Self-care is simply that, the act of caring for yourself. During the times we need it the most, or high stress times in our life, is when we do it the least. These self-care acts do not have to be complicated or long, but can be if that is what you need. When you become overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, depressed, or just plain burned out that is when you need self-care the most and that is when it is hardest to justify spending the time to do it. Everyone needs something different and there is not one straight forward form of self-care activity. There are a few broad categories of activities that qualify as self-care. Some will work for you and some will not. No matter what the activity, as long as it is healthy, it is important.
Self-care activities fall into a number of categories ranging from sensory to mental/mindful to physical. Finding the category that works best for you is the first step, and then making a list of activities that you can actually participate in from that category is next. The final and most important step is actually making the time and doing it!
- Mental or Emotional: this comes in many forms. Meeting your own emotional needs builds a core foundation to help meet others. You must stop and take care of yourself first, before you can take care of others. Whether this is engaging in mindfulness activities, going to therapy, journaling, or doing any other form of self-expression it is important and should not be lost or set aside. You can also challenge yourself intellectually through puzzles, learning something new, and traveling.
- Spiritual: keeping or regaining connection to your spiritual side is key to self-care. Going to Church can be difficult during a busy stressful time but it helps meet many of your needs such as spiritual, social, support, leisure, and even physical. Meditate and build a connection to your higher power however you need to. Take the time for yourself and that connection and you will build a foundation to cope with stress as it comes.
- Sensory: these activities are more in the moment. If you only have 15 minutes but need a self-care break, go outside and feel the grass between your fingers, listen to water in a fountain, listen to music, take a bath, use a scented lotion, massage your neck, do yoga, eat something healthy. Basically, take a few minutes to engage your senses and block out the rest of the world for a little bit.
- Physical: exercise is not only good for us physically but it helps us mentally as well. Going for a run or going to the gym is excellent self-care and has a multitude of benefits. If you can’t find time to go to the gym or have kids, go for a walk in the morning or evening. Walk the dog rather than let them out in the backyard. Take a walk during your lunch break. Get out and move and your body will thank you.
- Leisure: the first thing we throw out the window is fun. Doing the activities that we enjoy and that make us who we are is vital to our mental and emotional well being. It is probably the easiest form of self-care as it is the most fun, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less important. If you enjoy art, take a painting class. If you like to read, spend some time at the library. If you like nature, go for a hike in a forest preserve. Spend time doing the activities that made you happy and gave you a sense of self before the stress took over.
- Social: spending time with friends and family can be difficult with a busy and stressful life but it refreshes us and gives us a break from dealing with whatever stresses us. Make time when you can. Take a lunch break at work with a friend. Schedule a breakfast one weekend morning if you can’t do dinner. If you need to meet new people try online dating or join a support group.
- Medical: it sounds very basic and like common sense, but taking care of your medical needs is an important part of self-care. When we are tired and stressed, making appointments and taking care of ourselves can seem like too much work. Taking the time to follow through medically and emotionally will improve your overall health and your ability to cope with stress.