You’re overwhelmed at work. You have a ton of projects piling up at home, and your calendar is packed with overdue tasks. To make room for all of this stuff, you skip lunch, stop going to the gym, and forget about your social life entirely. When we’re stressed, self-care is usually the first thing to go. And that only makes things worse.
It’s easy to neglect taking care of ourselves because when we’re busy and overwhelmed, even a small reprieve feels like a luxury. So actually taking time to eat lunch, exercise, and hang out with friends? That just feels like slacking.
Self-care is important for your physical health as well as your mind, soul and, let’s face it, your overall health. Without self-care, your relationships with others can suffer tremendously. Neglecting ourselves and focusing too much on work or other people can be like trying to write a 50-page paper, the night before it’s due, working on 2 hours of sleep. You need to get the paper done, and you might finish it. However, it won’t be published in any journal or selected as a New York Times Best Seller.
No matter how unimportant you may think it is, self-care is crucial for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. You shouldn’t neglect self-care and here's why:
It increases your sense of respect and care for yourself, allowing you to appreciate and accept yourself for who you are. Self-care is only possible after you come to the realization that you are important and need to be cared for. Also, it helps with productivity. When you learn how to say “no” to things that over-extend you and start making time for things that matter more, you slow life down in a wonderful way. This brings your goals into sharper focus and helps you to concentrate on what you’re doing. It also promotes feelings of peace and relaxation, serving as a way to refocus and come back to your daily life refreshed and ready to take on anything. It also enhances self-esteem like when you regularly carve out time that’s only about being good to yourself and meeting your own needs; you send a positive message to your subconscious. Specifically, you treat yourself like you matter and have intrinsic value. This can go a long way toward discouraging negative self-talk and your critical inner voice.
At the same time, it improves both physical and mental health by reducing the effects of prolonged stress on your mind and body. Lastly, when you’re good to yourself, you might think you’re being selfish. In truth, self-care gives you the resources you need to be compassionate to others as well. Giving compassion is a bit like filling a bucket; you can’t fill someone else’s if you haven't filled your own!
Four Pathways to Self-Care
Fortunately, there are several ways that you can care for yourself:
1. Physical: care for your body (everything from sleep to seeing the dentist)
Your body needs what it needs. Getting enough sleep, food, and exercise is critical to your mental health and stability. The more you neglect your biological imperatives, the less energy, motivation, and will-power you’ll be left with throughout the day to deal with intense feelings like anxiety, anger, or depression when they come up.
2. Emotional: care for your feelings (acknowledging & processing feelings, changing distressing situations)
Take time to notice and process your feelings. For example, if you start to notice anxiety come up, then take some time to cool down and think through what might be causing it. A lot of times what feels like life or death in the moment turns out to be less severe once we have time to calm down and think through it. Other times you may need to reach out for support from people you trust.
3. Spiritual: care for your spirit (a worship community, a cause greater than you, nature)
Whatever your religious background may be, connecting to a cause greater than yourself can provide deep fulfillment and satisfaction.
4. Social: care for your relationships (friends who get you, family time, lunch with your coworkers)
Significant, healthy relationships are incredibly important. Connecting with others provides stability and support. When people notice you for who you are, and appreciate you, then it helps you to notice how important and worthwhile you are. Relationships help us to see the pieces of us that sometimes go unnoticed.
Some practical tips for self-care include: living healthy, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and excessive alcohol. Manage stress and go for regular medical check-ups, exercise by taking classes with others for motivation, and spend time doing things that help you relax. Practice good hygiene which is important for social, medical, and psychological reasons in that it not only reduces the risk of illness, but it also improves the way others view you and how you view yourself. Also, see friends to build your sense of belonging. Consider joining a support group to make new friends. You may also try to do something you enjoy every day. That might mean dancing, watching a favorite TV show, working in the garden, painting or reading. Lastly, find ways to relax, like meditation, yoga, getting a massage, taking a bath or walking in the woods.
With so many types of self-care, it can often be difficult to find a good balance. Having a self-care routine can be incredibly helpful. It's so important to take time for yourself and shed the stress. An hour a day can make a huge difference. It's a great way to stay motivated and take time for yourself every day!