7-9 hours per night, exercising 5 times a week for at least thirty minutes, and scheduling regular health care visits are often overlooked. Preventive self-care is also important, such as getting massages, taking annual vacations, and engaging in pleasurable/sexual activities with your partner or yourself.
Self-Care and Emotional/Psychological Health: Equally important is nurturing yourself with supportive and caring people. Spend time with family and friends who make YOU feel good about yourself and who listen, while set limits and boundaries with people who drain or make you upset. Repeating positive self-affirmations, praising yourself, reading favorite books and movies, giving yourself permission to cry, drawing or writing in a journal, and playing with pets or your children are also emotionally healing. Don’t be ashamed to engage in counseling or therapy, make time for self-reflection, observe your inner experiences without judgments, say no to extra obligations, and practice receiving help from others.
Self-Care and Spiritual Health: If appropriate and based on your own beliefs and values, pray, meditate, attend church, and connect with a spiritual community, leader, or mentor. Consider volunteering, contributing to causes that you believe in, and try to be accepting of not knowing what the future holds. Likewise, become more comfortable with not being the expert or having to be in charge of everything in life. Stay curious and hopeful, and be open to new experiences.
Role of Sensory Stimulation: As you feel the stress and anxiety around you, focus on your five senses: touch, taste, sounds, sights, and smiles. This focus can re-direct your mind to the present rather than getting anxious about the future or sad about the past. Listening to running water, burning your favorite candle, getting cozy under a warm blanket, watching the sunset or sunrise, getting a massage, taking a bubble bath or hot shower, and listening to your favorite tunes are all ways for activating your senses and to self-soothe when life feels chaotic.
Next time you are debating between taking an extra thirty minutes for yourself, consider your answer to the following question: Would I rather get home stressed and with a short fuse or would I rather arrive 30 minutes later feeling grounded, centered, and relaxed? Reflect on potential long-term consequences. Remind yourself that self-care is making an intentional decision to self-soothe or energize you while selfishness is solely focusing on your needs without considering the needs of others—very different in nature. It is important to find a balance between pleasure (e.g., gardening) versus mastery activities (e.g., completing a crossword puzzle) as well as a balance between work, family, self, play, and other relationship activities. Remember, if your glass isn’t filled and your oxygen mask isn’t on, you aren’t going to be able to fill everyone else’s cup or help anyone else put on their own oxygen mask.