“Self-care” is everywhere these days, flooding podcasts and social media feeds with advice, research, and of course, advertising. In our consumer culture, valuable ideas are often diminished or oversimplified in order to capitalize on what is trending. Following suit, “self-care” has become a buzzword used to sell things like face masks, essential oils, and spa getaways.
Don’t get me wrong, those are some of my favorite things! But when our concept of self-care is limited to cosmetic upkeep and aromatherapy, we are not able to experience its full benefits. Self-care is a crucial part of maintaining long-term mental, physical, spiritual, social, and emotional health. These are all susceptible to stress, and the condition of one area impacts the rest. Stress can manifest itself in a variety of health problems:
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment
- Aches and pains
- Frequent colds or flu
- Changes in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Social withdrawal
- Increased drug or alcohol use
Here are some ideas for creating an effective self-care plan:
Make the Time
Having a consistent self-care practice makes us better equipped to handle stressors when they inevitably arise. But this may be more easily said than done in a society that idolizes job performance and busy schedules.
Truly impactful self-care requires that you routinely carve out time and space for yourself; if you struggle to prioritize “me time,” you might need to literally schedule it. Does this sound impossible? Don’t worry! You don’t have to start each day with an hour of meditation to experience the benefits of self-care. Setting aside five or ten minutes for doing a body scan or keeping a gratitude journal can make a big difference. In fact, some recommended self-care activities, like maintaining a consistent sleep schedule or a healthy diet, may already be part of your routine. If not, that might be a good place to start.
Often, our go-to methods of relaxation don’t contribute much to our overall wellbeing (hello, scrolling through Facebook) or they’re simply distractions from the stress of the day. Sure, sometimes a solo pizza and five hours of your favorite show are just what you need — but that doesn’t mean you should work them into your weekly schedule! It’s important to be intentional about the kinds of self-care you practice. For example, you might get into bed at the same time each night only to look at your phone until you fall asleep. Because the light and activity from your phone can negatively affect your sleep quality, this part of your routine may negate the benefits of sticking to a sleep schedule. Instead, try a screenless activity like reading, journaling, or listening to calming music to help you wind down. Simple substitutions in your daily routine can help you create a better self-care plan.
Listen to Yourself
This is not one-size-fits-all, so if going for a morning run sounds as bad to you as it does me, it’s probably not the kind of self-care you need. Remember, no one knows you better than you know yourself. Honor your wants, needs, likes, and dislikes, and don’t worry about what other people do take care of themselves. Instead, be the curator of your own experience. Engage with the people, places, and pastimes that bring you joy or add meaning to your life. Self-care shouldn’t feel like another task on your to-do list!
Sometimes listening to yourself means adjusting your plans in the moment. Setting time aside for yourself is important, but so is being flexible. Let your body give you cues and allow yourself to change up the routine in response. If you’re not sure what you need, sit quietly and notice how you’re feeling. When you bring yourself into the present, you might realize that you’re not up for that group exercise class. That’s okay! Just make sure you still use the time for self-care.
If you’re interested in improving your self-care practice, but you’re not sure where to start, try this planning worksheet.