Guide to Self Care

September is Self-Care Awareness Month, which means it’s a great time to discuss taking good care of yourself and explore your own self-care habits. Use this month to learn about what self-care really is and how it can have a huge impact on your life and the lives of those around you. You should aim to understand why self-care is so important and what it looks like on a daily basis. You can also read about some different self-care techniques and explore new ways to show yourself some love this month and every month going forward.

Why Is Self-Care Important?

Taking care of yourself is a key part of being healthy, both mentally and physically. Particularly if you struggle with depression, anxiety, or some other form of mental health challenges, self-care is even more important. The demands of everyday life can be quite overwhelming, and filling all the various roles in your life can leave you exhausted and worn out. You may be a parent, a sibling, an employee, a spouse, a friend, and more, and while you may love your life and most of your responsibilities, you have to take some time to take care of yourself on a regular basis. If you do not have good physical or mental health, you won’t be able to fill those roles nearly as well as if you were healthy, rested, and taken care of. Sometimes, we get so used to meeting deadlines and completing the to-do list and taking care of others that we don’t even realize we are neglecting ourselves. We wonder why we’re so exhausted every single night and why we’re unhappy even when things seem to be going well. A lot of that comes down to self-care. If you’re not taking time to refresh and recharge yourself, you will likely get overrun with exhaustion and may even find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression. As the saying goes, you can’t pour into others from an empty cup, so you need to make sure you’re taking time regularly to fill your own cup. You can’t and shouldn’t rely on others to fill your cup for you, so you need to explore your current self-care practices and make any changes to ensure you’re doing a good job taking care of yourself.

Does Self-Care Mean I Have to Change Everything About My Life?

When some people hear the term “self-care,” they think about lavish weekend getaways, weekly massage appointments, and the like. Others think it means they need to take up a morning yoga routine or change their entire diet to ensure they’re as healthy as possible. While all of those things can be considered forms of self-care, they are not exactly what we’re talking about here. Taking better care of yourself doesn’t mean you have to change your entire life, and it doesn’t even mean you have to change your daily routine or your bad habits. It simply means that you intentionally choose yourself on occasion, and that means doing something for yourself that makes you feel cared for. Imagine that a spouse or friend treated you to a fun day out for your birthday. What would that look like? Self-care is about doing something like that for yourself just because. It may be about treating yourself to a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop once a week or not cleaning the kitchen after dinner one night so you can take a bath instead. It may mean going out golfing with your friends on a Saturday morning or taking a random mental health day off from work just because you can. It may be a routine thing for you, such as implementing a skincare routine or working out first thing in the morning, but it may not be. It’s not about changing every aspect of your life or even about neglecting the people around you. Self-care is simply choosing to take care of yourself on occasion to keep your cup filled up. 

How Does Self-Care Affect My Physical Health?

It may come as a surprise to many people that the more stressed and overwhelmed you are, the more your body will start to physically react, often in negative ways. Self-care is a way for you to take control of your mental and physical health for the better. You may notice that when you are stressed out about something at work that not only are your thoughts going a mile a minute, but your shoulders and back are also tense or you have trouble sleeping. Choosing moments throughout your days and weeks to focus on self-care can make a huge impact on your health habits. Self-care activities don’t always have to be physical activities, though incorporating an exercise into your routine can make a big impact. Activities from walking around the block to practicing yoga are low-impact ways to get your body moving, your heart pumping, and oxygen flowing. However, self-care can also take the form of spending time thoughtfully prepping a healthy meal for yourself or even for the whole family to enjoy. Small things like paying attention to the amount of water you drink or even infusing water with fresh fruits are both ways of taking care of your physical health and also a way to practice self-care. 

When Self-Care Feels Selfish

Even in today’s world where people are often too focused on themselves, for some reason self-care still gets neglected quite often. The main reason is that it’s viewed as selfish to pick yourself over someone else. It’s considered self-centered to say no to helping a friend because you planned to go get your nails done, or to turn down an outing with the in-laws because you made plans to go out with your buddies. There is a fine line between taking care of yourself and being selfish, but most people tend to choose others over themselves so much that they end up struggling with depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and other mental health challenges because of it. Sometimes, you do need to put yourself aside and do whatever needs to be done for your family, your job, or something else. But you should never neglect yourself or put yourself in uncomfortable or unwanted situations just because it’s the nice thing to do. Be aware of your wants and needs, and take care of yourself in whatever way you see fit. Taking care of yourself through simple self-care activities is a great way to affirm your self-worth and remind yourself that you matter and you deserve to be treated well too. 

Who Can Benefit From Self-Care?

Self-care is for everyone: from energetic school children to stressed-out office workers to family caregivers, anyone can benefit from a little self-care every now and then. Everyone struggles with their mental health from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes in life, you may find yourself more than capable of handling what your job throws at you, but other times the stress of a particular project or deadline might completely overwhelm you. It’s okay to struggle with your mental health sometimes. What is important is how you treat yourself when you know you are struggling. Self-care is a way to actively choose to help improve your mental well-being. Practicing self-care is a great way to train your child or teach yourself how to be more resilient when life throws you curveballs and you find yourself stressed. It’s how we deal with life’s stressors that helps strengthen our mental health, and practicing self-care is one of the best coping skills out there. 

