A brief guide to self-care
We all want to be well. But what are the basics of self-care? After all, we are the ones most responsible for ourselves—what do we need to feel healthy and comfortable in our own skin?
These are big questions. But the outlines of the answers can be simple. While each of us has unique circumstances and particular needs, when we paint with a broad brush, there are some general pillars of self-care that apply to everyone in one way or another.
Let's start by breaking the idea of self-care into three categories: mind, body, and spirit.
Self-care for our minds
A great place to start with self-care is by setting an intention to be friendly, kind and gentle with ourselves. While that may sound simple (and it is!), how many of us don’t actually live that way? How many of us are hard on ourselves, speaking critically and harshly to ourselves in a way we wouldn’t do to others?
That attitude takes a toll on our well-being. However, we can change it. By making a conscious practice out of being kind to ourselves, we can actually shift our inner experience. This can help us feel more relaxed, clear-headed, and calm.
For people suffering from mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, making the effort to become friends with themselves can also help relieve some of the weight of those conditions.
Another great (and related) principle to practice is to not take ourselves too seriously. Or anything else for that matter. Certain things in life are serious, of course, but we can cause ourselves undue stress by making them more serious than they need to be. The same goes for ourselves—we’re each unique and we each matter, but we’re also just one of the billions of people living on a minor planet on the outskirts of an unremarkable galaxy. Balancing both truths together can help us to better take life in stride.
More concretely, it’s a great idea to give our minds regular breaks. This means taking time to actively relax—putting down your phone or your laptop and going for a walk in nature, taking a bath, or watching a movie that makes you laugh. Better yet, spend some time daydreaming or watching the clouds go by. This sort of downtime actually helps your mind recharge, and is essential to creativity—it creates space for new ideas and experiences.
Self-care for our bodies
Mind and body are intimately connected, so caring for one benefits the other. There is a range of concrete lifestyle choices we can make to boost wellness in our bodies and better tend to them, helping us to feel better. Three of the most important are exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
First off, exercise. Getting enough movement every day is essential to our overall health and well-being and is also a great way to lower our stress. Indeed, research has found that exercise is one of the simplest and best ways to support our bodies—exercise does everything from improving our heart health to boosting our mood. When it comes to exercise, everything counts. Walking, running, swimming, yoga, tai chi, going to the gym, and playing sports all help get your body moving, and you feel good.
Second, nutrition. None of us feel good when we’re hungry. However, we don’t want to just eat anything, either. What we put into our bodies becomes what our bodies are made from, so what we eat really matters. Many of us live on what’s called the standard American diet—lots of sugar, processed foods, cheap vegetable oils, factory-farmed meat, eggs and dairy, and artificial ingredients galore. Unfortunately, there’s no nice way to say this: regularly eating those kinds of foods seriously harms your health. It contributes to the development of many chronic diseases, and also makes you feel more stressed and less relaxed. Small wonder the standard American diet is commonly referred to be its abbreviation—SAD.
So what should we eat? The best answer is the diet that makes us feel good. While exactly what this looks like differs from person to person, there are general guidelines. These include eating an abundance of greens, cooking with healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and ghee, and avoiding sugar and processed foods as much as possible. Other suggestions include enjoying whole grains in moderation, along with pasture-raised meat, eggs and dairy, fresh fruit, beans, lentils, nuts and probiotic-rich foods like kefir or miso. Make your plate as colorful as you can, and focus on whole, natural foods.
In addition, many people may benefit from taking supplements. These can help you get the extra nutrition that may be lacking in your diet. A holistic physician can help you determine exactly what supplements you may want to take, but common suggestions include B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, and probiotics.
Third, sleep. Want to feel good? Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is when our brains clear out the toxins that accumulate during the day, as well as lock-in important memories, and pare away those we no longer need. Getting enough sleep is also linked to creativity, weight loss, our tolerance for stress, and how much we enjoy being around others.
Perhaps most of all, sleep is a time to let go of ourselves for a while, and release our cares.
A final thought: don’t underestimate the value of spending time outside. Sunshine boosts our vitamin D levels, supports a healthy sleep cycle, and can lighten our spirits significantly while seeing trees, shrubs and other natural life can help us feel calmer and more relaxed. Take the time to smell the flowers and feel the wind in your hair.
Self-care for our spirits
We all also benefit from tending to our spiritual selves. This includes our sense of connection to ourselves and other people: our feeling that we’re a part of wherever we are. When we’re feeling connected, stress rolls off of us more easily, and our health tends to benefit significantly.
There are a number of ways to nurture our spirituality. Practices like meditation, mindfulness, prayer, chanting, contemplation, sitting in silence, laughing or spending time in nature are all timeless methods for doing so. Many people also enjoy journaling, writing or playing music.
Choosing where to focus our attention is also important. If we’re working a job we don’t like, giving energy to our jealousies or unkind thoughts towards others, or surrounding ourselves with people who don’t treat us well, we’re probably going to feel agitated on the inside. On the other hand, if we make an effort to be kind to others, work on what we value, and set respectful, clear boundaries for what we will or won’t put our energy towards, we’ll feel more at ease.
In addition, spiritual self-care can be about connecting with other people. We all need friends and loved ones we can open up to and just be ourselves with. If you have someone like that in your life—great! Make an effort to nurture that relationship. If you don’t—that’s okay! Set an intention of connecting with others, and see who comes along. There are a million ways to meet people—just spend time in places you feel excited to be. This can also help us to develop a broader, supportive community, and give us a sense of home.
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