We have all heard that it is important to take care of ourselves. Too often it takes an event to bring that lesson home. Maybe it is something minor like forgetting a birthday or life-altering news of a medical diagnosis that provides a wake-up call. Self-care is not just a good idea, it is necessary. Stress affects both our physical and mental health. It also impacts our ability to be present and care for others.
It's time to add yourself to the list of people to whom you show love. Here are some tips to get started:
- Keep your promises (especially to yourself). If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? If you schedule the time to read, knit, take a walk, or do whatever energizes you – do it. If you wouldn’t use an excuse to cancel on your boss, don’t use it break a promise to yourself.
- Differentiate between self-care and bingeing. Netflix marathons and “retail therapy” are often described as “me time." However, these behaviors rarely relieve stress. In fact, they often create more stress or guilt afterward.
- Know the difference between self-care and exhaustion. Self-care is intentionally scheduling something that you enjoy and is important to you. While making time to watch a favorite show might be self-care, collapsing in front of whatever is on the TV is not.
- Be intentional. Plan ahead and schedule time for things you enjoy. Look forward to that time.
- Get to know what you like. You may get an idea for self-care from a blog or a friend and find that it does not work for you. That is okay. If you thought you would love journaling and you don’t, it is okay to stop and try something else. Be aware of how you feel when you think about doing an activity and after you have completed it.
- Allow yourself to change. When I first started focusing on self-care, I thought about all the things I loved to do before I had children. I failed to realize more than 16 years had passed since I had done some of these activities. I still exercise as part of my self-care but I have moved from running to dance and yoga.
- Work with your schedule. Reflect on your day and think about when it would be easiest to make time for self-care. A friend of mine found that after she dropped off her child at school, she would arrive at work 20 minutes early. One day instead of going straight to work, she stopped at a park. Now she uses those twenty minutes to meditate, pray or take a walk.
- Start with small changes. What could you do with 5 or 10 minutes? I used to think I didn’t have enough time to play outside with my kids during the week. A co-worker challenged me to set aside 10 minutes. I took the kitchen timer outside so I wouldn’t look at my watch. Spending 10 minutes completely present with my kids made a world of difference for them and for me that evening.
- Ask for help. Getting help with self-care can be as simple as having a friend hold you accountable for prioritizing sleep or eating lunch. You could need more help with finding someone to babysit or help with cooking. Large or small, it is often hard to ask for assistance. However, you may be surprised by the response. I remember the first time another parent said, “I would be happy to help.” I realized that was true. Now we not only get time for ourselves by picking up and watching each other’s children, but we have the joy of a relationship focused on caring for each other.
I hope as you care for yourself, you will increase your joy. Bringing more joy into your home and workplace is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and others.