By Adrian Mellinger of Real Life Social Worker
Self-care is a huge deal right now. I mean, everyone is talking about it. But how many people know how to actually practice self-care effectively? Some of you may be brand new to the idea of self-care and have no clue where to start. For others, you may be well aware of self-care practices and ideas, but you may be feeling lost in the world of self-love.
I firmly believe that self-care strategies can be limitless and can be incredibly unique to each individual. But, there are some self-care ideas that are universal and so, so important to practice. Regardless of where you are at, it can be a good idea to start with the basics. These are the top self-care strategies that everyone should consider, whether you are new to self- care or whether you just need to hit the reset button on what self-care means to you.
What we put into our bodies really, really matters. We should be eating foods that are good for our body and our souls. That means there are two types of nourishment! Physical nourishment is making sure that our bodies are getting the nutrients (not junk!) that we need to thrive. Mental nourishment is different. It can mean eating the foods we are craving...and being okay with it! So enjoy your fruit, your veggies, and your chocolate! Eat a well-balanced mixture of good for your body (and soul) foods. Eat regularly and do your best to listen to your body's messages about fullness, cravings, or hunger. If you eat what your body loves, caring for yourself will be so much easier.
Our bodies were made to move. But that doesn't mean we were all made to be high- performance athletes! Every single individual is unique, which means each of us has different exercise needs. My body will definitely crave and/or need a different exercise routine than you. And you will definitely need a different routine than your sister, coworker, or that one person on Instagram. Find what works for you. Because what works for you won't be the same as anyone else. And what works for you is what you are most likely to continue doing in the long run. If you want to hike, then hike. If you just love yoga...then do yoga! If you're a walker, then keep on walking. Listen to your body and respond by giving it what it wants...even if that means resting from exercising.
So, so many of our bodily functions require water, which means staying hydrated is a pretty big deal. When we don't have enough water in our bodies, we might struggle to thrive. Plus, dehydration can lead to uncomfortable results like constipation, dizziness, dry/dull skin, and headaches. If you get thirsty, you're already dehydrated. So pick up that water bottle and fill it up. And don't forget: water is best! Liquids like coffee and alcohol tend to be dehydrating, which is the opposite of what we want.
If you know me, you know that I am a huge fan of sleep. I can feel the difference between 6 hours of sleep and 8 hours of sleep. And the people around me can probably tell if I've missed out on some serious slumber. What are some signs of sleep deprivation? Irritability, extra hunger, drowsiness, and headaches. What about some perks of getting a good nights sleep? Better heart health (including blood pressure), balanced hormones, and a healthy appetite. But how do we promote good sleep? Avoid electronics just before going to bed, control the temperature of your sleeping environment as best as possible (not too hot...not too cold!), and perhaps try some deep breathing, journaling, or yoga to help wind down.
Take Care of the Environment
Why would I be talking about the environment as part of self-care? Bear with me for a moment. We are directly impacted by our surroundings. Pollution, climate change, and other environmental issues can very easily influence our physical, emotional, and mental health. Just as an example, water and air pollution caused by industrial work (ex: factories) may cause lung disease, other respiratory issues, gastrointestinal disease, or other physical ailments. And chronic physical ailments tend to bring with them stress, frustration, and possibly even depression. When we don't take care of the environment, we also risk losing out on the beauty of nature. Plastics in the ocean are killing wildlife and destroying the natural ecosystem.
But how to respond?
Do your research! Learn about ways you might be positively or negatively impacting the earth. Maybe ask yourself where your money is going. How we spend our money (on both big and small purchases) is a reflection of our values. In terms of smaller purchases, coconut bowls are an amazing way to love the earth. They fulfil a need (a way to safely and hygienically eat) and they reduce environmental waste. And since caring for the earth is a way to pursue a healthy living environment, these coconut bowls are just one way to show yourself, your community, and future generations some extra love. Interested in other practical ideas to care for the environment? Look into the zero-waste movement (more on that here), start using reusables (ex: mugs, bags, or feminine hygiene products), avoid plastic, or maybe even advocate for better environmental policy!
Yes, I'm talking about hygiene. I'm also talking about keeping your work and/or living space clean. A clean space (and body) has the direct benefit of preventing disease and other health issues. Bacteria and other contagions are less likely to become a significant issue in spaces and bodies that are regularly cleaned and cared for. Also, we are less likely to become injured, more likely to be social, and less likely to experience unpleasant odours. But cleanliness can also be beneficial because it can relieve stress, remind us of our body's value, and help us take ownership of what we own. Heres my challenge: shift your perspective! Instead of looking at cleaning as a chore, look at it as an opportunity to love yourself.
Have Some Fun
To be honest, this one can be difficult for me. I'm a Type 1 (Enneagram), Type A, and INTJ. Fun just doesn't come naturally to my type of personality. But oh, does it make a difference when I remember to have fun. Our stress levels can go down, we feel more relaxed and better able to handle our current situations, and we can feel more happiness. Because of all of these great things, other areas of our life might benefit. It might be easier to sleep better, eat well, or respond appropriately in high-intensity situations. Having fun can mean taking up a hobby, being creative (like photography or painting), laughing, or simply doing something that doesn't add stress to your life. It can be incredibly hands-on and scheduled or it can be simple and a natural part of your day. As with any self-care idea, your options are limitless! I have a feeling you'll know when you've found something you find truly enjoyable.
Again, this doesn't come easily to me. Similarly, not all self-care strategies will come naturally to you. And that's okay! Being social has some pretty incredible perks, including:
1. A strong support system
2. Keeping your perspective in check
3. Reduced stress
4. An improved immune system (due to reduced stress)
5. Opportunities to learn more about the world and yourself.
I just told you to be social, so why am I suggesting you should spend time by yourself?? Because we all need a good balance of both. I'm talking to all of the extroverts and introverts reading this. Every single one of us needs to find a healthy balance of how much time we spend with others and with ourselves. Being by yourself can help you shift your perspective just as much as being social. Being by yourself can also ground yourself in what you value and believe...without the influence of others. Here are some quick ideas for some alone-time activities: go for a walk, curl up with a good book, watch your favorite show, take a nap, cook with a new recipe, paint something, or take yourself out for lunch.
You know how I just mentioned nine ways to practice self-care? Sometimes it’s important to just take a step back and breathe. Forget the rules, structures, or other must-dos in your life. Rest can be taking a day off and doing something different (or nothing at all!). But rest is also a mindset. Rest is giving yourself permission to simply stop moving. To stop thinking, worrying, or even sometimes to stop creating. Rest is, of course, temporary. But rest is necessary because it can ground you, energize you, repair you, and remind you of what you value and prioritize.