Some people have diagnosed mental health disorders, and learning how to practice self-care can also be a great coping skill for managing symptoms. If you struggle with anxiety, you may find that talking out your worries and fears with a trusted friend or therapist may help. In addition, self-care activities to help with anxiety may also include writing down those worries and fears in a journal and then making space to allow your mind to quiet down. Those who struggle with depression may find that self-care activities like going outdoors and breathing fresh air can help you focus on something else and remind yourself of the beauty in nature. Self-care is by no means a cure for anything, but it is vital to help remind yourself that you matter. Taking care of yourself is a way to show yourself love, and everyone can benefit from feeling loved and cared for. No matter your mental health disorder, there are so many ways to practice self-care and help promote healthier coping strategies and greater self-awareness.  

What Are Some Ways to Show Yourself Love?

Self-care begins when you choose to love and care for yourself, mentally and physically. Choosing to love yourself and accepting yourself for who you are excellent steps in caring for yourself. Take the time to practice self-care and by doing so, you are letting your body and your emotions know that they are seen and heard and accepted. Remember that when we talk about self-care, we’re not necessarily talking about hugely ornate experiences to refresh your physical and mental health. There is a time and place for those, but you can start taking better care of yourself right now with just a few of these self-care techniques.  

Be aware of yourself. Think about your physical needs and what you can do to make yourself feel better physically. Do you need a nap, some water, or a healthy snack? Maybe you need to go for a run or take a hot bath or make a doctor’s appointment about something you’ve been worried about. Be aware of your physical needs and do what you need to do to meet them. 

Be honest with yourself. If something is upsetting you, let yourself think about it and process it. Maybe you need to talk to a friend about it, journal about it, or speak to a counselor. Ignoring stressors does not make them go away, and they can actually impact your physical and mental health far more than you realize when you try to ignore them.

Be thankful. Even in the direst of circumstances, there is always something to be thankful for. And more likely than not, being consciously thankful for something even when life is hard will help you be more positive, happier, and healthier. Being grateful can do a lot for your mood and mindset, and intentionally choosing to focus on the positives in your life is a great way to take good care of yourself. 

Do things that bring you joy. Most of us have hobbies that are incredibly neglected due to the responsibilities of life. You may plan to take part in your hobby after the kids go to bed or over the weekend or on your next day off, but you’re either too tired to do it or something comes up that has you pushing back the time again. Make time for these things, and don’t hesitate to schedule them in if you have to. 

Take time for yourself. This can be incredibly challenging in today’s world, but it’s an important aspect of self-care that is often overlooked. Make a date with yourself and do whatever you’d like during that time. Ignore your phone, don’t do anything on your to-do list, and just enjoy being alone. Be at peace with your thoughts during this time and do something that is fun or relaxing to you. Allow yourself to clear your mind of your responsibilities or the needs of others for the time, and just take some quality time to be alone. 

Practice saying “no”. Practicing how to decline invitations in favor of self-care may feel scary at first, but reminding letting others and yourself that your time is valuable can actually help relieve stress. Not only are you allowing yourself space to rest and rejuvenate, but you may also inspire others to do the same. Putting yourself first by politely saying “no” can help boost your confidence and allow for more guilt-free self-care time.

Get organized. When life gets overwhelming you might find it even more difficult than normal to balance all your demands. Putting a calendar on the fridge or a to-do list on the counter can help remind you of the tasks ahead, while also helping organize your days. If you already have a maxed out planner, then you might also find organizing your digital life to be a stress reliever. Be thoughtful about who you follow on social media and use handy tools to allow you to unfollow someone’s negative feed without unfriending them and feeling rude.

Spend time in nature. One free form of self-care is to simply go outside! Breathing fresh air while taking a walk in your neighborhood or even setting out a blanket and watching the clouds go by. If you have a dog, try scheduling daily walks down a quiet street or in a nearby park. Pets offer the added bonus of showering you with unconditional love no matter what mood you are in.

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quiet activity that allows you to focus on your inner self through meditation. This type of activity only takes about 5-10 minutes of your day and helps you to feel centered and energized. Journaling can help relieve your mind of its many thoughts by writing them down. Taking a moment to practice mindfulness can be as simple a sitting in a comfortable pose with your spine straight and focusing on your breathing, tuning out all other thoughts and sounds.  

Change some health habits. If your physical health is a struggle, implementing self-care may be about changing some daily habits. This may mean cooking more often, drinking more water on a daily basis, implementing an exercise routine, or improving hygiene habits. You know what your body needs to function better and feel better, so embrace those things and make positive changes in your life. 

Self-Care Splurges

All the self-care strategies listed above are free or low-cost options to help you practice self-care with the tools you already have and in the environments you already inhabit. If you are interested in exploring ways to splurge on self-care, consider one-time opportunities as well as continuous care. One-time opportunities can include joining a gym or yoga studio, attending a self-care retreat, or taking a solo trip out of town and leaving your computer behind.  Continuous care opportunities can include regularly meeting with a therapist to talk through your challenges, goals, and successes. Therapy can be a great place to learn about new self-care strategies, learn more about yourself and why certain self-care options work better for you than others, and practice self-care by taking the time and making the investment in yourself and your mental health. No matter where you go or how much money you do or don’t spend, self-care can be accomplished in many ways and can lead to a healthier, happier life.

Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. It takes trying out things you think you will enjoy and even finding out new ways you never thought you would consider. Even the simple act of trying a new way of self-care can be a form of self-care: you are opening up your mind to new ideas and exploring the unknown. While it may not take away every stressor or moment of feeling blue, practicing self-care more regularly in your life means you will be more likely to reach out for those techniques when you are feeling down. Don’t set yourself up for failure: set small, achievable goals for scheduling self-care and let those small victories encourage you to expand your routine. 

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