Self-care is everywhere nowadays. Face masks, workouts, eating plans, juice bars, it seems as though anything can be sold under the umbrella of “self-care”, and maybe it is. I not judging anyone or anything here. I do want to point out that self-care is not just about how we care for our appearance. Please do exercise, eat healthy foods, brush your teeth with charcoal, and drink green juice- but also, please pay attention to attending to the whole self, which includes: the mind, relationships, self-talk, work, limits, sleep, education, space, home life, and gratitude. I’m offering 10 ways to practice today because it’s just so important.
- The mind. I use the term mind to refer to our consciousness- not our thoughts and opinions about our thoughts or actions, but the part of ourselves that can observe all of these thoughts and opinions going on. The part of ourselves that “knows” even if we make a decision based on thought or emotion that is not in our best interest, our mind often is saying to us “I know this is probably not what I want, but…”, this part of of us needs to be nourished as much as anything else. If we ignore the mind, it becomes quieter and we stop trusting. We can care for mind with mindfulness, meditation, mindful movement, spiritual practices, prayer, music, alone time, and spending time observing nature. There are many more that could go on this list, but those are some that I know work for me.
- Relationships. Healthy relationships are an important part of being human. We understand this at some level the moment we are born. We need relationships to survive and thrive. Take time to really invest in the relationships that bring you joy and better your life. Let people know when they have hurt you, but do so with gentleness and curiosity. Apologize when you have hurt someone. Listen deeply to others and breathe before responding. Say no when you need to and say yes when you can. Safety comes first, this advice is intended for safe relationships to improve and grow.
- Self-talk. How many times a day are you telling yourself you are not good enough? That you are a bad person? Or some other negative statement about yourself? Our bodies respond to this information and over time, we start to believe these thoughts as fact. Make a choice to notice when these types of thoughts show up for you and challenge them with some self-compassion statements. An example: I forgot to pick up my friend from the airport. I might catch myself saying “You are so stupid, you always forget things, leaving your friend at the airport, why would anyone want to be your friend”… ouch! Notice the judgement. Challenge the mind to respond to the error in a different way. I believe the starting with the words “of course it makes sense”, helps me find the words when I am noticing harsh self-talk. An example: I forgot to pick up my friend from the airport. Notice the hurtful thoughts about self in that moment (this is why mindfulness is such a valuable practice, it helps me notice this moment) stop, breathe, insert the words “of course it makes sense” I’m feeling this _____, and may I be gentle with myself. Right then a softness occurs. If I’m gentle with myself, my self-talk could sound more like this. I forgot to pick my friend up at the airport. I’m feeling some guilt and embarrassment, maybe even shame. Of course that makes sense, I forgot something important to me and I am human therefore I sometimes forget things, I’ve had a busy week, I will make it up to them. Let me see how I can solve this. This sort of mindful communication with self will allow you to stay out of a punishing mind set and we can still repair with our friend and own our mistakes with gentleness and compassion.
- Work. Do you love the work you do? Could you love the work you do? Sometimes we have to do what we have to do to provide for our basic needs and the needs of our loved ones. I get it. You may not love what you do and there may not be a short term solution to that. If however, the work you do is against your moral values, it may be very difficult to maintain long term. Start making plans to make changes so that long term, if possible, you can enjoy your work. If the work itself is not a problem, but your work life is complicated by difficulties with co-workers or gossip, here are some tips: don’t gossip, and refrain from speech that could cause harm. If you are overhearing gossip, avoid joining in and get away. Also, don’t agree to optional extra work if you don’t have the energy to do it. Pushing harder and harder only causes resentment and fatigue. More on that in section 5 on limits. Do agree to help out when you do have the energy. Thank others often. Bring food and/or other forms of treats for co-workers occasionally. Take breaks often. If you stand and walk regularly, make sure to rest. If you sit, take walking breaks. Take time each day to spend five minutes breathing before work, at lunch, and before leaving work. Notice transitions mindfully. Each time you enter or leave a room, that is a transition. Take the moment to notice that- we spend a lot of time three steps ahead and long term that manifests as anxiety.
