If your days are a whirlwind of never-ending to-do lists, fires to put out at work, missed calls, family responsibilities, overflowing email inbox, and back-to-back meetings, chances are you spend most of your waking hours feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and emotionally exhausted…
In our hustle-bustle lives, we often ignore and push our needs to the back burner to the breaking point, which often results in struggling with physical and mental health issues like insomnia, chronic stress, burnout, or depression.
In this article, we discuss the importance of self-care, look at the existing research on the benefits of taking intentional time to relax, and share tips and examples of self-care practices to try out for yourself. Keep on reading to find out more!
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Take a moment to notice any thoughts or emotions arising when you imagine engaging in self-care yourself…
You may feel like meditating is a waste of time, and you’d prefer to do anything else productive, like sorting your laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc.
Maybe taking time to have a warm bath in the evening rather than spending it with your partner seems too indulgent, selfish, or rude.
In recent years, self-care has become one of those mainstream phrases that have lost their meaning. Unavoidably, that’s the breeding ground for misconceptions, myths, and hurtful stereotypes.
From the belief that it’s a luxurious and simply pointless activity, stereotypically for women who like to go to the spa, get a manicure or a massage, or that self-care is for the lazy and selfish, the idea of prioritizing yourself and taking the time to tend to your needs has often been seen as too indulgent or a waste of time.
However, that’s wildly inaccurate. Research even shows how what we hear about self-care, whether true or false, can influence our behavior, both positively and negatively. Yet, the truth is that self-care plays a vital role in supporting our mental and physical well-being.
So what is it exactly?
The great thing about self-care is that it’s too versatile to be limited to a small number of activities. Its primary purpose is to engage in something that:
- brings you joy,
- restores your resources,
- supports your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
That can look different for everyone: some people love running, for some, cooking is the answer, and others achieve zen when reading a fantastic book.
Contrary to stereotypes, self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or tedious. Forget about the fancy spa treatments or yoga if that’s not your cup of tea. Self-care can be as simple as taking a walk, journaling, or taking a break from work to connect with your body with deep breathing.
Did you know that, according to statistics…
- 3 in 5 Americans practice self-care only when stressed out
- over 70% of Americans use self-care only as a reward at the end of a busy, challenging week
Now, if watching Netflix relaxes you or clubbing with your friends is your go-to on the weekend, I bet you’re not alone. But, it’s essential to recognize the difference between temporary and enduring self-care practices:
- While the former can momentarily boost your mood, acting as a quick fix, its effects won’t last long.
- On the other hand, enduring self-care is all about building a routine that supports your well-being long-term, like a daily gratitude practice before bed or a 10-minute meditation after waking up.
At its core, self-care works best as a regular element of your daily routine rather than being a one-time thing.
You might be thinking:
“I’m already swamped with work every day. Why would I add yet another responsibility to that stack?”.
Each day has its challenges, whether a difficult conversation at work, a frustrating car drive during rush hour or a stupid argument with your partner. All these events create tension, which, when left unchecked, might lead to struggling with chronic stress. That, in turn, aside from being a painful experience, often results in a myriad of new issues, for example:
- poor focus and memory issues,
- lower sex drive,
- heightened risk of anxiety and depression.
So, rather than treating self-care as a chore, look at it as an investment in your health. When you take time to rest and do something fun regularly and intentionally, you create an opportunity for your body and mind to rest and recharge, which helps to:
- improve memory and focus,
- increase and stabilize mood,
- boost metabolism,
- strengthen the immune system.
Research even shows how self-care can significantly help and support the well-being of:
- mental health professionals
- those who struggle with chronic illnesses
- individuals in trauma treatment
1. Stress Reduction
Whenever you get stressed, your sympathetic nervous system gets activated, which leads to a fight-or-flight response, increased heart rate, and anxiety. What can calm you down and help counterbalance this stress is the parasympathetic nervous system. It gets activated each time you relax and unwind.
That’s why scheduling regular activities like diaphragm breathing supports our health, rebuilding our resources.
2. Improved Cognitive Functions
Have you ever wanted to be a bit sharper, faster, and have better focus, memory, or decision-making skills? You can achieve that with self-care, and it isn’t complicated at all!
Start by taking small breaks from your work to stretch and breathe deeply and notice a change in your perspective. Having a routine of broadening your attention and grounding in the present moment can do wonders for your mind!
Research shows that an 8-week mindfulness training program leads to changes in gray matter concentrations in the brain areas responsible for:
- memory processes,
- perspective taking (essential in making well-informed decisions)
3. Creativity Boost
Have you ever heard to ‘sleep on something’ like a big decision or solving a serious problem?
That’s because resting and relaxing, either with actual sleep or active self-care, brings incredible benefits!
Our brains get spontaneously activated during rest, which:
- boosts our creativity,
- removes any internal blocks,
- increases the ability to find new solutions,
- helps us achieve a flow state easier.
Being well-rested and relaxed means being recharged and, like a car with a full tank, ready to go! So, next time you’re feeling stuck – don’t let your frustration build up. Take a mindful pause instead and give your brain some mental space.
