Written by: Rebekkah Witten, LCSW, TF-CBT Certified
What is “self-care,” really?
Self-care is a media buzzword to describe everything you do to take care of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Unfortunately, popular media tends to portray self-care as simply a quick-release valve for momentary pleasure or relaxation, usually in the form of luxury indulgences like manicures, pedicures, massages, and vacations. But frankly, if you had the time and money for all that stuff, you probably wouldn’t feel quite so stressed in the first place!
True self-care is a lot more than just doing some relaxing things. In order to be sustainable, self-care requires developing healthy habits and skills so that when things get rough, we have the strength and supports we need to keep going.
Self-care is about setting boundaries on your time. It’s about nurturing healthy relationships. And it’s about valuing yourself enough to choose your long-term goals over short-term distractions.
Here is one therapist’s top five picks for sustainable self-care:
- Move Your Body
Exercise releases feel-good chemicals for your brain and is a great way to let off some steam! I know, I know, you already know this and you still “hate” to exercise, right?
Stop calling it exercise! This isn’t punishment, you aren’t forcing yourself to “pay” for that brownie and you aren’t trying to fit into those old jeans. Just find some movement you enjoy and do it because it feels good. Maybe you like going for photography walks, or maybe you enjoy chopping wood for the fireplace, or maybe you really like putting on some loud music and dancing. Whatever gets you moving is good!
No crazy goals here. Five minutes is enough. Just get up and move!
- Feel your feelings without judging them.
Learn to recognize your feelings and give yourself permission to have those feelings without judging whether or not those feelings are okay. It is exhausting enough to feel sad, angry, resentful, hurt or afraid without also beating yourself up that it’s “wrong,” “selfish” or “stupid” to feel the way you are feeling.
The ability to acknowledge your feelings without getting caught up in them is a type of mindfulness practice. Even if traditional meditation has never been your jam, steal this little piece of it for your own peace of mind.
Hey grown-ups, this means you! Even though play is a need for all humans, it can be especially hard for adults who have forgotten how to play. Play requires that we let go of a little bit of dignity and embrace a little bit of vulnerability, which can be hard for adults who have to “have it all together” all the time. But play helps to strengthen relationships, increases creativity and keeps your brain young.
Play a game, tell some jokes, watch a funny movie, sing at the top of your lungs in your car, or get really excited about cute cat videos on YouTube. Start a water fight with your kids, pick up some adult coloring books, flirt with your partner just for fun or go throw a ball for your dog. Embrace a little lighthearted silliness for a while and see how it changes your mood.
- Do the Thing You’ve Been Avoiding
It sounds counter-intuitive, because you really don’t want to do that thing… but getting it crossed off your to-do list will remove the dark cloud of “I really should –“ that is hanging over you.
Maybe it’s a phone call you don’t want to return, an appointment you don’t want to make, a person you need to set boundaries with… whatever the “thing” is, take the first step towards doing it. The sense of accomplishment from doing a thing you don’t want to do will bring some positive momentum to your life. Remember, the dread of doing the thing is worse than doing the thing! Give yourself the reward of getting it done.
- Learn how and when to say “No.”
There’s no way around it, practicing self-care requires some time. If you are like most people, this is the main reason it’s so hard to actually do it. Making time for healthy new habits often means letting go of something else to make some room.
One of the best ways to start making room for your well-being is to learn to say “no” to things that take away from that time. Since time is a limited resource, learn to value your time and ration it so you have enough to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of – this includes yourself! Saying “no” to extra favors, meetings, and tasks can be one of the most powerful strategies in your self-care toolbox, because it makes room for all the other things that support your well-being.
If you need help figuring out how to apply these or other stress-reduction techniques to your life, your therapist is here to help! Let us know what you are struggling to manage and we can help you figure out the tools you need to overcome it.