You probably read the title of this and thought, “What on earth is self-care?” Chances are, you already do know what it is on some level, and are doing it anyways. In that case, good for you! But if you aren’t, sure take a few minutes to read and see if it applies to you.
Self-care is a concept I didn’t learn until I started graduate school. For the first time, I had to balance working and going to school full time, and to say the least, I was overwhelmed. But understanding how to take care of myself has been the best lesson I’ve learned, and helped me to learn more about how I have been managing my own stress.
Self-care means basically what it sounds like. Most people think that self-care involves caring about yourself enough to keep yourself alive, and to some extent, that’s correct. Caring for your mental health is just as important as caring for yourself physically, because neither exist without each other. Even if you have a six-pack and can run 100 kilometers a day, it means nothing if you are too mentally exhausted to get out of bed to go to work in the morning. Self-care involves taking time to check how we are feeling in the moment, and engaging in activities that can regulate our bodies and make us feel well enough to function properly in the world.
So here are a few tips I’ve learned about self-care that have served me well over the past year:
- Self-care can be anything you want it to be. Although there are some common activities like yoga, meditation, drawing, colouring, a change in exercise or diet, reading or listening to music, there are some activities that I found I do that still give me some sense of calm. Also, even if it may not feel like it, simple everyday things like taking showers, eating regular meals, and drinking water counts as self-care, because once your body feels good, so will your mind. For example, when I’m hungry, sometimes I get irritable and less focused on what I need to do during the day. In addition, although it’s not exactly the most fun thing to do for most people, I find that other everyday tasks like cleaning, sweeping, or washing dishes give me time to slow down, think, and relax. Sometimes I like to do my self-care activities with friends or loved ones, like going out for drinks at the end of the week or having a meal together. Self-care could also be shutting yourself into a room to play FIFA or Call of Duty (people still play these, right?), or just taking a nap. Sometimes self-care for me is just ignoring my phone over the weekend, and not responding to emails until Monday morning. The aim of self-care is to help you recharge and feel good enough to function at your best mentally and physically, so if you find something that works for you, why not use it?
- First, check in with yourself. If you aren’t really sure how to measure how you’re feeling emotionally, try giving yourself a rating on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being in the best mood ever, and 1 being the worst you’ve ever felt. Only you can describe how you feel at each number, so only you can know what a 1 or a 10 feels like for you. I should note that the point of self-care isn’t to make sure you’re always a 10, but do give yourself a realistic average that you usually find yourself at, and try and maintain that every day. For example I’m hardly ever a 10, but I usually try to make myself feel at least an 8 when I can. But if you’re usually a 9 or 10 and wake up feeling a 4, it’s helpful to check in with yourself and think of what you will need during the day to get to the number you want to be. Do you need coffee? Breakfast? To listen to the radio? Sometimes, the smallest things can improve your mood.
- Self-care can involve more than one activity. I find that I change my self-care activities depending on what best fits me at the time. Sometimes I only have time in my day to listen to music on the way to and from work and school, and don’t do anything else. But I may watch a TV show when I get home, or maybe read a book with a glass of wine if my day has been particularly stressful. Or you might find that listening to music makes all your other daily activities more enjoyable, and have that be a part of your whole day. You’ll find that most of the time these activities will blend together without you noticing it, and will feel completely natural for you.
- Not everything works for everyone. Maybe some of the things I’ve suggested work and some don’t, and maybe some work better than others. That’s ok! Self-care isn’t supposed to be the same for everyone, because no two people are the same. And your needs may change over time, so what may work for you one week may not be helpful the next, and so on. If in doubt, you can always google “self-care”, and be amazed by all the ideas that pop up for you to try!
- Make time for self-care on a regular basis. Sometimes you just can’t make time for self-care every day, and that’s ok. We are all adults with busy lives, so we sometimes have to prioritize some things over others. But at least make a regular schedule or habit that works for you, whether it’s something you do every day, every two days, or every week. I always love having something to look forward to at the end of the week, so sometimes I like to give myself something fun to do on Fridays or over the weekend, like going out with friends, or buying myself a special meal that I normally wouldn’t buy during the week.
- Yes, self-care can fit into your day. Incorporating self-care into your life really doesn’t take anything away from your day. You may think, “I don’t have time to be colouring in books, or doing yoga for a whole hour!” which is a fair point, but self-care doesn’t even need to take more than five minutes. But you can do self-care anywhere, and anytime. The trick is to find tiny pockets of time in your day that already exist, and that you can take advantage of. You can listen to your favourite songs in your car on the way home from work or school, or maybe even take a walk instead of driving to somewhere closer instead of driving. You could doodle at your desk when you have some down time, or watch a YouTube video for a few minutes to just improve your mood.
- Self-care is essential in everyone’s life. As easy and laid back as you think your job may be, everyone experiences stress in their daily lives! The point of self-care is to notice when you need to take a break, and know what skills to use to get yourself back on track.
- Don’t confuse self-care with procrastination. I am very guilty of this one! There is a very thin line between self-care and procrastination, and at times it is hard to tell which one you are doing. Sometimes when I have a paper or work deadline that I don’t want to think about, and then tell myself, “time to do self-care!”, watch tv shows for the next 4 hours, and end up going to bed stressed about missing my deadline the next day. While it helps to distract from the work you have to do, using self-care as procrastination only makes you feel worse afterwards, and defeats the purpose. So don’t use self-care as an excuse to avoid responsibilities!
- Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! I will admit, I used to be very skeptical of the idea of self-care, but as I’ve had the opportunity to see the results for myself, and in others, I have really seen its use. The satisfaction you get from understanding just how your body works, and how you can improve your own mood with one small thing really does make you feel more confident and competent in your own abilities.
- Don’t be afraid to seek out more information. If you want to find out more about self-care, it never hurts to do more research. Google is your friend! There are always different ideas online about how to do self-care and it never hurts to get multiple opinions. YouTube is also great for finding short meditation or deep breathing videos that you can do anywhere, exercise or yoga videos, or other videos that help teach you new skills. If dealing with stress is a very big problem for you, I might even suggest talking about it out loud to someone, to get it off your chest. Family and friends are great, but sometimes it might be hard to burden them with your problems, or it might feel better to talk things over with a stranger. Not only are therapists perfect for this, but they will be able to help you craft individual self-care plans that are tailored to your needs!
Now go forth and treat yourselves- your mind and body will thank you for it!
By Guest Hacker Esi Sey