In part one of this post, I introduced self-care and hopefully convinced you why it isnt just a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense that only affects women. I talked about how it will help you at work and as a parent, and in overcoming problems with pornography. I also taught you how to approach it as if youre asking a small child what he or she needs.
Now Im going to go into the different ways we need better self-care, hopefully giving you more direction. As children, we dont learn everything we need to know about how to be effective humans. Think of this as filling in some of the gaps your parents couldnt get to.
Consider these 3 things when upping your self-care game:
1. Start small and remember balance.
I talked about this twice in the last post because it’s so important. Take this one little step at a time. Again, anything is 100% better than nothing, and good enough is 100% good enough.
2. Keeping that in mind, it does help to approach this as a daily thing,
which can be as simple as a 1-minute question-and-answer to yourself. Each day, you have needs. All needs build up on a regular basis, just like each day, you start to smell worse and worse until you shower. Every day, you’re a little lost until you step in and gives yourself direction.
3. Start where you are.
Ask yourself if youre okay, and if youre not, ask yourself what you need to feel better. Daily, in general, right now. If its more sleep, start there. If its better communication with your boss, start there. If its more compassion when you make mistakes, start there. If its more fun, start there.
Go through the following list and pick the one thing you know would make you feel most improved by if you did more of. Start there, leaving the rest for when youre up for it. Remember, this is for you, and you’re not exactly like anyone else. This is about what you need.
Here are the main areas we could all use a boost of self-care in, as organized by Archway Recovery Centers:
- Eating healthfully, regularly
- Wellness checks for medical preventative care
- Taking time off work when needed
- Fun physical activitiesdancing, swimming, running, sports, etc.
- Sleeping well/enough
- Time away from social media/electronics
- Reading for fun
- Doing something out of your comfort zone
- Time with people you enjoy
- Laugh! Cry!
- Find other comforting activities, people, relationships, places
- Set interpersonal boundaries– protect yourself
- Having compassion for yourself
- Time with nature
- Focus on non-material aspects of your life
- Be open-minded
- Be mindful
- Pray, meditate
- Take workday breaksget out of the office
- Make time to get to know your coworkers
- Update/refresh your workspace so its comforting and motivational
- Balance your workload
This is sort of the difference between barely surviving and thriving.
Think about this one for a minute. Imagine a house plant. Think about how, in order for a houseplant to thrive, it needs a particular amount of sunshine, water, nutrition, even a certain temperature. Imagine if you fed a plant stuff that makes it stay barely alive, or kept it in a windowless room. You’d expect it to shrivel up or leaves to turn yellow and fall off, right? You’d be surprised if it stayed alive at all, right? Then imagine that you do this to the plant, and you still expect it to look and feel wonderful. How would this be possible?
Now imagine youre a human plant (Weird analogy, I know, but bear with me). Think about what a human being plant needs to thrive. Not just barely stay alive, but actually look and feel wonderful, think clearly and quickly, and overall kill it in life.
How much of what you most need are you actually getting, and how much are you depriving yourself? How much food do you get, and is it nutritious enough? Are you getting too much poisonous or useless stuff in your diet? Do you get enough, or too much sleep? How much does your body get to move around, stretch, play and build strength? How much sunshine are you getting? How long has it been since you last saw a doctor or a dentist? Are you regularly taking medicines you know you need to take regularly?
When you ask your body how its doing, you might notice that you feel cramped, and you want to get up and move around. You might notice that youre hungry for something hearty or fresh, or thirsty for water. You might notice that youre in pain, and need to take steps to heal this area, change your position, or see a professional. You might notice that youre too warm or too cold, and cant relax. You might notice that your eyes are fatigued from looking at a screen, and they need to look at nature to reset.
What does your body need?
Emotional needs build up just like physical ones. What makes you feel emotionally good, and what are you doing now that makes you feel like emotional crap?
Make room for fun.
When’s the last time you did something fun, or let out a belly laugh? When’s the last time you went on a trip or did something memorable? Do you make room for exciting things on a regular basis?
Like your peeps, and seek them out as much as possible.
What’s your friend group like? Are they good people or do they make you feel worse about yourself? We need our relationships to be strong, consistent and positive. Some would vehemently argue that relationships are the most important thing in life. Whether or not this is true for you, investing in them is still going to bring you huge emotional rewards.
Become friends with your emotions.
Groan, you say. Well, what I thought, too! Until I learned that they were controlling every little thing I did.
