How to set up self-care practices that work
Good self-care helps improve our mood, reduces anxiety, and can help us come out of depression. While we want to make as many choices as we can in a day that aid in taking care of ourselves – getting outside in the sun, being social, eating nutritious food, exercising, stimulating our mind – it is also important to set aside time during the week to do something a little extra special just for you. When we take care of ourselves, our relationships with others also improve, as well as our productivity.
Self-care is different for different people, but the main point is that self-care will leave us feeling refueled, not more drained. If you are extraverted you might want to get your nails done with some friends; while if you are more introverted setting aside time to read at home might sound more refueling. Your self-care should be something that is naturally appealing to you. If you want to learn to play an instrument but find yourself getting frustrated as you do so, that might not be the best option for you – whereas if you find yourself feeling relaxed after trying to learn to paint or draw that could be a better option.
An important aspect of self-care is to be mindful. This means being present in the moment. Turn off your phone, turn off the television, and ask your partner/family/roommates not to disturb you for a set amount of time. If you are practicing self-care with friends, have everyone agree to do this too. “I don’t have time” is not an excuse. You can find at least 30 minutes to an hour a week dedicated to taking care of yourself. Learning how to set effective boundaries might help you find that extra bit of time in the week for you.
Some Ideas for Daily Self Care to Get Started:
Spend 10 minutes reflecting on the accomplishments or highlights of your day.
Try not to let yourself think of anything negative in your day at this point. If you’re having a particularly hard day, this might include just getting up to face the world or taking a shower. This can be finishing a project at work, having a meaningful conversation with someone, baking a delicious pie, or catching up on the bills or emails that have been piling up. I also like to write down meaningful compliments people have said in my day and put them in a jar to look back on later when I’m having a bad day.
Drink a glass of water first thing after waking up.
Yes, that means before your coffee. When we wake up, no matter how restful the night’s sleep was or not, we are often slightly dehydrated which can lead to feeling like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. This small act of self-care can have big results. And, taking care of yourself as soon as you wake up can help set the tone for your whole day.
30 minutes of exercise.
No matter what exercise or how much energy you’re exerting, get up and do something every day. This could be taking a walk around the block when you get home from work before going inside and clearing out your mind, or waking up a bit earlier to go to the gym before work. Exercise does wonders for your mind as well as your body.
Take a few minutes out of your day to stop and pay attention to your senses. This can act like a reset button at work when you get stuck on a hard project or are switching from one project to another. Take a moment, if possible close your eyes, and just pay attention to the sounds you’re hearing (clock ticking, a coworker typing away, the traffic outside), what you’re feeling (the feel of your feet flat on the floor, your hands in your lap, your body on the chair), and what you’re smelling (I like to do this with a fresh cup of coffee and try to really pay attention to the smell). Try to really focus on what your senses are taking in at the present moment, and take deep breaths.
Ideas for Weekly or Bi-weekly Self Care:
It’s less likely that you’ll realistically have an extra hour or so every day to do the bigger self care habits. It also gives you something to look forward to when you have a self-care night planned one or two days out of the week. With each of these, it’s important to leave your phone out of sight and on silent. Take time to be present with what’s happening now.
Hot bath and relaxing music.
Take your time and make it a whole process. Light some candles, get a bath bomb, bring your speaker in the bathroom (but leave your phone outside so you’re not tempted to use it). Lay back, and relax. Try not to think about anything that’s adding stress to your life. Try to let your mind go blank – this is a lot harder than it sounds! You could pair this with a free online meditation guide like this one. Or, play some of your favorite relaxing music. Try to focus on what you’re hearing and the way your body is feeling.
Make a complicated meal
If you like to cook, set aside a night where you try something new and more in depth than your usual go-to meals. Take your time and be present. Pay attention to what you see ( like the different colors of the ingredients). Pay attention to the different smells, the different textures. Don’t have the TV on in the background or check your email while things cook. Just be present with the process. If you’re the kind of person who is refueled by having company, invite some friends over for the meal – but try to set a time limit. I love breakfast, so I like to set aside one of my weekend days for a big breakfast including taking time to read while I enjoy a cup of coffee (or two).
Take a Hike or Walk Outside
Getting outside and exercising can both do wonders for our mental health. On a day off, plan a hike or take a long walk on the beach or at the park. Again, try to stay present in what you’re doing now and where you are – not about the past or future. Try not to think about what other people you know, politics, or chores. Pay attention to the plants you see, the animals or footprints; the different kinds of plants.Feel the sun warming up your skin and your body working.
What Does Practicing Self-Care Improve?
When you make time to take care of yourself you have a chance to refuel and improve your productivity overall. Making time for self care also often means learning to assert boundaries and say no. Self care helps you slow down. This helps stop you getting to that “running on empty” feeling. All of this helps you improve your concentration, both in the moment and in other areas.
When we are constantly stressed out, our body remains in fight or flight mode. This is due to an over activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, and fertility problems/erectile dysfunction. Stress can influence our digestion, including resulting in constipation or diarrhea. Chronic stress also increases the likelihood of depression; as well as headaches and insomnia. Self care helps activate the opposite system, the parasympathetic nervous system. When your body is in this restful state, it recovers from stress. Activating your PNS through self care helps fortify your immune system, helping you fight off getting sick.
When you are continuously in states of stress, it takes a toll on your self-esteem. You often feel more lonely and worthless. These feelings can often lead to depression. Setting aside time to for self care means prioritizing yourself. This sends a subconscious message to yourself about your worth. Increasing your feeling of self-worth also works to help you keep effective boundaries that may act to leaving you feeling more depleted. Through self care you can figure out more about yourself – what kinds of things you enjoy. Having a better understanding of yourself also often leads to increased self-worth and self-esteem.
It’s easy to feel like you don’t have time to implement these, but just setting aside a few minutes a day to start can have big effects. Making time for yourself will help you manage the other areas of your life more effectively. Making regular time for self care can also help you feel more energized overall. On your hardest days, you’ll probably want to do things the least. But, try to make yourself get up and do it. I know this can be hard, but “fake it til you make it” really can help. This is called behavioral activation and you can read more about it here.
Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Jennine Estes, LMFT#47653)