I can almost sense the eye roll, I can almost hear the sigh. I don’t blame you! The idea of ‘self-care’ has become a real Instagram cliche; here are my toes pointing out of a bubble bath with a candle flickering on the side, hashtag self-care, here is my hand clasping a mug of frothy coffee in a cosy café, hashtag self-care, you get the idea. I’m as guilty as the next insta-mum, we are a busy generation and we absolutely do need to take some time for ourselves. I, for one, am delighted to see people taking time to retreat from the hustle bustle of daily life and seeking out some breathing space, it is so important. We live in a culture of never ending to-do lists and manic schedules and it is essential that we find time for ourselves.
So, I’m sure you have a little mirage of #selfcare images in your mind, maybe it’s from your instagram feed, or perhaps magazine articles or self-help guides. With all this talk of self-care we have inadvertently picked up some misconceptions, so what do we actually mean when we say self-care? Is it having that hot bubble bath, sneaking out for a coffee sans kids or even booking yourself in for a massage? Maybe, but there is much more to it than that. I want to take a little bit of time to unpack the meaning of self-care and the various dimensions of this practice as well as giving you some practical ideas that you can incorporate into your regime. Many of you are feeling the January slump so I figured there is no time like the present to start looking after yourself better, are you with me?
Self-care – The regular actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.
You have more than likely skimmed over that definition because definitions are boring and hello, we are not back at school but can I ask you to pause for just a moment. You see that word regular? I want to highlight, underline, circle, blow it up and stick it on your mirror because it is such a crucial element to the art of self-care. These are actions that we need to schedule into our days and I mean ‘write it down’ schedule. It is not just a once in a while thing. Ultimately, self-care is about finding something that you can do regularly to make you feel comfortable and relaxed away from the demands of everyday life.
Let’s also just remind ourselves that there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to incorporate self-care. While certain practices may be perfect for one person, they may not suit someone else. It is individual, find what works for you.
The best way I can illustrate this is with the example of yours truly and my close friend. My friend can happily close herself off in a room with some relaxing music and just ‘be’ for a while. It refreshes and rejuvenates her and she does this at least once a week but often up to five times in the week. Try as I may that just would not work for me. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds blissful but it would be a real task to force myself to do that weekly, however, if you give me some good trainers and a babysitter a good walk, no matter the weather, will heal and boost my whole being. I know I can do a short walk at least two to three times a week and often I can get a longer one in the diary. Put me on a beach and give me an hour to walk and I will be like a whole new person. Find what works for you and look forward to your time out.
The possibilities are endless for self-care practice so let’s split it into five different areas that will give you a well-rounded approach. If you introduce and maintain practices from each area you will be nourishing every aspect in your life and ultimately getting better self-care. The first three areas are the most important; mental, physical and spiritual, and then we have two bonus areas; social and emotional. Ok, are you ready for some practical tips? Let’s do this.
MENTAL // this is all about finding the balance between stimulating your mind and giving it a break. Master this balance and you will boost creativity, innovation and continual learning. Research has shown that we process five times as much information each day as our counterparts did in 1986. This is the equivalent of 174 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words, every day. Personal growth is hugely important but so is switching off and giving your mind time to restore itself. Here are some ways we can do this;
- Learning or teaching a new skill
- Read a book
- Listen to music
- Switch off from social media
- Learn a new language
PHYSICAL // the physical aspect of self-care encompasses safety, health, nutrition, movement, and physical touch. When you incorporate activities for your physical needs you can boost your energy and your self-esteem. So how do we do that?
- Try a new workout or exercise class
- Indulge in a long hot shower or bathe with bath salts
- Eat nutritious foods
- Turn up the music and dance like no one is watching (because they aren’t)
- Get a solid 8 hours sleep
- Laugh out loud
SPIRITUAL // for me this is by far the most important aspect but it is basically a personal practice that allows you to follow the values and beliefs that give you purpose. Dedicating time to this can help you find more meaning in life, develop a sense of belonging and find a connection to something greater than yourself. As a Christian my spiritual wellbeing is crucial but even if you do not have faith, it is still important to nourish this area;
- Go on a long walk in nature
- Schedule in Yoga practice
- Volunteer with a local organisation
- Meditate or practice mindfulness
- Integrate into your Church and spend time in worship
SOCIAL // we associate self-care with being alone but the truth is that we must take care of our social needs too. Social connections create a sense of belonging and acceptance and it allows us to create and share a common bond with others. Here are some ways that you can take care of this area;
- Join a fitness class
- Take a walk with friends
- Join or start a group based around your hobbies
- Work at a coffee shop rather than alone at home
- Organise a dinner with family or friends
- Reach out to a stranger
EMOTIONAL // emotional self-care helps us to understand ourselves better, cope with challenges and develop and maintain healthy relationships. Through this area we cultivate a greater sense of compassion, kindness and love for ourselves and others. How do we do that?
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Diffusing essential oils
- Write yourself a letter
- Say no to things that are not benefiting your wellbeing
- Connect with a friend
- Meet with a counsellor
So have a think about how you can incorporate each of these areas of self-care into your regular routine. Could you walk with a friend on your lunch break, read a book before bed or speak more kindly to yourself? Think about what you find fun or relaxing and commit to making a conscious effort to do more of it. Make yourself a priority often, not just once in a while.