February 28, 2023
Q: I’ve heard self-care isn’t selfish, but I don’t know how to make time for it. Where do I start?
A: This is an interesting question to answer, because self-care can be so individual for each person.
A helpful way to frame self-care may be to think about ways to incorporate it into your existing routine. For example, when self-care feels like a chore and something to ‘fit in,’ think about what you do already. Go over the basics – sleep, eating, exercise – and consider realistic, bite-sized ways to get your needs met. You don’t have to tackle everything at once.
Most of all, give yourself permission to take care of you.
One element of self-care we don’t often think about is how we talk to ourselves. The things we say to ourselves are important – they can absolutely affect how we feel and how much energy we’ll have for other self-care practices. Start by having compassion for yourself. If you catch yourself thinking a critical thought, especially if it’s untrue or exaggerated, take a moment to reform it.
“I can’t believe I made that mistake at work. I’m so stupid.” vs: “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m unhappy that I overlooked that, but I’ll do better next time.”
The idea of self-care can feel incredibly overwhelming. It’s easy to keep “and-ing” ourselves until we’re paralyzed by stress. “I need to drink less coffee and eat more vegetables and go to bed earlier and stretch more and work out X many times a week...” The list is endless.
If you’re looking for a small step to start with, especially one that doesn’t need to take a lot of time, mindfulness could be worth a try. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s a simple way to get started. Slow down, take a few breaths and recognize what’s going on in your body – it can be very powerful.
Again, this is another area that looks different from person to person, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Set an alarm or reminder to check in with your body a few times day. Close your eyes, do a mental scan of how you’re feeling physically, maybe stretch if you need it, and see how you feel.
- Take five minutes in the morning, maybe while you’re making breakfast or walking your dog to focus on your five senses. List the things you see, how your feet feel on the ground, what you can hear – intentionally run through each of the senses from moment to moment. If you can do it outside, even better.
- Try a free guided meditation. I know many people are hesitant to try meditating, but it can be a great way to slow down and mindfully create space. There are loads of resources for guided meditations – try a few and see what resonates.
Mindfulness won’t transform your self-care routine overnight, but it will start to train your brain to listen to your body’s needs. There’s a power that comes with being present; it lends itself very well to the self-care journey.
Lean into a hobby
What are you passionate about? What pastime relieves stress? What allows you to connect with others?
When I’m really stressed, I color. That may sound a little silly, but I’m OK with that; it’s what works for me. It’s something that lets me unplug, it’s simple and I can do it anywhere. I also donate my time to a local soup kitchen. During the time in my life when I couldn’t help my kids get well, helping other people was so powerful.
I have a coworker who loves to go shopping at antique malls. He’s able to forget about his stress and tap into his passion. On the flip side, I have another coworker who loves to organize and get rid of unused items in her house. Tidying your space, by the way, is a great way to help yourself feel better and de-clutter your mind.
Make time for friends
Self-care doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Many of us spend too much time alone, anyway. Connecting with loved ones and people in general is extremely powerful.
When my sons were struggling, laughing and enjoying the company of others was really difficult for me. Many times when I was out with friends, I faked my way through it. I can recall the exact day when I genuinely laughed for real after so many months (possibly years) of feeling like I didn’t deserve to be enjoying myself – it was such an amazing feeling.
Take it outside
Nature is a great listener. It provides so many health benefits and is a great place to incorporate other forms of self-care we’ve covered already, like mindfulness and walking with an awareness of your five senses.
Unplug from social media
Do we really need to say more here? Social media absolutely has its place, (Pinterest is my favorite – I can get lost in the bathroom makeovers for hours) but it can be all-consuming and many times leave us feeling less-than.
There are no shortage of ways to take care of yourself. Creating a feel-good playlist, getting therapeutic massages (or taking hot baths or showers), practicing daily gratitude – I’ve seen members have success with these and many more routines. Whatever you decide to try, keep it simple, take it a day at a time and show yourself some grace if you don’t meet your goals. And remember, you’re worth it!
If you’d like more specific self-care feedback or ideas, consider talking with a peer coach or therapist who can help you explore options and track progress.
I’ll say it again: Give yourself permission to take care of you!