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Inspired by Brianna Wiest’s amazing article This Is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake, I decided to pull a list of items together that will actually help you take care of yourself, without focusing on “treating yourself” or acting irresponsibly to avoid difficult situations. Self-care literally means just that: taking care of yourself. It sometimes means doing the basics to make sure you’re the most well-rounded, healthy version of yourself you can be.
1. Take any money you were planning on blowing on something frivolous for the sake of “treating yourself” into an emergency savings account instead. You never know when personal disaster may strike. Having the financial resources readily available to support you in times of personal crisis will make whatever has happened (lost job, natural disaster, medical emergency, etc.) easier to navigate.
2. Learn to meditate. Meditation is hard, that’s for sure, but it’s also totally worth it. The benefits of meditation are well documented and it’s a classic self-care practice performed by many. To help you ease into the process, download an app like Headspace to help you along into your mindfulness journey.
3. Take a shower. Yes, I’m serious. Typically when we’re trying to focus more on self-care, we’re usually also in a place of great personal duress. Any of these sound familiar? Work deadlines are crushing you. Relationship problems are abundant. Depression is all-consuming. All of these scenarios can make taking time for basic self-care such as proper hygiene incredibly difficult to partake in. But just hopping in the shower for five minutes can help you slow down and recenter. And you’ll feel cleaner, too.
4. Turn off social media notifications on your phone. You’ll be shocked to find out how much these apps are actually draining our time, energy, and attention. Not to mention your phone battery and data! As well, research has shown that too much exposure to social media can be detrimental to our mental health. It’s so easy to fall into a comparison trap once you start scrolling through Instagram. Stop. Put the phone down and turn the notifications off. You can retweet Chrissy Teigen later.
5. Put your phone on airplane mode for designated hours of the day. Much like social media notifications, our phone constantly buzzing with texts and calls and emails is draining of our energy, time, and attention. Let people know that between, say, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., you will be unreachable. You’ll call, text, and email them back after that window.
6. Make exercise a priority. Not only is it good for you physically, exercise is also incredibly good for your mind. Even just 30 minutes of walking a day will improve your overall physical and mental health, you don’t have to get crazy. You just have to get moving.
7. Go. To. The. Doctor. Putting off yearly physicals, eye exams, seeing your gynecologist, etc. is convenient in the moment, sure, but it’s also not very good for you in the long run. Schedule your appointments and make sure you go to them. This is your health we’re talking about.
8. Journal. A little bit of self-reflection each day in the form of journaling is never a bad thing. In fact, there are actual health benefits to writing it all down, such as stress reduction. Journaling can also help you track your mood, see changes in behavior, and shifts in relationships. Having it all documented will help you tackle your problems in a clearer way.
9. If work is a huge stressor in your life, talk to your boss. A lot of times we can alleviate a lot of work stress by delegating tasks and speaking up when we need help. We’re also so afraid of looking “bad” for asking for support, but it’s a lot better to be self-aware and know when you need an extra hand than trying to do it all by yourself.
10. See a therapist. Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it can very well save your life. And even if you’re not struggling with mental illness or a traumatic life event, therapy can still help improve your life.
11. Force yourself to take breaks at work. Yes, you could work through your lunch and then stay late. But science says otherwise. Research has shown that taking breaks while working is actually more productive in the long run, among a number of other reasons such as boosting your creativity and improving your concentration. Contrary to popular belief, stepping away doesn’t make you lazy, nor does it mean you have a shitty work ethic. It actually means the opposite.
13. Perfect your sleep hygiene routine. Never heard of sleep hygiene? Well, you have now! According to the National Sleep Foundation, “Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” Some examples of practicing good sleep hygiene include exercise, avoiding substances such as alcohol or caffeine that can negatively impact sleep, going to bed at the same time every night, etc.
14. Cut back on the booze. Sure, Happy Hour is fun. Going out on Friday night is fun. Know what isn’t fun? Hangovers. A $30 Lyft ride home. Saying shit you would never say sober. Drunk guilt when you overthink everything you did the night before. When you’re struggling to take care of yourself, treating yourself to a night out isn’t actually treating yourself. It’s self-sabotage. Say “No thanks” to the beer and stay in and do something that you’ll actually thank yourself for later.
15. Eat right. We always think about what we eat in terms of “looking good,” but eating healthily is actually beneficial for reasons beyond that, such as literal physical health but also our mental health, too.
16. Say “No” when you need to. Listen closely to your mind and body and know when to skip out on social obligations, extra work tasks you really don’t have the bandwidth for, or favors that are extremely inconvenient for you at a given time. Sometimes you need to focus on yourself and get done what you need to get done. In the end, taking care of yourself will actually give you more flexibility in the long term to help others. After all, if you’re drowning, how do you expect to keep someone else afloat?