4. Higher Productivity
When do you function better: after an intense workout or after a good night’s sleep and a nutritious breakfast?
Without self-care, we won’t be as productive as we could, yet so often, we ignore and minimize the importance of resting. The irony is that when we don’t respect our limits and try to hustle constantly, it can only backfire:
- Best case scenario: our work is mediocre and filled with mistakes
- Worst case scenario: we struggle with burnout and exhaustion
Self-care can boost our cognitive functions, provide inspiration and fill us with a spark of excitement. So set aside one day per week to unplug – that’s how you can ensure that your work results reflect your talent!
5. Life Satisfaction
Doing things that make you happy on a regular basis sounds like a lot of fun, and it is! What’s even better is that a self-care routine can bring you joy in the longest run – your life. As it turns out, self-care has even been linked with longevity, especially these practices:
- eating balanced meals,
- introducing positivity in your lifestyle.
Want to figure out where to start? Here’s a list that can help you get started:
Mindfulness is a highly beneficial practice of intentionally anchoring our focus in the present moment and noticing both internal and external aspects of it. That means observing our bodily sensations, mood, thoughts, and emotions as well as our surroundings, different noises, the temperature in the room, smells, etc.
Additionally, mindfulness focuses on:
- maintaining a non-striving attitude,
- being free from judgment or any expectations,
- gaining distance and mental space.
You can practice mindfulness at any given moment throughout your day. Simply focus on the details of the present moment, for example:
- Rather than eating your breakfast in a hurry on the go, take the time to notice the taste, texture, and temperature of your food, chew slowly and savor every bite.
- When standing in a line at a grocery store, refrain from scrolling on your phone and look around instead, feel the ground beneath your feet, breathe deeply into your belly, and check in with yourself.
Bonus Tip: Turn any mundane chore into an interesting, fun time. Before you realize it, folding your laundry or vacuuming the floor devours your attention.
2. Gratitude Practice
Did you know that human brains are wired to pay more attention to the negative aspects of life?.
You can counteract its painful consequences by practicing gratitude or intentionally directing your attention to the positives. Research suggests that evoking positive thoughts and feelings of thankfulness daily:
- boosts our levels of happiness and satisfaction,
- reduces the number of negative thoughts,
- helps us become more optimistic.
So start listing good things in your life every day, not only on Thanksgiving. And focus on the seemingly irrelevant, small events, like:
- drinking a delicious cup of coffee,
- having a roof over your head,
- receiving a hug from your loved one.
3. Healthy Habits:
Having a healthy lifestyle is an excellent system for many reasons, such as:
- eating a balanced diet rich in fruit, veggies, and whole grains:
- prevents chronic illnesses
- supports overall well-being,
- maintaining a workout routine is a proven way to:
- reduce depression and anxiety,
- lower stress hormones level,
- increase memory and cognitive functions,
- boost self-esteem.
- getting enough sleep supports our well-being and prevents mental health issues.
4. Spending Time With Your Loved Ones
Hanging out with your favorite people is a fun way to take care of yourself!
Whether grabbing a bite or hiking together, spending time with loved ones can boost your mood and deepen your bond. So go ahead and make time for your tribe – it’s a great way to stay happy and healthy!
5. Pursuing Your Hobbies
Sometimes our busy days turn into hectic weeks, filled up months, and a crazy year, where we put urgent responsibilities above our hobbies and interests. Yet, according to research, doing what you love is the perfect way to practice self-care and improve your mental health.
Whether it’s painting, singing, or knitting, pursuing your passion makes us feel good and help us chill out. So, if you want to give yourself a dose of self-love, go ahead and do your thing!
How to Practice Self-Care in 3 Steps
1. Think About Your Priorities
Self-care is one of those activities that can easily be postponed, ignored, or neglected. Work, to-do lists, family responsibilities, friends asking for a favor, and home chores will always compete for your time and attention.
To practice self-care, you must stay connected to what matters most. If it’s your happiness, mental and physical well-being, and the ability to be there for your loved ones, then understanding the importance of self-care should be essential.
If you’re extremely busy, try subtracting a task instead of adding more. Look at your schedule and ask yourself:
- Is this task aligned with my purpose and values?
- Does this drain me energetically?
- Can I delegate or automate this responsibility?
Part of this means learning how to say no to requests of your coworkers, invitations from friends, etc. Remember: self-care isn’t selfish; you’re allowed to put your needs first.
2. Start Small
Don’t get intimidated – self-care can be as simple and tangible as possible. Let go of any expectations that from now on, you’re going to meditate for 1 hour every day or read 10 books each month.
Set realistic goals and start small. Begin by finding an activity that relaxes you, like:
- gentle stretching,
- daily walking,
- listening to your favorite music.
3. Plan It Out
Once you find those small practices you enjoy, establish a fixed time and place for them and include this habit in your daily routine.
Prioritizing self-care is a commitment to making time to check in with yourself and often comes down to planning restful moments, blocking time in your schedule, and treating it as an appointment with yourself. Here’s a daily self-care checklist to get you going and help you stick to it!
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