You’re lying in bed, but your heart’s beating so fast it feels like it could jump out of your chest.
Thoughts are racing through your head at a million miles per minute. You’ve been feeling tired and anxious for awhile now, but you’re not really sure why. You know that something’s not right — you want to feel calm and in control of your thoughts and emotions, what you’re eating and how you’re sleeping.
You want to feel excited about life, not dread it.
To do that, you know that you need to take better care of yourself but you just can’t seem to put your finger on what you need to do to get there.
You’ve been hearing the term ‘self-care’ being thrown around a lot lately, but your idea of putting it into practice is murky, at best.
Vague ideas of the ‘right’ things to do, like exercising, eating better (whatever that means) and ‘managing’ your stress float around in your head like butterflies that keep slipping from your grasp.
So what does ‘taking care of yourself’ actually mean and how do you do it? You’re already moving (surely walking to the fridge counts as exercise), eating and sleeping, so why do you feel like crap all the time?
What else should you be doing to feel good, no…AMAZING, and on top of your game?
In Japan, the harried slip away to a bathhouse (also known as an onsen) for an all-day retreat where they soak their aches and pains away, and indulge in a ritual of ear cleaning, napping and nibbling on superfoods like green tea and seaweed. In Sweden, people take nightly saunas to rest, rejuvenate and prepare for a night of deep, restful sleep. The English like to settle down for a cup of tea and heart-to-heart with a friend to blow off some steam, while the Argentinians have no problem booking an appointment with their therapist to talk out their problems.
Now, before you go and start scheduling yourself a sauna, therapy session, tea time and whatnot into your week, you’ll need to sit down and answer this question: What do you really want to get out of a self-care routine?
If you’re not sure where to start, here’s my interpretation of what a self-care routine should accomplish:
1. MENTAL CLARITY. Painful, difficult emotions come from painful, difficult thoughts, regardless of whether they’re true or not. Both result in clouded and potentially irrational judgement and actions. You can’t avoid experiencing pain, but you can let them move through you, survive and get back on your feet. Self care helps you do this.
2. A HEALTHY BODY. You don’t have to want to run a marathon, get washboard abs or qualify for the CrossFit Games to have a reason to exercise — getting to the 10th floor when the elevator breaks down, chasing after your runaway dog, and playing with your kids without getting hurt all require you to move your body, and move it regularly.
3. MORE ENERGY. Life is demanding. It’s challenging. To be effective at work, in your relationships and getting through the ups and downs of life, you need energy of both the physical and mental kind. This means getting good at filling your cup so it never runs empty, and you fill it with the right food, boundaries, rules, rituals and respect for yourself and others. Without all these elements in place to preserve your energy, in place, life is chaotic, painful and draining.
4. MENTAL & EMOTIONAL SPACE. Work. Responsibilities. Obligations. The daily grind. The older we get, the less we make time to just…be. Or be playful, curious and free — free to do the things that bring us fulfillment, joy and purpose. The busier and more tired we get, the more we crave for it. Which is why we need to create this time and space.
But let’s be real: You’re not going to have every one of these things all the time, and there’s no such thing as a perfect, 100% effective self-care routine.
There’s also no such thing as a constantly calm and blissful life.
And no matter how well-planned, organized and ‘prepared’ you are, there will be days where things go wrong. You’ll feel anxious. A relationship will fall apart. You’ll lose your job or a lot of money…or someone you love. Or you’ll fall sick.
But there are steps you can take every day to get closer to being in the state you’re after, more often. Here are mine, which make up what I call my Daily Self-Care Ritual:
#1: GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT IT NEEDS
Photo credit: Hamza Butt
Self care that works starts with this first step because without a body that’s willing and able, everything else falls apart.
It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to have the perfect body or become the world’s fittest (although, if that’s what drives you, all the better)— it just means that you’ve got to give your body what it needs so that you can live the life you want.
