11 Essential Ways to Practice Self-Care
Running from this to that. Buttering toast. Remembering to switch from slippers to flats. Remembering to take the laundry out of the dryer.
Making appointments, changing appointments, sitting in meetings. Thinking about taking a nap in the car.
Showering. Maybe shaving our legs, or maybe not.
Drinking lemon water on Monday, and on Tuesday. Forgetting the rest of the week, or being lazy because the lemons are not already sliced.
Putting pajamas on our kids. Changing diapers, singing songs, and laughing.
Falling asleep while holding our kindle, three pages in. Checking email one last time before setting the alarm. Doing it all again.
Does this sound like the pace of your days? I know it’s been mine, on occasion.
But something’s missing. This isn’t the kind of frenzied pace that’s sustainable.
How are you?
Busy. Super busy.
Busy, but you know, good.
Busy is a badge of honor, a default.
Lifehacker notes how easy it is to “take the ‘hard work pays off’ adage too far, to the point that it becomes counterproductive. Your abilities are worn. Your skills aren’t as sharp. You lose focus. You might think you’re working hard, and maybe you are in some ways, but you’re not working efficiently.”
We know this. Deep down, we understand it in our hearts to be true.
Busy is a choice, a conscious decision to stretch ourselves too thin and limit our own capacities to care for ourselves.
And it’s a difficult habit to break.
Certainly, in life there are responsibilities we must and should undertake. Some seasons are more strained than others.
Yes, we will always be challenged to find ways to support ourselves alongside others we care about, or projects we give ourselves over to. This isn’t something that is easily solved in a day or a week.
Mindful living is learned over time, and like everything else worth doing well, a practice.
If busy is our default, self-care is sometimes quite the opposite.
It’s not our first instinct to stop and ask what we need, or check in with our bodies and see how we’re truly feeling. Even if we get to this point of awareness, taking action can also be difficult.
Ok, I’m feeling a bit tired. I’d like to rest.
Then the baby wakes from his nap. The laundry stops spinning. The colleague pops in unannounced for a chat. The family member texts that she must speak with you urgently. Now.
It’s important to mention that self-care is not selfish.
Self-care also need not be indulgent, along the lines of an entire day devoted to the spa or a week-long meditation retreat.
Self-care is as small as telling ourselves a new story.
As small as glancing in the mirror and being grateful for what you see. As small as writing two sentences strung together in a journal.
Self-care is anything that moves your attention inward and nourishes you mind, body, and soul.
SIMPLE WAYS TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND FIND A BIT OF CALM
1. Change your sheets
There’s nothing quite like crawling into a freshly made bed. Newly laundered sheets feel amazing, and helps your body easily sink into the mattress and drift to sleep. When it’s not laundry day, simply making your bed is enough to help encourage relaxation. According to a National Sleep Foundation survey, people who make their beds every day were almost 20 percent more likely to report getting a good night’s sleep than those who don’t make their beds.
2. Start reading a new book
Notice I didn’t say pick up an old book off the shelf. There’s something a bit more exhilarating about starting fresh with new words you haven’t read before, no? (This post has a few good recommendations.)
3. Create a tea ritual
I’ve always believed tea is best enjoyed when you have a few minutes to spare. From a self-care perspective, it’s far more relaxing to sit quietly and feel a hot mug in your palms than pour tea into a travel cup when you’re rushing out the door.
To this end, try a nighttime tea ritual. After dinner (and after kids are put to bed, if you have them), brew chamomile or another decaf herbal blend, sit in your favorite place in the living room in partial darkness (or even curl up to watch your favorite show), and relax.
4. Go to a movie
When was the last time you went to a movie? Bonus points for going alone, or with a friend, and letting yourself get lost in someone else’s story for a few hours. Just be sure to choose a comedy or romance.
5. Stay hydrated
Simply drinking enough water during the day can help you feel more alert and well-rested. Psych Central notes dehydration is linked to mood changes and lack of concentration, so focusing on this small habit can greatly improve your overall wellbeing. If you want to make it a habit, check out this simple tip from Melyssa Griffin.
6. Take short walks
William Wordsworth walked an average of six and a half miles a day, but if an afternoon strolling through the English countryside isn’t an option (sigh), do what you can. Get up and walk around the block for five minutes. Host a walking meeting with a coworker. Take the stairs. Feel the air on your skin, and release your mind for a few moments. It might even lead to clarity on a creative project.
7. Turn down social events
Whenever I’m asked to go somewhere, get together, do something, or otherwise leave the comfort of my home, I ask myself the following question: What value will I get out of this? It’s a useful barometer for deciding which events to attend. I typically choose quality over quantity, especially when spending time with friends and family.
There are as many ways to journal as there are notebooks to choose from, and there’s really no right way to go about this ritual. You can write one sentence a day (like I do), keep a dream journal or record inspiring quotes. Leo Babauta doesn’t even write full sentences!
No matter how you choose to write, it puts you in a mindset of paying attention to your day in a different way, and can enhance your overall wellbeing in the process. (Not to mention, it will help you remember what’s going on in your life emotionally, especially during the busy times.)
9. Care for succulents
Succulents (or any plant, for that matter), are elegant, low-maintenance, and enhance your physical space. It’s also no surprise to discover “as with simply being in nature, being around plants improves concentration, memory, and productivity.” Pick up a few pre-potted beauties at your local gardening store, and place them intentionally around your home or office. Don’t forget to water them!
Perhaps the simplest and most difficult thing of all: sleep. Arianna Huffington thinks it’s so important, she had nap rooms installed at The Huffington Post and wrote a whole book about it. Going to bed earlier, utilizing aromatherapy, and keeping your room dark are just a few of the ways to help enhance your evening routine.
11. Let go of anger
When you’re feeling depleted, even if you’ve incorporated some self-care practices into your day, one very important way to nurture yourself is through your heart. You might not consider yourself an angry person, but even small frustrations throughout the day can keep us in a stiff, unforgiving state.
Say, someone cuts you off in traffic. You’re invited to more meetings than you have time for. Your dog knocks over a lamp. You forget to grab the lunch you packed the night before.
Of course, there are also the larger, much deeper things we would be better off addressing.
Christiane Northrup writes “the key is to feel that anger and then move on. Anger and blame are a necessary stop on the road of life, but they make a lousy destination. The longer we stay in this mode, searching for a perpetrator to blame for what happened to us, the more our bodies are energetically depleted.”
Big or small, let it go.
So back to your day. Your toast-buttering, carpool-driving, meeting-driven, or family-centered day.
Where can you spend a few moments caring for yourself?
Because nothing will change if we do not pay attention and make an effort.
We must remain aware day by day, hour by hour, and when we can, moment by moment, of how we’re actually feeling. And instead of brushing those feelings aside, we choose to do the most difficult thing of all: we listen.
Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea drinker from Los Angeles. She pens the literary food blog Eat This Poem, and writes about writing at nicolemgulotta.com.