Recently, I posted something on Facebook that got more likes and comments than anything I’d posted in many moons. I wrote, “Today I achieved something I haven’t done in years, today I did nothing.” It’s a sad statement about our lives, that such a simple thing to do to take care of yourself is noticed and lauded by a huge crowd of people. But self-care has become a rarity for most people. And more troubling than that, self-care is a very misunderstood concept.
The beauty, fashion and food industries try to tell us that self-care is all external and needs to be purchased. Remember, “Calgon, take me away!” Almost every article you read in women’s magazines mentions the ubiquitous bubble bath as an example of self-care. The truth is a sudsy soak can’t replace a nutritious diet, regular exercise, adequate rest, ongoing stress management and healthy relationships. Getting your nails done, a bottle of Merlot, or a shopping spree help won’t help really care for yourself either. This is pampering, not self-care.
I used to think I was an expert in self-care because I didn’t eat red meat, slept in on the weekends, walked my dog, got facials and treated myself to a cupcake when I “deserved” it (which seemed to be nearly every day!) But at 47 years old at the end of two incredibly challenging years caring for ailing parents and holding down a full-time job, I felt achy, was 30 pounds overweight, wasn’t sleeping well, was irritable and anxious most of the time and had lost hope. It took me a long time to realize that I might have indulged myself and definitely cared for others but I had lost the ability to adequately care for myself.
As I began to educate myself in wellness and nutrition, I began to learn and incorporate the real components of self-care. To keep it simple, here’s a list:
- Sleep – at least 7 hours a night (I must admit I thrive on 9 hours).
- Nutrition – Eat a variety of fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, good fats and lean protein. Limit everything else.
- Water – drink lots of it. So many symptoms of physical illness and food cravings are actually just thirst.
- Exercise – Make weight bearing exercises part of your weekly routine. Add cardio in between. Don’t forget to stretch. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week (hey, that’s just a bit over 20 minutes a day!)
- Spirituality – carve out some time for peace and quiet, share gratitude, enjoy nature, meditate, pray, go to your house of worship…whatever it is, get out of yourself and feel connected to something greater than you.
- Relationships – Make sure you spend time with people who love, support and appreciate you on a regular basis and limit the time you spend (including the phone) with what I call “emotional vampires.”
- Fun and Creativity – all work and no play slowly kills our spirit. Pick up an old hobby. Go play mini golf. Chase your pup around the house or park. Write that story that’s been knocking around your brain.
- Feed Your Brain – Just like any muscle, if you don’t challenge it, it will atrophy. Try puzzles, watch a documentary, go to a museum or lecture, pick up a book.
- Take Stock of your Work Life: Are you happy, fulfilled and challenged? Do you like the environment and people or do they sap you of energy? What needs to be changed? Can you ask for help?
It’s impossible to do all of this at once if you have been ignoring yourself for a long time. So, it’s a good idea to pick one or two and try to see if you can improve that aspect of care on a regular basis, before moving on to the next one. Feel free to contact me if you need help incorporating any of these suggestions for self-care in your life.
Karen Azeez, Health Coach