There’s more to living a healthy lifestyle than just eating healthy and keeping active. Holistic wellness starts with accepting and acknowledging that we’re fully responsible for our overall wellness: emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and social health. This is self-care, and it’s just as important as nutrition and exercise. Some would say it’s more important.
Self-care is not a luxury, rather a necessity, especially as we try to achieve an optimal state of health. Self-care is taking a step back to breathe and relax and permit ourselves to unlock our true potential. And one way to unlocking our true potential is taking that step back every so often, and then taking a much-needed deep breath. Self-care involves recognising and accepting the truth about who we are, our identity and values. It is, in essence, about nurturing a healthy relationship with ourselves, it’s self-love. In other words, self-care is a vital part of self-love.
Often, we try to satisfy everyone else’s needs and put our own needs at the back burner. The concept of self-care is to be conscious of our own needs. When we meet our individual needs first, we’re more relaxed and grounded, and in a much better position to help, support and care for others.
There are several ways to practice self-care, but here are a few ideas that you can start using, right away.
Just breathe. When we focus our awareness on our breath, we become the link between the body and mind. As we move through a balanced flow, we tune into the pace and rhythm of our breath; we become more familiar with its characteristics and tendencies. When you wake up in the morning, take a full deep breath and focus on your inner strength to begin your day. When in doubt, breathe slowly.
Slow it down. We all live fast-paced lives, plus the many things that demand our attention, we rush between activities or other life obligations. Everything in our lives is so accelerated these days that when we encounter a crisis, we become like a wheel, we just spin. It’s crucial to slow down by changing our everyday habits and activities. This could be learning to say “no” to people and things that demand too much of our energy. It could even be taking a few minutes to meditate, or just simply putting your feet up and reading a good book. It’s ok to slow down and press pause.
Practice gratitude. Spend time appreciating and being grateful for all the good in your life, not just the material things. Each passing day is a precious gift, and experiencing the world through gratitude opens our hearts; this creates peace of mind and, a constant reminder of the positives.
Catch up on some sleep. Yes, take a quick nap, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. Most importantly, get a good night’s rest. The body needs some downtime. Sleeping regulates our metabolism and brain function. When we deny ourselves sleep, our body and mind suffer. Sleep gives our body the time to heal itself and get us ready for the new day. So, developing a healthy sleep habit is an excellent idea.
Declutter. We know how easy it is for life to get cluttered with so many things going on, and with all the many stuff we’ve accumulated. Commit to removing five to ten items every week from your life, these also include emotional clutter that doesn’t serve you. It’s a tough challenge, yes, but it will be a start to living a healthy clutter-free life. Define what you value and rid your life of everything else. As Marie Kondo says, “If it doesn’t spark joy…”. Well, sayonara, baby! Creating harmony in your environment also creates balance in your mind
Master your emotion. Our state of mind affects how we interpret things. I love what Tony Robins said that our emotions are “action signals.” The initial step to understanding our emotions is the knowledge that our emotions serve us. Negative emotions are a call to action. Pay attention to what you’re thinking. Notice how you’re acting, how you’re speaking. Become aware of the emotions that you live by. Recognise your triggers by the experience of emotions that are more uncontrollable than usual. Study your emotions, understand them, and come to grips with them. The ability to tame the emotional self creates calmness and clarity that can contribute to our overall wellbeing.
Get intentional. Every day is a new day, a new chapter, a new beginning. Every morning, take a few minutes of quiet to set your intention for the day and follow through with it. Find 30 minutes to an hour each day to do something with intention. Clean out your closet, meditate, take a walk, read a book, call up a friend, take a bubble bath, volunteer, do yoga. Attend to one thing at a time, but, whatever it is, choose it. On purpose. With intention.
Be kind to yourself. Society and culture teach us to be kind and compassionate toward others. We reach out to friends when they’re going through a rough patch; we offer them comforting words, or support (Goetz et al., 2010). Unfortunately, we don’t treat ourselves with the same compassion. Self-compassion practice involves speaking to yourself the same way you would to a friend. It’s the recognition that you’re in pain, it’s acknowledging that you’re experiencing some distress and offering compassion for that pain through comforting words or perhaps a self-soothing touch. Self-compassion enables you to engage in activities that can promote a sense of wellbeing.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is being aware of our feelings without avoiding them or over-identifying with them. Mindfulness allows us to observe our thoughts, experience, and feelings without judging or attaching meaning; instead, we perceive them as experiences. We see things for what they are, and in some ways, we give ourselves a reality check (Neff, 2003; 2011). Practising mindfulness enables you to acknowledge your feelings for what they are. Acknowledge them without judgment, without attachment, without meaning. You just observe what’s going on within you.
Self-care is so crucial in improving our wellbeing. It’s learning to cultivate a good quality of life; it’s taking the time to be our own best friend and getting to know ourselves on a much deeper level. It’s putting ourselves first. Self-care is taking inspired daily action to improve our overall wellbeing; it’s a necessity, not a luxury. Self-care is prioritising our needs, and when we meet our individual needs first, we feel content. There’s nothing selfish about that!
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott
What are your self-care routines? Share your ideas in the comment.
Thanks a bunch for reading!
Jill R. Nelson, Brenda S. Hall, Jamie L. Anderson, Cailen Birtles & Lynae Hemming (2017): Self–Compassion as Self-Care: A Simple and Effective Tool for Counselor Educators and Counseling Students, Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, DOI: 10.1080/15401383.2017.1328292