Marissa Snowden, CFT
Self Care...this term has become very skewed over the past several years. Many things that we tout as ‘self care’ these days are actually detrimental to our overall health. While they may feel good at the time, it is generally a way to distract ourselves from what we should really be doing.
“I should really do the dishes right now. But I’m tired. Oh look, a glass of wine. Self care” *insert peace sign*
So what is self care, and why is it important?
The Oxford Dictionary defines self care as:
1) the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health
2) the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress
Essentially anything can fall under the purview of self care if it is in favor of your health, well-being and happiness.
Self care is very important because if we don’t take care of ourselves, we are useless to both ourselves and others. If we are constantly feeling down, sick or sluggish, we won’t be able to do the things we love, and this creates a vicious cycle. Doing at least one good thing for yourself every day is key to living a healthier lifestyle.
Sometimes self care is hard. It might mean separating yourself from people you care about but you know are bad for you. It might be something as simple as loading the dishwasher when you don’t feel like it or organizing the disastrous spare room you’ve been ignoring.
Sometimes self care is fun and can even feel indulgent. It can be expensive, or it can also be completely free. Scheduling monthly massages can add up over time, whereas meditating or following a YouTube yoga routine doesn’t cost you anything except time (and internet/data you’re already paying for).
Here are some specific ways we can focus on caring for ourselves:
Food is the best medicine and the first line of defense against sickness. It is the fuel that drives us every day. What we decide to put into our bodies affects how we feel and perform. In some sense, a calorie is a calorie, but on a very bare bones level. Will you feel better after eating a 200 calorie pop tart or after a 200 calorie salad with chicken and fruit? There’s nothing wrong with indulging or partaking in food we enjoy, but this is the number one way to inaccurately claim that you are eating something in the name of self care.
*Life Hack: In times of stress, have meals already prepped to eat or have healthy snacks available such as fruit, vegetables or protein chips. Don’t stress shop for food. You will be less likely to eat a bunch of chips or candy if you have healthy options available to you instead.
Physical activity closely follows nutrition in terms of how it makes us feel. Regular activity gets our blood flowing, keeps our heart healthy and releases those feel good hormones we are always chasing. Even if your gym is closed, there are still so many options to get your fitness fix. As cheesy as it sounds, the great outdoors is always open for cardio (as much as many of us lifters hate it). HIIT and tabata style workouts are always a excellent option for pairing bodyweight exercises with limited time. If you don’t want to invest much money but want a greater challenge, resistance bands are the way to go. If you don’t mind spending some money, a few kettlebells and dumbbells can add variety to your home routines.
*Life Hack: When you find yourself in a Netflix binge, get up after each episode and do ten pushups and ten air squats during the next episode’s intro.
When people mention self care, skin care isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. However, it is something you should add into your routine if you haven’t already. Simple is best; you don’t need a variety of expensive products to keep your skin healthy. Follow a two step process: cleanse and moisturize. Depending on your skin type, you could occasionally add exfoliation. Cleansing wipes and a moisturizer is all you need!
*Life Hack: Make sure you are drinking plenty of water! Even if it is cool outside or you aren’t engaging in physical activity, it is imperative to stay hydrated. Outside of other detriments to your health, if you are dehydrated it shows in your skin.
If you don’t do anything else on this list, pay attention to this one! Sleep is the most underrated aspect of our health. Your body heals itself while you sleep, and if you aren’t getting enough it is a quick way to weaken your immune system and generally feel terrible. You’ve probably heard all of this before but that’s because it works: don’t watch TV in bed or spend time on your phone or laptop. Besides programming your brain to think getting in bed is the same as sitting on the couch, if you fall asleep with your TV or other electronics on you don’t sleep as well and will wake up several times throughout the night. Leaving the TV on while you sleep can disturb your rest from the combination of light flashes and sounds.
*Life Hack: If it is available, use the bedtime function on your phone to wind down and set to do not disturb when you’re ready to go to sleep. Even if your phone is on silent, vibrations throughout the night can still wake you. If this isn’t an option, cease the use of your electronics thirty minutes to an hour before you go to bed. Take a bath or a shower, or do some light stretching or reading to wind down. Set your phone on a bedside table instead of having it on the bed with you if you can’t set it to do not disturb so that the vibrations are less likely to wake you.
While COVID has encouraged us to stay home and alter our lifestyles, this is no reason to isolate ourselves. Healthy interactions with our loved ones is an important part of life. You may find yourself tired or stressed, but make it a point to check up on your friends or call your family regularly. More often than not they will be excited to hear from you and you will feel better after sharing your day with them. When possible and safe, plan to meet up with your friends or family in person, and stick to your plans.
*Life Hack: Set up a time to have a virtual hangout with your friends/family. There are many options now ranging from zoom to facebook video chat. This makes it convenient for everyone whether they are just pressed for time or in different locations. While virtual hangouts may be new for many people due to the pandemic, people have been doing this for years to spend time with their loved ones that live in different areas or even different countries!
This coincides with the last topic because it involves your relationships with your significant other, family and friends. Part of self care is tending to our relationships. While we may be able to go for weeks or even months without talking to our friends and still maintain a friendship, most relationships require attention in order to flourish.
*Life Hack: If you are in a romantic relationship, schedule a time to set aside all distractions and spend some time with each other. This could be during a dinner, game or a movie. For your non-romantic relationships, call a family member or friend once a week (or text if that is more your/their style).
Unfortunately there is still a stigma surrounding mental health, but there shouldn’t be! We all have times when we are not feeling our best, whether that be physically or mentally. Our mental health impacts all areas of our life. Without being mentally healthy it is very difficult to succeed in other parts of life. Even if you have everything else in order, feeling down can make it feel like nothing is going right. While having friends and family with open ears is a wonderful thing, sometimes talking to a professional is the right answer. If you don’t want to talk to someone in person, there are plenty of options online to speak with licensed counselors.
*Life Hack: Feel your feelings. It is natural to try to run from uncomfortable feelings or to ignore them, but your best bet is to acknowledge what you are feeling before moving on. By acknowledging what you are feeling, you are able to process it instead of shoving it down. By smothering it you are only putting it off until later, at which point the problem will probably have compounded. Avoidance also gives the opportunity for anxiety about the issue to creep in. Talk to someone about what you are feeling, or even consider writing it down. Either way, getting it off your chest and out of your head helps.
What is the best way to get better at self care? By scheduling it! When you add something to your routine, it becomes a habit and then it takes less thought to make it a regular part of your life. Schedule your workouts, your meal prep, therapy, and your time with loved ones.
Because of dealing with COVID over the past year, everyone’s life has changed in some shape or form. Things we used to crave (staying home more often for example) or see as valuable are now causing depression and getting in the way of what was normal. Now it is more important than ever to implement ways to make our new normal enjoyable. Instead of going to the movies with your friends like we all used to do, schedule a watch party and make some healthy snacks. This could be virtual or even an old school movie night. Even if your gym is closed, get out and enjoy nature on a hike in a national park. It is easy to stay home and keep to yourself, but it will always make you feel better to include social interaction and physical activity in your routine.
For the final take away, remember that self care is the key to remaining healthy and feeling well. Take good care of yourself!