December 2020

WHAT ABOUT ME? Self-care: The gift that keeps on giving

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Raise your hand if you are exhausted: your multi-tasking, people-pleasing personality keeps you going through the motions, but your body, mind and spirit are screaming for a break. If you find yourself living in this constant state of stress and overwhelm—taking care of everybody else’s needs with no time for yourself—stop it! Because running around like a headless chicken is (a) unattractive (b) draining the life out of you, and © stealing your joy. It’s time to start looking out for number one.

The case for self-care
As we enter the season of giving and as the year 2020 takes her last breath, never has there been a more compelling time to look at how we’re taking care of ourselves. After all, we cannot possibly show up at our best for others when we are not showing up for ourselves.

If you are accustomed to putting everyone else’s needs at the top of your to-do list, you may feel a twinge of guilt when you begin making yourself a priority. But remember, self-care isn’t selfish. If you don’t set boundaries and take care of yourself, your health and well-being are at risk. And if you are neglecting yourself, you can’t possibly be helping others.

What is self-care?
The term self-care gets thrown around rather casually these days, most often in the context of spa treatments, which are valid tools for relaxation and rejuvenation and part of a healthy self-care routine. But self-care goes far deeper than a monthly massage.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self-care can be defined as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” To be truly effective, self-care must encompass our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. It must become an integral part of our daily routine without becoming another check box on an endless task list.

Self-care is not something we force ourselves to do, but it is something we actively plan and enjoy. It can be as simple as taking a walk, listening to music, reading a magazine, working a jigsaw puzzle, soaking in a warm bath, taking a nap, chatting with a trusted friend, facetiming with the grandchildren, playing fetch with the dog, engaging in a sport or hobby, attending church, practicing yoga, praying and/or meditating.

Self-care looks different for different people. For some, a rousing game of pickleball or a round of golf is the ticket to decompressing from the stresses of the day. Others might find a solitary walk on the beach more refreshing. The key is to be honest with yourself about what rejuvenates you vs. what depletes you.

Laying the foundation
Healthy eating is a foundational piece of anyone’s self-care plan. But that doesn’t mean dieting. Being hungry, deprived and miserable is not taking care of yourself. Think instead of properly fueling and feeding your body the basic nutrition needed to function at work, home, and play: high-quality protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and water. Eating mostly unprocessed foods can stabilize your energy and mood and lower your risk for chronic illness, which is the basis of all self-care.

If you are already a healthy eater, self-care for you might be a planned indulgence—a treat that is not necessarily healthy but gives you pleasure. The trick is to grant yourself permission to enjoy it without the usual side of guilt, regret, or impending payback.

Exercising regularly is also an important part of staying both physically and mentally healthy. It doesn’t have to consist of a gym routine or training for a marathon, although it might very well if you find satisfaction in challenging workouts. Otherwise, exercise can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking or biking instead of driving. Daily exercise, however you choose to get it, produces stress-relieving hormones and improves your general health.

Ditto for getting enough sleep and rest. Establishing a regular bedtime and before-bed ritual can go a long way towards a good night’s sleep. Turning off your TV and electronic devices about 30 minutes before you go to bed can also enhance the quality of your sleep and vastly improve your health.

Balancing social time vs. alone time is another essential element of self-care that is highly individual in scope. A whirlwind social schedule can be exhausting or exhilarating, depending on your individual needs. Conversely, spending time alone can be a refreshing part of your self-care plan. Completely isolating yourself from others is not self-care. Look for the sweet spot.

Making room for ‘me time’
Having a hard time figuring out how to fit in more “me time”? Self-care does not have to take copious amounts of time. Instead of waiting to see if you have time to spare, add some self-care activities to your schedule and plan around them. Go ahead and commit to the monthly massage, the weekly tennis lesson, the daily yoga practice, the morning devotional, the nightly bubble bath, regular stretch breaks in your day—whatever feeds your spirit. The idea is to make these activities part of your routine instead of something you squeeze in randomly.

In her book The Art of Extreme Self-Care, work/life balance expert and New York Times bestselling author Cheryl Richardson said, “…if your life is chaotic, your schedule is overcrowded, and your brain is too full to think straight, the key to reclaiming your life has a lot more to do with what you remove from your life than how you organize it.”

This may sound radical, but one of the best ways to begin taking better care of yourself is by learning to say no. Go ahead and disappoint someone, Richardson suggests.

Think of things you no longer want to do or would like to stop doing in order to protect your time and energy. If you are unaccustomed to putting yourself first, weeding out your obligations is likely to be a gradual process rather than an overnight life makeover. And yes, there will be days when self-care gets put on the back burner in spite of your best intentions. Be kind to yourself. Don’t punish yourself for being too busy to sit down with a book. It’s more important that the changes you make are sustainable and nourishing, not a burden or a chore.

If you’re still worried about letting others down by focusing on yourself, think of self-care as a gift to all who love you. Family, friends and loved ones will benefit by getting to know a less frazzled, more relaxed and contented version of you—the you that can be fully present for them because your own needs have been met.

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