- Limits. Limits are hard, especially if you learned at a young age that saying no was not allowed or selfish. If that is case for you, return to section 3 because chances are if you set a limit with someone you may experience some guilt. And of course that make sense, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to say no to things. Limits are all about mindfully checking in with ourselves when something is being asked of us. Do I want to? If I do, do I have the energy to do it? If I don’t want to do it, but I really value the person that is asking me would it be an act of kindness to do it? Could I say yes with the intent of kindness and without holding resentment? Some of us say no too often, due to fear, social anxiety, or unwillingness. In this case, check in with yourself mindfully to see if you could say yes, throw your whole self in and observe the effects of that action. You may notice that agreeing to things once in a while is opening your heart to more joy and deeper connections.
- Sleep. Sleep is very important for our health and unfortunately most of us are running on a deficit. Creating a healthy sleep routine can increase the quality of sleep we can achieve. Start by turning off your screens one hour before bed, keep your bed a separate area for sleep, no homework, work, watching TV etc. in bed. Bed is for sleeping. These are typical sleep hygiene tips, but coming at this from a mindfulness perspective, I would like to add daily mindful movement, working on loving kindness as a daily practice, working on forgiveness of self and others, letting go of grudges, reducing anger response, allowing yourself to feel your emotions, spending time in your body, and if you need help, finding a therapist that can help you work through these feelings.
- Education. I know this might not seem like self-care, but it is. Education is important to a person’s self-respect and growth. I by no means am suggesting that education must be a part of a school or college experience. Education comes from all sorts of places: talking to others and mindfully listening to other’s perspectives, reading, pod casts, and many other places. If formal education is not possible or not your thing, no problem. Spend time educating yourself on differing opinions than yours, talk to people with different back grounds and beliefs, do this to understand and grow with an open heart and non-judgemental stance. The goal here is to learn- change may or may not be a part of that, so there is no need for resistance.
- Space. Look around your home, your office, your car, anywhere that you spend a considerable amount of time. Are there places that need attention? This is very similar to the way we treat our selves, we may ignore the places that need attention and therefore continue a cycle of self-doubt or restlessness. Spend time coming up with a plan to create a space you feel at peace in. Bring in nature: plants, rocks, flowers, photos. Reduce clutter and get rid of things that cause you discomfort. Donate things that you don’t use and create areas of sanctuary.
- Home life. I think by now you are starting to pick up on the idea that how we do anything is how we do everything. Ask yourself the difficult questions here. Is my home life what I want it to be? I am not referring to having the “perfect” house, or material things. I talking about our relationships: our partners, children, pets, relatives. Am I able to give my home life the attention it needs to enhance my relationships at home and therefore create more connection? The more connection the more self respect. The more self respect the less suffering. Some of this we have control over and some we don’t- I know that is true. Can we change the things we do have control over to create a home life that we want to come home to? A place of loving awareness for ourselves. Are we setting limits with our jobs to be able to do this? Can we say no? Can we say yes? Can we put down our phones and connect? Much easier said than done. Please re-read 1-6 as a helpful guide on working toward this.
- Gratitude. Practice gratitude daily. Multiple times a day works too. When we are feeling annoyed, irritated, angry, sad, hopeless, look around, can you name one thing you are grateful for? Keep a gratitude journal and start each day with naming three things to be grateful for. If you notice a lot of self-judgement, try to notice that and stop to turn the mind to gratefulness. Maybe this example will help illustrate what I mean by this. While I was hiking last summer I noticed myself caught in a moment of self-judgment and anger. It was a more challenging hike that I had anticipated and I notice my thoughts were turning to how out of shape I was, how I didn’t exercise enough, comparing myself to people passing me on the trail, comparing myself to a younger version of myself that was more in shape. The more the thoughts came, the more tension I felt in my body, the more tension I felt in my body, the shorter and sharper I was with my hiking partner. “Slow down!”, I yelled. This was an opportunity for me to turn my mind to gratitude. I started by thanking my thighs for being able to carry me up this trail. I thanked my heart for pumping blood to my body. I began to feel a deep sense of gratefulness for what I am able to do and how my body can support me. My heart softened, my body relaxed, I apologized for my sharpness and I continued with gentleness and compassion for myself as I am.
I know this is a longer post than usual, I appreciate you spending the time to read it. I hope you hang on to it to refer back to and practice some of the tips I’ve offered. Start with one section, don’t get to overwhelmed with all of the information. And if you do, notice those thoughts and return to gentle awareness and gratitude for all you do.