Self-care is a term that has been popular across social media platforms, podcasts, health and wellness blogs, and mental health literature. Most definitions of self-care include taking an active role in protecting or preserving one’s well-being, especially during stressful times. While it is absolutely true that during times of stress we tend to need some extra TLC, coping strategies, and feel-good moments, it’s just as important to make these resources available to ourselves every day! This upstream approach will allow you to better handle incoming stressors, as opposed to finding techniques at a time when you are most in need. Creating your own toolbox of self-care strategies that work specifically for you is the most important piece of any self-care practice.
Some ideas to add to your own personalized self-care toolbox:
Try It, Take It, or Leave It:
Don’t be afraid to sample the menu of self-care options and only stick with what works for you. Yoga, taking a warm bath, going for a walk, running, getting a massage, or meditation. All of these are wonderful, but not all need to be in your toolbox. If doing a certain workout leaves you feeling positive with increased energy or allows you to relax your mind for a few minutes, add it to your toolbox. Sometimes knowing the why behind your self-care activity is also helpful. Maybe you enjoy yoga when it’s with a friend or with a certain instructor. Maybe you like taking a bath when no one else is home. It is also worth mentioning that there is no shame in recognizing that a particular activity doesn’t quite work for you. Just because your best friend or a wellness influencer swears by shiatsu massage, doesn’t mean it is going to reap the same benefits for you. Self-care is not one-size-fits-all. Lastly, don’t be afraid to outgrow your self-care practices. If a certain meditation or mindfulness activity was helpful for you in the past but it no longer seems valuable, choose a new tool from the toolbox.
Not So Fun Self-Care:
Sometimes self-care doesn’t look like fun and relaxation, but is needed to actually take care of your physical and mental health. Finally scheduling the dentist appointment you’ve been putting off. Organizing the bathroom closet. Writing an email you’ve been wanting to send. Resolving a recent conflict with a friend or sibling. While these may not be at the top of your want-to-do list, they are examples of how self-care shows up in different, but important ways.
Self-care can include social support and spending time with others. Having a close friend, a partner, or a family member who helps to improve your mood and whose company you enjoy is a necessary self-care practice. Decades of research have shown that social support is one of the greatest predictors of resilience to stress. Identifying a couple of individuals in your life as your go-to people when you need to vent, laugh, cry, or just get out of the house, is so important to your mental health. Even having them listed as favorites/speed dial in your phone is a good idea. Also important is knowing which people in your life are good in certain circumstances, and being honest with yourself about what you need in the moment. Do you need to watch a movie with someone and not talk a lot, or do you need to get dressed up and go out for dinner with a friend or loved one? Checking in with yourself to see where your social battery is at is equally important.
On-going self care!
You don’t have to wait until you are feeling overwhelmed, over-stressed, sad, or anxious to have the need for self-care. Actually, the more you can embed self-care practices into your daily life, the better. This can look like practicing deep breathing before bed each night so that when you do encounter a super stressful moment, your body is well-versed in how to slow down your breathing and calm your mind and body. Setting boundaries with others is also a great on-going self care practice. This includes letting coworkers know that you won’t respond to emails after 8pm unless it’s an emergency (and following through on this) or practicing saying “no” to social plans you do not feel like engaging in or events you don’t feel like attending.
Overall, self-care should be what works for you and is always evolving. Don’t be afraid to play around with new ideas when it comes to caring for your wellbeing. You might be surprised with what you discover about yourself in this process!