Groom yourself so you feel good about how you look. Eat mostly foods that come out of the earth, not out of a box, so your body has all the elements it needs to work the way it should and stay resilient. Strengthen your heart, muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones so they can withstand the wear and tear of living. Let your body rest and rejuvenate when it’s tired.
The key to making this happen regularly is to keep things simple.
#2: BUILD A FLEXIBLE, COMPASSIONATE MIND
We practice physical hygiene — the cleansing, scrubbing, styling, coloring, contouring, stretching and sculpting to get a beautiful, healthy and flexible body. But our mental hygiene rarely gets just as much attention. The result is a mind that’s neglected, rigid and critical, which in turn, creates a life that’s tortured, difficult and painful.
Ease the pain by opening yourself up to new ideas and ways of thinking. Stop allowing your thoughts to consume you. Do this by questioning them and have compassion for yourself, because guess what? You’re human, a human who’s prone to fuck ups, big and small.
But because you choose to be flexible and kind in how you see yourself, you acknowledge that you’re human and learn from your mistakes so they don’t happen again, and you do this without making excuses. You know that who you were yesterday doesn’t have to be who you will be tomorrow.
#3: LET GO OF WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL
This crucial step lightens the load on your shoulders, brings clarity and helps you breathe deeper, easier.
It allows you to see that while there are plenty of things that you want to make go your way, you can’t. You’ll realise that although you may feel that there are lots of things you’re responsible for, the truth is…you’re not. Like the things others choose to do and whether or not they like you. And the (sometimes) hurtful truth is, the answer isn’t always going to be what you want to hear.
Accepting that you have a circle of control and that not everything can fit into it, then living accordingly isn’t just healthy — it’s fucking liberating.
#4: PROTECT YOUR ENERGY
Being around the wrong people can suck your precious, finite energy.
And if you were wondering, here’s my definition of ‘wrong’: Emotional vampires who hang around you for their own selfish purposes, eating up your energy without ever offering anything meaningful in return.
Right now, you probably already have a good idea of who these people are in your life are, but you’ve also probably been avoiding doing something about it. After all, you don’t want to confront (or heaven forbid, offend) anyone. The good news is, you don’t have to. Confession: I’m not a big fan of confrontations either, unless they’re absolutely necessary.
Here’s how: Quietly keep a healthy distance from them. No unpleasant or heated exchange of words required. The smart ones will get the hint. The ones who don’t are either too narcissistic or weren’t paying enough attention to you in the first place — both signs that you need to keep walking in the opposite direction.
Preserve your energy for the ones whom you matter to, and who really matter to you. Give them your all.
#5: LEARN HOW TO BECOME A BETTER HUMAN BEING
Filling your cup is essential for your well-being. You DO need to put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
But once you do, that’s where the ‘others’ come in, specifically, making sure that you’re constantly building your awareness of how you’re living your life, considering how it’s affecting the people around you, and then taking responsibility for it.
Have a tendency to speak before you have a chance to think and usually end up hurting people because of it? You might want to spend some time learning how to take a deep breath (or ten) so you don’t say something that you can’t take back and will likely make you look like an ass.
Find yourself indulging in a bad habit that gives you temporary relief from pain and discomfort, like compulsive shopping or eating? This isn’t good news for your finances, health or relationships.
Keep using anger to get what you want? You’re probably driving people away from you.
Everything you do and every decision that you make has an impact on who you become as a person, and ultimately, your happiness as well that of the people around you, which makes taking responsibility for who you are your ultimate act of self care.
WANT TO START TAKING BETTER CARE OF YOU?
If you’re too busy surviving, chances are, you’re not thriving. You’re feeling tired, unhealthy, unmotivated and just plain worn-out from life. I created my FREE Daily Self-Care Ritual Workbook just for busy folks like you who want to take back their health, peace of mind and happiness. Get your very own copy of the workbook HERE. No spam. Just helpful, good-for-you stuff. Pinky swear.