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I used to laugh whenever someone mentioned self care.
After all, I was eating, sleeping, and exercising. Outside of work, I barely had enough time for anything else.
When the topic of self care came up with friends or colleagues, I’d imagine spending a ridiculous amount of money at the spa, having breakfast in bed, or eating out at a really nice restaurant.
It was only years later when I felt like I was running on empty despite checking all my ‘self care’ boxes that I realized how shallow my idea of taking care of myself was.
Yes, eating and sleeping mattered, but I’ve since come to realize that these were the bare minimum of self-care and that living a full, happy, and meaningful life is so much more than that.
WHY IS TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF SO IMPORTANT?
Self care is one of those things that’s easy to push to the sidelines when life gets busy, but here’s why it matters:
- It’ll help you show up as your best self. Many of us underestimate how beneficial being well-rested, mentally and physically nourished, confident, healthy and purposeful is. It’s only when you get a taste of it that you realize that you’re able to get so much more out of life when you’re not constantly tired, stressed, unhealthy and upset.
- The older you get, the more important self-care becomes. No one lives in their 20s forever, and life can start to feel heavier and less manageable as you get older. You take on more responsibilities, deal with more life-altering changes, develop health issues, need more time to bounce back from setbacks and realize that there’s more at stake when there’s possible loss on the horizon. The better care you take of yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to cope with or side-step these difficult life-progression hurdles.
- It’ll help keep you resilient under pressure. When life is ‘OK’ and you’re managing to keep all the balls you’re juggling in the air, it’s all too easy fall into the trap of eating badly, discounting the importance of exercise, neglecting your relationships and buying into the mindset that you can ‘sleep when you’re dead’. But when a crisis comes up, you may just find yourself (as I did at several points in my life) cracking under the pressure mentally, emotionally and physically because your foundation has been weakened from prolonged, accumulated neglect.
THE BASICS OF SELF CARE
This is the kind of self care that most of us are familiar with since it’s what keeps us functioning from day to day.
These are the everyday steps we take to keep the wheels of our lives turning productively.
These are things like:
- Waking up early to get yourself mentally and physically prepared for the day ahead.
- Making your bed.
- Brushing your teeth.
- Taking a shower.
- Eating lunch.
Skipping some of these self care steps may seem inconsequential in the short-term, but let them slide for long enough and something’s bound to give.
Personally, I’m nowhere near perfect with these — there are days where I struggle to be productive and still find it impossible to stick with my workout and nutrition plan or go to bed early 100% of the time, but I make it a point to regularly assess how I’m doing and then course-correct so that I get back on the right path eventually.
HOW TO CREATE A HOLISTIC SELF CARE ROUTINE
Getting a hang of the basics can make a huge difference in your life, especially if you’ve just started to take better care of yourself, but you’re going to have to widen your self care net if you want to thrive.
These other areas of your life are equally as important:
Are you regularly connecting with your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors in ways that make you feel good about life? We humans are social creatures, so it’s crucial that you have social connections at home, work, school, and within your community that you can contribute to, as well as make you feel involved, accepted, and supported.
Everyday activities like playing a musical instrument, meditating and learning a new skill can not only help increase your brain’s ability to process information; it can also help delay its decline as you get older.
Taking care of yourself emotionally involves nurturing your ability to identify, acknowledge and process your emotions so that you’re also able to express yourself in ways that others can understand and empathize with. It also means being able to set boundaries, be kind to yourself and ask for help when you need it, all of which play a role in your emotional well-being.
Studies show that while spirituality won’t shield you from illness or difficulties in life, believing in a spiritual dimension of life, such as the human soul or the existence of a higher purpose can make it easier for you to cope with challenges and the healing process.
If you work full-time at an organization, you’ve likely experienced (or are experiencing) some kind of work-related frustration that’s affected your mental health, like unclear expectations and communication, toxic, manipulative leadership, and dysfunctional colleagues. Most of us tend to take on a blasé approach to these gnawing issues at work because we need a paycheck and don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time hunting for the perfect job. However, this doesn’t erase the fact that toxicity in the workplace is linked to lower productivity, distress, depression, anxiety, burnout and trauma.
