It’s the end of the week, and as you run your eyes down your to-do list, you realize that you can mark everything as “done”.
The kids finished their homework, bathed, and are fed. You submitted your work projects on time (and even helped a colleague with theirs). The house is clean, the groceries purchased, and you picked up the dry cleaning. You even managed to squeeze in a few hours of volunteering over the weekend. So why is it that you feel unsatisfied?
Oh, that’s right. You didn’t carve out any time to look after yourself, and it’s taking a toll on your body, mind, and spirit.
Self-care is essential to living a life of health and happiness. It brings us contentment and relaxation, and motivates us to maintain our daily, healthy living habits. Without an established self-care practice, we are more likely to give away our time and energy until we’re left feeling depleted, lethargic, and unfulfilled.
Fortunately, self-care is easy to do and you can reap its benefits a few minutes at a time. Read on to learn why self-care practices are so important and how you can incorporate them into your busy lifestyle.
What Is Self-Care?
To be clear, I’m not talking about spending time at the nail salon or ducking household responsibilities for extended nightly bubble-baths. Those activities are lovely, and may make up one part of your personal routine, but true self-care is even more fundamental than that.
I define self-care as being in tune with your body’s wants and needs and making time to meet those needs at some point during the day. It includes taking care of your most basic health needs, like eating well, sleeping, and exercising. It also involves completing activities that uniquely nurture your body, mind, and spirit.
Why We Need to Prioritize Self-Care
You can go full steam ahead for days, weeks or even years, but eventually, without self-care, the ball is going to drop. Lifestyle stress is on the rise, and it’s leading to anxiety, weight gain, and depression. What’s more, large-scale international studies have shown that middle-aged women are twice as affected by these conditions as men. (1)
Without a solid self-care routine, you are more likely to experience:
Insomnia: You burn the candle at both ends to get everything done and go to bed with a busy brain that you can’t shut off, or you wake up at 3 am with “next day anxiety”.
Depression: A European study of 514 million people found that depression in middle-aged women had doubled in 40 years because of lifestyle-related pressures, and women were five times more likely than men to experience such depression. (2)
Lowered immunity: Chronic stress (i.e., daily lifestyle stress) depletes the adrenal glands and impacts functioning of the immune system.
Weight gain: Self-care includes the daily, healthy living habits that allow you to reach and maintain an appropriate body weight like fitness, eating well, and getting a good night’s sleep. These are often the first to go when a woman neglects herself.
The good news is that by implementing self-care on a daily basis, you can reverse these troubling lifestyle trends and get on with living your best life.
How to Start a Self-Care Routine
Committing to self-care is just like forming any other habit – it’ll take time and repetition for it to become second nature. The best way to get started is through small acts that keep you healthy, recharged, and inspired, while still mindful of your time.
Examples of practical self-care strategies include:
Practice morning meditation
Meditation grounds you physically and mentally, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for maintaining calm throughout the day. You can use a guided meditation app or just sit and focus on the rise and fall of your breathing.
Write in a gratitude journal
At the start or end of your day, write down three things that you’re grateful for about yourself and your life. When you start to focus on everything you have, rather than what you don’t, it becomes easier to feel more content and relaxed in the life you’re living.
Aim for eight glasses a day of pure drinking water, starting with one large glass as soon as you get out of bed.
Eat nutritious foods
The food you eat can be an act of self-care or self-sabotage. By filling your plate with nutrient-dense ingredients, you are expressing love and appreciation for your body and ensuring that you will feel healthy and energized long into the future. Aim to eat the rainbow each day!
Self-care means listening to what your body needs. The benefits of daily physical activity are irrefutable, but for many women who are experiencing periods of stress, gentle exercise is best. Walking in nature and stretching are two of my favorite acts of physical self-care.
Read a chapter of a book
Sometimes all it takes is stopping, sitting, and distracting your mind from the craziness of the day. Reading a good book sparks your imagination and creativity, and it’s a wonderful self-care practice that you can do anywhere.
Have a laugh with a friend
We underestimate the power of good conversation and having a joke. Make your relationships more meaningful by carving out time to really talk, and do your body a favor by throwing in a chuckle or two.
Take a moment for yourself to decompress
This is my most used self-care practice, as it comes in handy multiple times a day. Whether you need quiet time before your day starts, a few minutes to yourself at lunchtime, or to create a personal barrier between your work day to your home life, it’s essential that you incorporate “me time” into your routine. Stopping for a few minutes and checking in with yourself will then let you know what other self-care practices you may need to turn to in order to ensure that you continue to feel your best later on.
These sorts of activities are simple enough that you can sprinkle them throughout your day and maintain a general sense of balance between what you give to others and take for yourself.
Once you’ve got the bases covered, you can start to experiment with activities that meet your unique self-care needs. For some people, this may be spending time in nature, having a creative outlet, or perhaps it’s indulging in a massage. The key to a sustainable self-care practice is figuring out what works for you and how to work it into your everyday life.
Adopting a regular self-care practice is essential for your health and happiness. When you fill your own tank, you have more energy, enthusiasm, and capacity to help other people, plus you get more joy and satisfaction from everything you do. As you can see, self-care doesn’t have to be reserved for luxurious activities or weekends away, but it can be easily incorporated into your everyday life. So, use these simple suggestions and commit to practicing self-care every day this week.
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