Many of us have learned to put the needs of others before our own. That is understandable when we have children, elderly parents, even business clients who need our care. It is understandable, but not necessarily healthy. Perhaps as the deep freeze of winter begins to thaw and the long nights become shorter we can all find better ways to consider our own needs, to provide self-care. If you naturally recoil at the idea, you’re not alone.
Isn’t it odd how many words or phrases that include “self” are considered negative? There’s self-righteous, self-serving, self-indulgent, self-absorbed and the mother of all “self” words, selfish. It is vital to note though, self-care is the polar opposite of selfish. Taking time to see to our own spiritual, emotional, and physical needs is a good thing. Just as on an airplane we are instructed to place the oxygen mask over our own face before helping someone else with theirs, self-care dictates that we see to our needs first so that we are in a better position to help others.
If you’re not in the practice of self-care, now is the time. And do you want to know the great part? You can slowly fold different techniques into your routine until they become part and parcel of your everyday life.
There are a couple of things you should consider before you roll your eyes and say, “Are you kidding? I barely have time for a shower!” Exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress, and also releases those “feel good” endorphins. That’s a two-fer! You get to relax and feel good all at once. No one is suggesting that you carve out an hour of your day to train for a marathon (although that would not be a bad thing). Rather, take small walks whenever you can: during your daughter’s soccer practice, son’s karate lesson, or mother’s doctor appointment. Use that time to simply “be.” You don’t have to solve the world’s problems or come up with a new scientific equation. You simply use these small blocks of time to de-stress and let your mind wander. Park as far away from the mall entrance as possible to get a few extra steps in, or walk to a nearby market instead of driving. Turn up the music and dance with abandon was you vacuum or load the dishwasher. Anything that gets your blood pumping is good for your brain and your spirit.
If you’re not a regular practitioner of yoga, you may be sick of hearing people suggest it. There are a number of reasons the practice has been around for more than 5,000 years, though. Researchers have compiled the findings of 16 significant studies focusing on yoga’s impact on mental issues. The studies suggest that yoga positively influences chemical messengers in the brain in the same way as psychotherapy and antidepressants. Yoga helps with inflammation, sleep disturbances, flexibility, balance, and possibly most important, stress. If you’re cramped for time (and who isn’t?) remember: a 10 minute yoga practice is still a yoga practice.
Time to Laugh
Sometimes you just need to giggle. You know that sense of wellbeing, the giddy little hiccup that gets lodged in your chest when something strikes your funny bone? That’s what you’re going for. Take time to be with your friends, go to an amusement park, watch a funny movie or TV show – just remember how important laughter is to your soul. Don’t wait for fun events to fall into your lap. Go out and seek them. Look at laughter as the best possible medicine for whatever is ailing you.
Take Pampering Seriously
Make an appointment for a soothing massage, have a pedicure, or try a haircut you would never have had the nerve to try a year ago. Understand that the time spent in a spa is an investment in you. Sure, you’ll come out looking refreshed, but more importantly, you’ll feel refreshed. If it is counterintuitive for you to lavish yourself with these simple comforts, remember how important it is to be kind to yourself.
Feed Yourself Like a Guest
If your day-to-day dietary habits are not what they should be, consider the new season a new opportunity to nourish yourself like you would an honored guest. Think about what you don’t generally serve when friends come by: packaged cookies, stale pretzels, popsicles, and Kool-Aid. If you wouldn’t be proud to serve it to someone you want to impress, don’t serve it to yourself. You know the drill (you’ve heard it since grade school). Fill your plate with lean meat and colorful fruits and vegetables. Just for fun, try it for a week. You may be surprised by how much your mood and energy levels improve.
An Intentional Break
You don’t have to divorce the news, but try a trial separation for a while. Likewise, take a break from those people in your life who do little but gossip and complain. All that negativity finds a way to seep in, no matter how much we tell ourselves that we are immune.
The bottom line is that self-care should be lumped in with all those “self” words that are worthy: self-assurance, self-control, and self-confidence.
By Dana George-Berberich