Although it’s no surprise that having a low income is associated with elevated psychological distress, few of us think about improving our financial health as part of a self-care routine.
Personally, taking charge of my finances has helped lift a huge mental load of anxiety, stress and worry over the years.
SELF CARE IDEAS
Think of creating a self care routine as putting together a plan to advocate for your own well-being — it’s something no one else can do for you.
If you’ve never come up with a self-care routine before, here are some practical ideas to start with:
- Drinking eight glasses of water throughout the day.
- Eating breakfast.
- Prepping your meals for the week.
- Organising your medication and vitamins so you don’t forget to take them.
- Leaving your house 30 minutes earlier so you don’t get stuck and stressed out in traffic.
- Eating lunch.
- Adding vegetables and fruit to each meal.
- Setting your priorities and their corresponding to-dos at work.
- Taking breaks at work at regular intervals.
- Leaving the office by 6pm so you can go work out or spend time with your family.
- Eating dinner.
- Connect with a friend.
- Join an in-person or online support group.
- Go for a walk with someone.
- Go for a group exercise class.
- Take a class to learn a new skill and meet people.
- Plan a fun group activity with your friends or family.
- Invite a close friend over for a meal and movie marathon.
- Write a thank-you note to someone who’s helped or been kind to you.
- Give a gift to someone you care about.
- Give yourself permission to skip social events, guilt-free.
- Get moving — exercise is good for your body and mind.
- Start writing in a gratitude journal.
- Make getting enough sleep a priority.
- Nurture an optimistic outlook (not to be confused with toxic positivity).
- Establish boundaries and make them clear when you need to.
- Play games that keep your mind sharp, like crossword puzzles or chess.
- Follow a morning routine to prepare for the day.
- Learn how to garden.
- Pamper yourself with a home spa ritual.
- Get a massage.
- Get an emotional support pet.
- Practice deep belly breathing.
- Learn what your emotional triggers are that get you upset, anxious or angry.
- Allow yourself to express your emotions in a safe and supportive environment.
- Start journaling.
- Practice self-compassion.
- Be your own best friend.
- Learn how to ask for help when you need it.
- Make time in your schedule to do absolutely nothing.
- Do at least one thing that makes you happy.
- Spend time in nature.
- Learn how to be comfortable in silence.
- Say a prayer.
- Learn yoga
- Learn how to forgive.
- Connect with a like-minded spiritual community.
- Experiment with spiritual tools like tarot cards, crystals and rune stones.
- Learn about a religion or spiritual practice you’re not familiar with.
- Learn about chakras.
- Set boundaries with your boss and co-workers.
- Set clear expectations and deadlines with your boss and team.
- Negotiate for flexible hours.
- Negotiate for paid time off.
- Make a close friend (or two) at the office who will have your back.
- Say “No” to projects when your plate is full.
- Be consistent about when you arrive at and leave the office.
- Take a short break every hour or two to decompress and clear your head.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Take a sick day when you’re not feeling well.
- Track your income and expenses.
- Create a budget.
- Prioritize repaying your debt.
- Build a healthy mindset around money.
- Look for trends in your spending habits.
- Learn how to use your credit cards mindfully.
- Check your bank account balances.
- Review your insurance coverage.
- Learn how to invest and grow your money.
- Set up an emergency fund of 6-12 months’ living expenses.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR SELF CARE ROUTINE WORK
Now that you’ve got plenty of self care ideas to work with, it’s time to figure out the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of each.
STEP 1: BREAK IT DOWN
I usually start by breaking mine down into ideas that I can implement weekly, monthly, annually, and in emergencies.
- Daily: These are the very basic self care steps you take every single day help you put your best self forward at work, at home and in social settings. They also serve as the powerful foundation for the rest of your self-care routine.
- Weekly: Your weekly self-care steps would typically involve reflecting on the week you’ve had or preparing for the week ahead (like planning and prepping your work lunches) so you can prioritize what’s important to you and take the guessing out of your everyday routine.
