The best ways to practice self-care
Last winter, I got sick. I had a busy few months, and I ended up exhausted, sneezing, and coughing. I dragged myself to work and a few festivities, but most of New Year’s Eve weekend was spent in bed.
That experience started to make me wonder: Why did I push myself to keep going when I knew I wouldn’t be productive?
Our culture doesn’t always value rest and self-care. It values punctuality, schedules, and appearances. But sometimes you have to duck out and say, “I need to take care of myself.”
If you have a car, what do you do? You fill it up with the right type of gas, change the oil every six months, and have a mechanic look at it when you hear a weird rattle. We do this because we know it will make the car last longer. Otherwise, we could run out of gas and get stranded, or blow the engine. So why do we expect to run ourselves ragged without proper rest and care?
Practicing self-care doesn’t mean you’ll never get sick or overwhelmed. However, it can help boost your mood, reduce stress, and focus on your goals. Here are a few tips.
Exercise is good for your body and your mood, and can help ease depression and anxiety symptoms. At least thirty minutes of exercise, three times a week is recommended for best results.
However, even smaller amounts of exercise can help your health. Some ideas to get started: take a short walk on your lunch break, or join a fitness class.
Personally, I think yard work and babysitting counts as exercise, so I consider myself all set. But when I take long walks, I find I can think more clearly after. I can work through mental problems, and plan out the rest of my week.
I have journaled off and on since I was seven, when a family member gave me a notebook with a tiny lock. Nowadays, I keep a note app in my phone. For example, I woke up one recent morning and saw this:
Clover bunny munching
butterfly, pale as a cloud, fluttered around
It was a note from previous evening. A white butterfly was drinking nectar from my flowers; then, at sunset, an adorable bunny was snacking on clover in my backyard. If I hadn’t scribbled down that note, I would have forgotten all about it.
You don’t have to journal every day, but when you get the itch, write. One idea is to write down events you want to remember, or record your progress toward a goal. Smartphones and apps make this easy, but paper notebooks never run out of battery.
“To sleep, perchance to dream.”
- William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Sleep is perhaps the most important part of self-care. You can’t get much done if you’re exhausted. Sleep is important for your mood, and makes you feel recharged.
Most research suggests sleeping 7–8 hours a night, but everyone requires a different amount, depending on factors like your age or lifestyle.
While there are some situations that will lead you to lose sleep — like shift work, or caring for a new baby— most people can improve their levels of sleep by turning off lights and electronic devices for a little while before they go to bed.
I set my phone to automatically turn to “Do Not Disturb” mode at 11pm. It will only ring if I get calls from select family members (who wouldn’t call me that late unless it was a true emergency) or if someone calls multiple times.
If you still have trouble sleeping, talk to a doctor about options.
It’s helpful to hear from friends or family or see their pictures, but if you just find yourself scrolling endlessly or constantly checking social media notifications, it may be time to unplug.
Social media use has been linked to stress and depression — both increasing it and reducing it. So use it carefully. It’s made to be addictive, so that you keep checking it.
I took some social media apps off my phone and only log in on occasion. Others I still use daily, but the benefits of checking in with friends make it worth it for me.
Self-care doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. The above tips are just a launching point.
If you’re still feeling terrible after trying these, reach out to a doctor or therapist to help identify what’s causing it and develop a treatment plan. Therapy can be useful even if you’re just struggling with a relationship or life issue, and need some guidance.
Medications may also be helpful if your mood doesn’t improve or worsens. Above all, take care of yourself.