There’s something about the topic of self-care that seemingly allows people to mentally distance themselves from personalization. “Sure, people need self-care, but me? I don’t have time. I’m fine. And I don’t want to be too indulgent.” As with most ambiguities, self-care can be seen as confusing, unnecessary, and even slightly threatening. Incorporating self-care into your daily routine doesn’t have to mean that you’re weak, too touchy- feely, or self-centered. Incorporating time for self-care means that you value your emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual well-being. You want to work at actively bettering your life through activities that make you happy. Any healthy activity that when done results in you feeling better can be defined as self-care. Make time for your needs, because no one can do it but you.
Why do we need self-care?
Self-care helps improve our mental health baseline. Regardless of other methods used for fostering sound mental health, be it attending therapy, medication management, or working a 12- Step program, self-care is a readily available, tangible tactic that will unquestionably increase your well-being and can easily be added to any existing practice. Self-care is a free tactic that can be employed at any point without others even being aware of its use. It’s a skill at your disposal ready to be utilized. And like any skill, self-care has to be practiced in order for it to be easily incorporated, improved and become routine. When we’re making cognizant use of activities that make us happy, our mental health baseline is being raised. As we learn to increase our baseline, suddenly the lows don’t seem as low. We’re more able to sit with discomfort when we’re doing better. Start finding time to incorporate life-enhancing activities into your daily schedule, so that when the rough days roll around and you’re in need of inner strength; you already have a healthy schedule in place.
When feeling stressed or anxious, we often go into fight, flight, or freeze mode, which then results in tunnel vision. When we’re triggered, it’s easy to forget that beneficial options for coping and making ourselves feel better are available. Because of our ingrained, parochial view of and reaction to stressful situations, making self-care a habit becomes even more imperative. The times when we’re in the most need of self-care, also tend to be the times when planning pleasurable, nourishing activities are the least likely. When we’re truly stressed out, it’s more probable that we isolate ourselves from our support system, mentally detach and work through the pain, instead of mindfully checking in with our bodies and processing the overwhelming feelings with someone whom we feel close. Stress is unavoidable, meaning that changing the way that we view and experience it is essential for minimizing resistance and amplifying prolonged vitality.
What does self-care look like for you?
Chances are you are already incorporating self-care into your routine without even noticing. Whether it’s taking a three minute break at work to walk around the building, booking an appointment for a massage, deciding to eat lunch outside instead of at your desk, or taking sixty seconds to regroup and settle your mind before walking into a new environment, options for self-care are endless. If you need some ideas for figuring out your personalized self-care routine, ask yourself the following questions:
• What activities do you do that result in you feeling better after than before you started?
• After a conversation with friends or family, from whom do you walk away from the interaction feeling lighter and more energetic?
• What activities result in feelings of appreciation and gratitude?
• What have you always wanted to try, but never had to courage to do?
• Which of the five senses do you relish in the most, and what can you do to integrate more of that sense into your routine?
• Are there specific times during the day or week where you feel more drained and exhausted than others? Plan ahead to make time for vitality by increasing activities during those specific periods.
• What do you look forward to each day? Each week? Each month? Make certain to not miss or skimp on those gems of enjoyment.
The importance of a realistic routine
Try to plan for different types of self-care activities. It’s easy to dismiss pleasurable relaxation by rationalizing that you don’t have time, or cannot afford out of the ordinary activities. Devise realistic, free, daily pursuits, so that your inner dialogue cannot nix your idea before you even start. No matter how busy you are, you can always manage a one to two minute mental break where you get up and stretch, practice deep breathing to quell anxiety and center yourself, or mindfully take a few bites of your favorite snack.
Be careful not to let the idea of taking care of yourself morph into something that seems unattainable or stresses you out. If booking a facial isn’t in your budget or not within your time constraints, don’t do it. If the idea of joining a gym is resulting in negative self-talk and feelings of guilt, is it really self-care? Break down your goal into smaller, more attainable steps. You might try going on a ten minute walk after dinner or buy yourself an at-home facial mask. Figure out what’s realistic for you.
Often times, our bodies send signals that we need a break, long before our brains pick up on the ques. Learn to listen to your body and appreciate its knowing signals. Find that you’re having trouble concentrating, or that you’re developing a headache that feels like it came out of nowhere? Maybe you’re feeling strangely agitated and tense, but cannot figure out the cause, making discounting your experience even easier. Take a break. And truly convince yourself that it’s okay to take a break. After listening to your body’s request for momentary relief, you’ll find that your productivity levels flourish when you’re centered and feeling your best. Working yourself to and through exhaustion can work, but it is not a long-term solution. You deserve to live your life to its fullest extent, appreciating hidden moments of delight and experiencing gratification at every turn. Each day is a new adventure, ready for you to reap the benefits of heightened appreciation for the everyday joys of life.
Emily Keefer is an LMSW and LCDCI, working as a dual diagnosis therapist at Sage Recovery & Wellness Center in Austin, TX. She is continually working to fine-tune her own self-care routine, so that she can live a more mindful, fun-loving life and better serve her clients and profession.