You Set the Ground Rules
There's a lot going on right now. Of course, when you read the memoirs of those who lived before us, there was a lot going on then, too.
The only thing we can be assured of is change, and change challenges many of us.
We can't ignore it, so how do we manage it? One way is to take a step back and take care of yourself. As Audre Lorde once said, it's not about self-indulgence, it's about self-preservation.
Self-care doesn't have to be fancy spas and expensive retreats. In fact, it's mostly about creating habits that will sustain you for the long term -- because most of us can't live in fancy spas or expensive retreats. We can start with the simple things, create habits around them, and then see how we feel.
A few of the benefits of developing a conscious self-care routine include:
- Embracing your value - Your life may be filled with others asking you to do things for them -- from bosses to partners, children to friends -- and it's easy to put your needs behind those of others, especially if their needs seem more important. But doing so without care for ourselves can leave us feeling depleted and sometimes resentful. By taking steps to care for ourselves, we develop a wellspring of love, kindness, and generosity, and we not only have more to give to others, doing so won't deplete our resources.
- Balancing your life - Taking time to care for yourself will introduce a whole new way of organizing your day. Starting all at once can be difficult, but if you slowly introduce new habits into your schedule, you'll find that you can make room for them without even trying. This will enrich your personal and professional lives by helping you build an energy reserve, which will enable you to be more present in each activity you engage, instead of mindlessly moving from one task to the next.
- Expanding your perspective - Self-reflection, reading about the experiences of others, taking time to be in nature -- these are just a few of the ways that you can deepen your understanding of yourself and the world around you. Taking time to listen to others is also powerful: You not only have the opportunity to learn more about them, you develop the guardrails of trust which will promote effective communication in the future. Remaining curious about life and your place in it is an excellent method of self-care -- keep learning and growing, and filling that reservoir with empathy, compassion, and understanding.
To develop your own self-care routine, try adding a new habit each week over the course of a month.
For us, we add events to our online calendar with reminders, but you could also use task manager apps or go old school with a handwritten daily planner. You choose the best method for adjusting your schedule each week -- if it works, it works.
Week One: Refresh
To begin your process, think about what refreshes you.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Sleeping -- Do you wake feeling rested? If not, why not? Are you getting enough sleep (6 - 8 hours is often recommended)? Are you sleeping through the night? Creating an effective sleep hygiene routine could be your focus for your first week.
- Hydrating -- Are you drinking enough water? Can you add one more glass to your intake each day? For example, drinking a glass of hot water with lemon in the morning, a practice which can help with digestion and more.
- Moving -- What do you do before you go to bed each night? How about when you get up in the morning? Try incorporating some stretching into your morning routine before you head to bed and right when you get up in the morning.
Think of one thing you're not doing now that you know has the potential to help you feel more refreshed each day, and then add it to your schedule beginning this week.
Week Two: Nourish
Nourishment can come in a variety of ways -- from the food that we eat to the people we spend time with to how we take care of our bodies.
At the beginning of your second week, think of one thing that nourishes you that you're not doing today, and then add it in.
Need some ideas? Here you go:
- Eating -- Are you eating breakfast each day? Do you have healthy snacks available throughout the day? Try writing down everything you eat over the course of the day and look for ways you could improve either the timing or the foods you're eating. Here's a checklist that can help guide you in understanding what changes you can make, or you could try this app to help you create a new meal plan,
- Connecting -- Who are you spending your time with? Do these people energize you or deplete you? Are there people you're not seeing regularly that energize you that you haven't made time for in a while? Ensure you're spending time with people and in environments that leave you feeling vibrant.
- Nurturing -- Are you taking care of your body's largest organ? We're talking about your skin, of course. A simple routine that you can start doing on a daily or weekly basis is the Ayurvedic practice of Garshana, or dry-brushing, which helps slough off dead skin and feels fabulous. Afterwards, soak in a bath or take a hot shower -- and perhaps even top it all off by applying lotion or your favorite body oil.
Week Three: Explore
Self-care is also about exploring and expanding your world.
During week three, focus on how you can get out of your usual stomping grounds and experience something new.
- Strolling -- Are you moving your body each day? Is that happening in the same drab gym, or are you out in the world? If you can squeeze a 30-minute walk in a new area once or twice a week, it will have the double benefit of physical fitness and of expanding your knowledge of where you live.
- Hiking -- When's the last time you were out in nature, far enough that you couldn't hear the sounds of cars or your cell phone didn't have any coverage? While hiking on a weekly basis may be a lot for some, researching and planning for a monthly hike is something you can work into your regular schedule.
- Traveling -- Have you been somewhere new or different in the last year? You don't have to take an expensive vacation to discover something new and get out of your comfort zone. Even taking day trips to other towns or cities around you will give you the opportunity to experience new people and places.
Week Four: Cultivate
Finally, in week four, it's time to think about growing your concept of yourself and others.
- Reading -- Set aside some time each day to read something that intrigues or inspires you. We read non-fiction books, news, or articles in the morning, and we save fiction or poetry for the evening, but it doesn't really matter when or what you read, just that you're reading. Read something written by someone who isn't anything like you -- from another country, another demographic, another century. Reading is a wonderful way to expand your perspective and remind you that, no matter how different we may all seem on the surface, we share far more than not.
- Creating -- You don't have to be an artist to create! You can cultivate your creative spirit by engaging in stream-of-consciousness writing for 30 minutes upon waking each morning, or take a sketchbook with you everywhere and try drawing some things you see or jot down notes about your day. Taking art classes or spending time working on creative projects with friends and family -- whatever works for you, just make time to create each day, week, or month.
- Reflecting -- Meditation is not only a great way to slow yourself down after a long day and prep yourself for sleep, it's an opportunity for you to reflect on your day and clear your mind. Try building up your meditation time in increments of five minutes and then determine what works for you. You could incorporate breathing techniques, too, try different styles of meditation, or just sit quietly with your eyes closed and notice the sounds around you.
When it comes to self-care, there are as many ways to implement it in your life as there are people.
We hope this process of choosing one new thing to add to your life over the course of a month will help you develop a routine to care for yourself and sustain it over time.
What are your favorite self-care habits?
We'd love to hear your ideas -- please share them in the comments!
Looking for more tips on why and how you can develop an effective self-care routine? Check out these resources:
- A History of Self-Care
- Practicing Self-Care Is Important: 10 Easy Habits To Get You Started
- TED Playlist: The importance of self-care
- The Hairpin Self-Care Archive
- You Feel Like S***: An interactive self-care guide