- Monthly: These are bigger steps that you’d need to take more time out to do, like going over your finances, enjoying a spa day or decluttering your home.
- Annually: These are self care steps that don’t fall into your everyday routine, but are just as important, like your annual health exam, going on a long overdue vacation, or mentally preparing to spend the holidays with your family (especially if they tend to be stressful).
- Emergency: When a crisis (regardless of whether it’s big or small) strikes, you’ll need a ‘break-in-case-of-emergency’ self care routine to fall back on that’ll help you cope, heal and get back on your feet regardless of whether you’ve had a bad day or just gone through a traumatic break-up.
STEP 2: BE CONSISTENT
The most difficult part of self care is making it happen, and biggest obstacle I’ve personally struggled with is being consistent with my self-care routine, especially when my days get hectic days and I barely have time to sit down to think.
Once I’ve got my self care checklist sorted out, the most effective way I’ve found to make being consistent easier is to use a habit-tracking app like Habitify, which lets me list my habits for the day and check them off when I’m done them for the day, week or month.
Just the simple act of checking off my self care steps makes me more mindful of the habits I’m trying to build, which then makes it more likely that I’ll prioritize them.
LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE YOUR DAILY SELF CARE ROUTINE EASIER (AND FUN)
Yes, taking care of yourself is hard work, but it doesn’t mean that it has to feel like a chore. If you’re doing something every day, you might as well feel good doing it.
Here are my favorite (almost) everyday essentials for feeling my best:
- The extra soft, extra roomy Manduka Yoga Pro Yoga Mat 6mm for my daily mobility and stretch exercises.
- Doctor’s Best Vitamin C With Q-C, 1,000 mg (120 veggie caps) for my daily dose of free-radical fighters.
- Greens Plus Advanced Multi Raw Superfood (267g) every other day to boost my multivitamin and mineral intake.
- Laneige’s hyaluronic acid-rich Water Bank Hyaluronic Gel Moisturizer to keep my skin hydrated all day.
- The Laneige Mini Pore Waterclay Mask for a post-bath treat (yes, I have a thing for Korean skincare).
- Aroma Naturals Soy Vegepure Candle in Patchouli for my evening meditation.
- Yogi Tea Bedtime to help me unwind before bed (plus, the inspiring quotes on their tea bag tags are a nice touch!).
- Four Sigmatic Mushroom Blend Mix, which I add to my morning tea (it gives it a nice hint of nuttiness) to help with mental clarity and focus.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE MAKING A SELF CARE CHECKLIST
Before drawing up your self care checklist, here are some other questions you’ll need to consider:
WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT PRIORITIES?
What is your life stage or situation like right now? What specific goals would you like to achieve with a self-care routine? How will they align with what’s happening in your life? Your answers to these questions will help you refine your self help checklist further to ideas that you’re confident will work for you.
WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO MAKE TIME FOR?
When it comes to making changes in our lives, whether or not we succeed all boils down to how much time we’re willing to set aside to make something happen.
WHAT’S WORKED FOR YOU IN THE PAST?
Think back to when you last tried to make a positive change in your life: What did you do that worked? What didn’t work, and why? Being mindful of your past success and failures will help you figure out how to go about making the changes you’re thinking of, happen.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS?
Some self care steps won’t need much money (or any at all) to make happen. For example, not keeping junk food in your house or walking more. Others will require you to set aside a little or a lot of cash to make happen, for example: Taking classes or hiring a financial planner.
YOUR FIRST STEPS
Ultimately, a self care routine is meant to keep you from burning out, live a balanced life and help you be present, so it’s not something you want to rush into.
You don’t have to do everything on your checklist right now and you certainly don’t have to splash a lot of cash to feel better either.
In fact, the best thing you can do to start taking better care of yourself right now is to meet yourself where you are and take baby steps: Go to bed 30 minutes earlier, learn how to say “no” to things you don’t want to do, or add a 30-minute walk outside to your evenings.
And don’t worry about doing things perfectly — on some days, simply not getting out of bed, not doing the dishes or turning your phone off is self care.
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