Simplifying self-care

Self-care has become a trendy topic and is heralded as a key component of personal well-being. But for some people, it has also become another item on an already too long “to-do” list, creating added internal pressure.

“Healthcare workers are often told, ‘Before you can effectively care for others, you have to care for yourself,’ and self-care becomes a guilt trip rather than a means of restoration,” says Laurel Kirchner, Covenant Health wellness advisor. “I have even heard people say, ‘All of this wellness stuff is making me sick,’ and it can, if you let it. For many people, the thought of trying to care for themselves in addition to fulfilling work and family roles is simply overwhelming.” 

Here are Laurel’s top eight tips for practicing self-care in ways that contribute positively to personal well-being:

1. Make self-care a stress reliever rather than a stressor.

Self-care should be associated with joy and peace, not guilt, says Laurel. Rather than serving as an energy drain, it should restore your personal energy levels. And it will be different for everyone. By knowing yourself well, you can discover what recharges you personally. Give yourself permission to make it part of your daily, weekly and monthly routine.

2. Create a restorative lifestyle.

Laurel advises that instead of thinking of self-care as something you have to do, think about how you can establish a lifestyle that is restorative. 

“You can’t run yourself ragged six days a week and then ‘practice’ a bit of self-care on the weekend and expect that to be enough to feel restored,” she says.

This means slowing down often and taking time to reflect. It’s important to create time and space in your life for reflection so you can stay in touch with your needs, says Laurel. Self-care is investing time and energy in ways that meet your personal, physical, emotional and spiritual needs so you are able to truly enjoy life and are equipped to deal with any challenges you may face.

3. Follow the Blue Zones philosophy.

Laurel recommends adopting the practices of cultures in the Blue Zones — areas of the world where the healthiest and longest living peoples live. Set up your home and workspace in a way that makes it easy to incorporate self-care into your lifestyle. Prioritize time for your loved ones; keep healthy foods accessible; own a pair of comfortable running or walking shoes and leave them where you will see them as a reminder to use them; put sticky notes on your mirror with helpful affirmations and reminders; and be aware of and tuned in to your life purpose.

4. Spend time volunteering.

Another helpful practice is to put your self-care lens on others, says Laurel. Volunteering and contributing to other people’s lives indirectly impacts your own well-being in a positive way.

5. Practice self-care like a kid.

Children do many things that are good for self-care, says Laurel. Like children, she suggests that you try to laugh often, embrace activity and spend time with people you can be silly with. Dance or "get the wiggles," even when there is no music. Find joy in little things. Live with a mindful curiosity. And treat yourself like you would a toddler — don’t allow yourself to stay up late and binge watch shows or eat a steady diet of candy, chips or soda. 

6. Create the conditions for feeling well

“Consider what would happen if we put the healthiest, happiest person in a dark basement, deprived them of sleep, did not allow them to see their loved ones or exercise and fed them a diet of junk food,” says Laurel. “Guess what? In less than a week, they would be feeling physically, mentally and emotionally unwell.”

To boost your wellness, spend time outdoors and get natural light on your skin, interact with others in person (rather than digitally), incorporate some kind of physical activity into your daily routine, eat well and get enough sleep.

Sleep is one of the most underrated self-care activities that exists, and it is free and accessible for everyone, says Laurel. Think of sleep as your “brain shower.” Like showering, which cleanses us physically, sleeping helps cleanse us mentally and emotionally. While we sleep, our glymphatic system is actively helping us decompress from the stress and difficult emotions of the day, refreshing us mentally and emotionally.

7. Recognize the difference between self-care and self-pampering.

Laurel cautions that if we operate with an “I deserve it” mentality, our self-care becomes self-pampering. Sometimes we need a workout more than we need chocolate, wine and a bubble bath.  “Self-care isn’t always easy,” she says. “Sometimes it means doing what is hard.”

8. Remember all the dimensions of self-care.

Often we think of self-care only in the physical dimension, says Laurel. “A good self-care routine is holistic. It involves practices that help us live well spiritually, mentally and emotionally too.”

Summer can be an ideal time to sit down and evaluate your self-care routine. You can tweak it by adding some new ideas and removing the things that no longer work well for you. Use this self-care toolkit (which includes a planning tool) as a guideline, or use the Ten Essential Easy Changes workbook if you want to focus on establishing a restorative lifestyle.

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