LifeHacker suggests taking small breaks to quickly acknowledge emotions throughout the day. The emotion may still guide your behavior, but if you know that it’s there and what it feels like in your body, and then you consciously choose your next move, you may get better results than your standard reactive outburst.
Talk to a counselor.
I recommend mental health counseling, also known as “therapy,” to literally everyone, because I believe in it so much. Counseling can help you get clear on what you need emotionally from an outside, professional perspective. These are the doctors of the emotional world, and their education can help you develop better skills and insight that your parents couldn’t help you with–and, contrary to popular opinion, it can help everyone, even big strong dudes.
Whether it’s past trauma that’s impacting you more than you realize, or a big change you don’t have the awareness or self-respect to do alone, there are many ways counseling can help. In general, we at Ever Accountable recommend professional guidance throughout your entire recovery journey.
Journalling, or expressive writing, is a great form of emotional regulation, and thats not just something floofy people say. There’s plenty of research on how regular journalling improves self-esteem, decreases stress, helps you develop more emotional control, creativity, and more thoroughly learn from your mistakes.
Start by writing your thoughts and feelings down, either by hand or into a Word document. Don’t overthink it; try to just write what comes to you. You’re not writing for posterity, here. You’re writing for self-care.
Mindfulness is getting more attention for its mental health and wellness benefits. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), …”we define mindfulness as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait.” Mindfulness has the following benefits:
- Reduced rumination
- Stress reduction
- Boosts to working memory
- Less emotional reactivity
- Greater cognitive flexibility
- Relationship satisfaction
- And more
I’m not gonna try to convince you to start sitting on a poof for 30 minutes in front of a candle–unless you’re already into that, in which case, hats off! You would almost certainly benefit from learning how to meditate, doing yoga or tai chi. But you can bring more mindfulness into your day by becoming present with your thoughts, feelings and sensations while doing something mundane, such as eating a meal or going for a walk. Or, a simple 3-minute daily exercise could be all the doctor ordered.
Mindfulness is really just the process of becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, or surroundings so that you’re less reactive and more at peace with whatever life throws at you.
Set interpersonal boundaries.
We all know people can be jerks. Whether or not their jerkiness lowers your self-esteem and makes you feel walked-on is, unfortunately, kind of up to you. Think again about that little kid version of you that you’re responsible for protecting. Are they safe, emotionally and physically?
If there’s someone in your life who typically makes you uncomfortable for any reason, you may need to set a boundary with them. Do they ask you for too many favors without reciprocity? Do they talk poorly about your colleagues when they’re not around? Do they “jokingly” make jabs at you, using humor to put you down? Decide what you will and will not tolerate. Then, make it clear to that person.
This can be really hard for some of us, so read more about how to do it here.
As Psych central says, “Once you have established strong, clear boundaries, people will give you more respect. This means you can be yourself to a greater extent, asking for what you really want and need without fear of judgment. Emotional manipulators will back off and in their place sustainable, loving relationships will thrive.”
Whether you attend a church or not, you can experience the mental health benefits of regular spiritual practice. These can be experienced through worship, prayer, meditation, yoga, time in nature, or thinking about what you most value in life. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness states, “Both religion and spirituality can help a person tolerate stress by generating peace, purpose and forgiveness.”
It helps to have a daily or weekly ritual. It could be hanging out with a great group of people, a regular walk in the woods or the desert, a glance up at the sky to remind yourself of how much mystery there is. It could be a written gratitude practice, and what youre being grateful to doesnt have to matter.
The Harvard Business Review gives a good run-down of how self-care can look in the workplace.
“Self-care is highly personal, though, so rather than being an exhaustive list, these ideas are meant to get your gears turning:”
- Take regular breaks, which I already talked about in the last section. Regular breaks throughout a work day significantly improves your productivity and focus.
- Value your time, money and resources. Know your priorities in a given workday ahead of time. As people ask for favors, consider the impact on your priorities, and accept or say “no” accordingly.
- Celebrate your successes before moving onto the next task.
- “Surround yourself with good people.” Others’ behaviors, perspectives and habits rub off, so draw towards the coworkers you want to emulate.
- “Update your workspace,” as it significantly impacts your productivity. Clean up and personalize your space, making it peaceful and inspiring.
- Make your time off count so you come to work refreshed. Take the full 30 minute lunch break. Get your 8 hours of sleep at night. Like your home life, and let it rejuvenate you.
Ask yourself how youre doing, and if theres something you need in order to feel okay. Whatever that is, get it for yourself. And be sure to thank yourself for all your efforts to improve your life. Youll never get it 100%, but the fact that you care enough to try is, I must say, pretty cool of you.