Self-Care: What, Why & How!
Self-care is a big buzz word in the health and wellness community lately, though there's still plenty of misunderstanding about what exactly "self-care" means and how to do it. If you're looking for some clarification and guidance around this topic, let me lay it on the line to you as I see it in my work as a mental health professional.
First and foremost, know that self-care is absolutely not selfish. In fact, when applied as it's meant to be, it's the opposite! That's because true self-care is about meeting your own needs in a way that fulfills you so you have the energy to give compassion, time, and focus to other people and things that are important to you. Self-care is filling your own pitcher up first so you have the liquid to fill all the cups in your life (family, friends, job, hobbies, groups, projects, school, etc).
Consider that self-care exists on a couple different levels - a foundational level, a recreational level, and a higher-consciousness level...
-Foundational Self-Care helps you feel rooted and stable. It's about taking care of your basic needs, meaning things like getting enough sleep, eating well, taking medicine or supplements as prescribed/needed, getting enough physical activity and movement, attending to illnesses, and avoiding mood altering substances. Whenever this type of self-care is neglected, it makes it very difficult to effectively apply any other type of self-care, let alone manage whatever daily tasks and responsibilities you have.
-Recreational Self-Care secures your sense of belonging, connection, and self-love. It has to do with relaxation and comfort - like by getting a massage, taking a hot bath, or going to have your hair cut at a place you know will give you that really sweet scalp scrub when they wash your hair (such a treat!). It also involves social sorts of leisure - seeing a movie with friends, playing games, sharing a meal with another person, or going out dancing. This kind of self-care can be pampering and invigorating; It sits somewhere between serving our basic living needs and our higher level growth needs.
-Higher-Consciousness Self-Care meets your need to connect with something outside of yourself, something that feels "bigger" than you somehow. This kind of self-care is more about growth. It can a connection to something spiritual - call it God, the Divine, the Cosmos, or Humanity. But it can also be about learning and expanding your mind and skills... brushing up on your knowledge of Quantum Physics and String Theory, for instance, or improving any skills you need to perform better at doing what you love. A solid understanding of your core-values is helpful here in order to apply these values to whatever actions you choose. For some, it may be caring for the members of their family, fulfilling a higher purpose through their career choice, or engaging in a formal community organization such as a church or social advocacy group. While others may need to connect with nature more, seek enlightenment through meditative practices, learn more by reading various philosophical, science-based, or spiritual texts, or practice self-reflection, introspection, and self-study on a more formal level such as through a therapy relationship.
A good rule of thumb is to create a routine around self-care that includes at least 1 thing you can do daily, one thing weekly, and one thing occasionally. What kind of self-care you choose depends on your current needs and goals. There's not perfect system here - just try to be honest with yourself about what kind of routine is going to be doable yet also give you a slight challenge. These need to be things you feel are meaningful for you, that you can reasonably fit into your lifestyle and schedule, and that help you remain connected to yourself and what is most important in your life. They cannot be just another set of items you have to check off the proverbial to-do list; if you don't have your heart in them and you don't practice them mindfully, they become meaningless and mindless which is of no help to anyone!
Need some help brainstorming up your own routine? Here's some more example ideas if you're at a loss!
writing (journaling, poetry, blogging, story-telling, etc.)
reading (self-help books, spiritual texts, inspirational material, or simply reading for pleasure's sake alone)
gratitude exercises (daily list, letter writing, prayer, etc.)
preparing a healthy/delicious meal
making a point to make eye contact, say hello, and/or engage with people you encounter
savoring a moment with a warm mug of tea or coffee
aromatherapy with essential oils in a diffuser, topical oil, or bath salts
engaging in social outings or community gatherings of some kind
doing something kind/thoughtful for someone else
relaxing bath with mood lighting, salts/bombs/bubbles, refreshing drink, and music
movie night at home with cozy blankets, popcorn, and favorite treats
hosting a social event (game night, dinner party, bowling excursion, etc.)
taking a trip
visiting someplace new (even in your own city!)
trying a new hobby
doing something that scares you (within reason, of course!)
planning an adventure
My list is hardly even scratching the surface. What are you ideas? I'd love to hear them!