There’s been a lot of talk about “self-care” lately. What is it, and how can it help you?
1. Self-care is about looking out for Number One.
The idea behind self-care is that if you don’t take care of your needs first, you can’t effectively help others. (See my “Me Before Mommy” article about the necessity of putting your self-care first when you have kids.) Think of when you are on an airplane. The flight attendants tell you that in the event of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on before helping others. The same concept applies to mental health.
2. Proactive self-care is better than reactive self-care.
When you are proactive about your self-care, you regularly build in times in your schedule to take care of yourself, instead of waiting until you are burned out or stressed out. When you wait until a crisis to kick in your self-care, this is called reactive self-care. When you practice consistent proactive self-care, the crisis situations feel more manageable, and you keep burnout at bay.
3. Self-care is different for everyone.
One person’s healthy self-care practices may not be helpful for someone else. And that’s okay. If you’re an extrovert (you relax by being around other people), part of your self-care may be getting together with a group of friends. If you are an introvert (you relax by having alone time), part of your self-care might be to curl up with a good book. What works for you is what works for you.
4. Self-care includes seeking therapy.
If you are having some barriers to practicing self-care, like feeling guilty about taking time out for yourself or not feeling quite sure how to do self-care, contacting a mental health professional can help you learn more about yourself, and patterns of behavior that may be “speedbumps” on the way to taking good care of yourself.
5. Good self-care teaches you about setting boundaries.
When you practice good self-care, you set limits around your time and what you need. Healthy people in your life respect boundaries. They may not necessarily like that you said “no” to an activity, but they accept your “no” as you taking good care of yourself. The more you set these healthy boundaries, you’ll find that people are more respectful of your time. You are also role-modeling a healthy lifestyle for your friends and family.
6. Good self-care can be written down in in a list.
Take some time to write down activities or interests that give you energy, rather than drain it. Your list might include walking your dog, talking with a supportive friend, or watching a favorite movie. Keep this list nearby and in your phone or other device. When you are starting to feel stressed, or you want to practice some proactive self-care, go to your list. Having good-self care strategies at your fingertips can quickly help you decrease your stress level.
7. Good self-care takes practice.
You may be the type of person who likes to do things well the first time, and if you can’t do them well all the time, then you drop it altogether. You probably also tend to be very reactive to stress. Practicing good self-care takes time – if you haven’t done it on a regular basis, it will take a bit to get into the routine. Schedule self-care times. If you “backslide” and don’t practice self-care for a week, it’s okay, just get back into it. It doesn’t mean all your self-care was for nothing – it means that you are human.
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