In a world where it can feel like we lack so much control, taking control of our mental and physical health can be one of the most empowering things we can do. Once we fill our own cup we will have the energy to help others fill theirs.
Self-care also allows us to connect with ourselves on a deeper level, find our deeper purpose, strengthen our relationships, and create our dreams.
Though some of these suggestions may not sound like your thing or may feel out of your comfort zone, I urge you to keep an open mind and experiment. I'm sure you can think of at least one thing that you love to do that at one time you were terrified of or negative towards. Once you've kept an open mind, listen to your heart, and do what feels right for you, and only you.
1. Give yourself the space to practice self-care.
It's easy to get stressed out about doing self-care in the first place, and it's important not to let self-care become a chore.
Try your best to stay easy-going, experimental, and non-judgmental. Remind yourself that we live in a fast-paced society that imposes these pressures to always be doing, working on, and achieving something. Modern society's expectations will make even the most productive person feel like they aren't doing enough, discount the importance of mental health and rest, and encourage harmful person-to-person comparisons.
These expectations are unrealistic and harmful, period. Once you can shift your focus to your own needs and passions and ignore the opinions and expectations from others, you can whole-heartedly reap the benefits of self-care.
Remind yourself: It is okay to rest. It is okay not to know what I am going to do. It is okay to take days off and nights in. It is okay not to feel super happy all of the time. It's okay not to know the answers. It's okay not to look like that person or that person. It's okay to win, and it's okay to fail. I do not need validation from others to know I am awesome. Now, read that again.
2. Become aware of how you use technology.
Remember that modern technology is a blessing when used in the right ways, and a curse when used in the wrong ways.
It is wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips, the ability to contact loved ones from anywhere at any time, the medicines to treat otherwise deadly ailments, etc.
However, it's not so fun to get pulled into the black holes of Netflix, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube for hours a day. While these networks can certainly be used for educational and destressing purposes, we need to be mindful of whether that is the case or not, as well as when it's time to cut it off.
If you make a habit of watching news sources daily, be mindful of which ones you watch, what their biases are, and how it is affecting your stress levels. You may need to explore some other sources and/or reduce the amount you watch or read.
Generally, it is helpful to stay off of your phone/laptop an hour after you wake up and an hour before you go to bed. In between those times, try to stay aware of how you use your technology and whether or not it is beneficial to you. If you feel like you've wasted your time or increased your stress levels, reduce or change it up next time.
Also, if you sleep with your phone six feet or closer to your body, try turning it on airplane mode overnight to reduce radiation.
Meditation sounds elusive, intimidating, and seemingly impossible, I know. But get this, there is almost no wrong way to do it. Meditation is simply the awareness of your breath and your five senses at any given moment.
Start at any point of your day, in any situation you feel comfortable in. Sit up or lay down, though I find that laying down may be the easiest way to start as a beginner.
Relax your whole body and close your eyes. Listen to your breath and the sounds around you, feel the surface under your body and the fabrics on your skin. Your attention will stray because you are human. Bring it back to the here and now as many times as needed. Once you have paid relaxed attention to your surroundings for a minute or two, turn your attention inward. Feel your chest and stomach rise and fall, imagine the oxygen running through your body, and become aware of the stillness you are creating. Just one to five minutes of this can make a positive difference in your day.
Additionally, you can find tons of guided meditations on YouTube or as podcasts. There are so many different kinds, so try a few out to find what works best for you.
4. Start a morning journal.
Sometimes stress stems from having too much going on in our heads. Putting your thoughts down on paper is a good way to remove brain clutter and think things through.
Every morning when you wake up, try to write a couple of sentences or pages of whatever is on your mind. There is no wrong way to do this. If you had an interesting dream, write it down. If you are thinking about what you are going to do that day, write it down. If you had a memorable day or night yesterday, write about it. If you have been thinking a lot about something lately, write it down. If you can't think of anything to write, literally write that. If you like to doodle, add a doodle. Personalize this to fit you.
This practice not only relieves your mind but also gives your morning some routine and structure. Maybe grab a cup of tea or coffee while you write to make it more enjoyable.
5. Bring movement into every day.
This will depend on lifestyle, time, and responsibilities, but everyone can incorporate some sort of health-promoting movement into their day.
For some people, this may simply be doing a few stretches in the morning and/or at night. Others may choose to go on a walk or jog, dance alone to music, follow a yoga tutorial, use weights, do calisthenics and other no-equipment workouts, etc.
Again, there are tons of tutorials and workout videos on the internet. It's a good idea to switch your daily movement up based on how you feel each day, and so you don't grow bored of the same thing over and over. Don't judge yourself, be experimental, and feel it out.
Self-care is about taking care of yourself in every state. Be aware of what your physical and mental state are day-to-day. If you wake up thinking "Wow, I mentally feel like shit today," it's probably a good idea to do some cardio to flush out your system and promote happy hormones in your brain. If you wake up thinking "Wow, my body is so tired," you might just want to do some stretches and go to bed early that night.
Again, feel it out, experiment, don't judge—but most importantly, be playful and try to have fun.
6. Fuel your body with whole foods.
Whole foods are foods that have not been processed or refined and have no additives or artificial substances. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, potatoes, quinoa, oats, brown rice pasta), nuts, seeds, and beans are all whole foods. These foods are easily digestible, except for some uncooked vegetables, contain lots of nutrients including sufficient protein, and keep you full longer than processed foods.
Obviously, it's a lot to ask someone to only eat whole foods, and many find it restricting among so many food options and specialty stores/restaurants. It is a good baseline to fill the base of your diet with whole foods while supplementing it with your favorite sauces, spices, some animal products, and occasional processed snacks or desserts.
Some foods that absolutely do not serve your body's hormones or energy levels are:
-processed, fatty meats (bacon, lunch meat, sausage, hotdogs)
-sugary drinks (energy drinks, soda, sweetened juices)
-highly processed snacks (pastries, Doritos, Cheetos, Lays, sugary cereal)
-white bread like Wonder Bread
-processed cheesy foods like pizza, fried foods, and fast food
Research some healthier alternatives to your favorite foods in this section. For example, replace white bread with freshly baked sourdough, French, or wheat bread.
Remain conscientious of how you incorporate alcohol into your life as well. While a drink or two never hurt anyone, overdoing it repeatedly is detrimental to the health of our minds and bodies.
Now, food and diet can be an extremely touchy subject for a lot of people and deserves its own article entirely. I recommend eating food based on what it will do to the inside of your body, and the outside results will come in time. Diets are not usually sustainable. Instead, make long-term, attainable lifestyle choices. As always, this takes experimentation for each body type, pallette, and lifestyle. Experiment with cooking and dressing your whole-foods with simple-ingredient sauces, hummus, dressings, spices, etc. to make them enjoyable for you. Eat enough calories for your age and weight. Always listen to your body and eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. It is normal and okay for this ability to take time.
Overall, feed and treat your body like the beautiful, capable, organic machine that it is. You are what you eat. Oh, and drink that water! Three to four liters of water a day will hydrate your skin, lubricate your joints, and increase your energy.
7. Express yourself.
Everyone is a uniquely talented, creative, thoughtful, and capable human. How do these things manifest in you?
Do you prefer to express yourself through your hard work and dedication, through your attire, hairstyle, tattoos, writing, painting, drawing, woodwork, architecture, teaching, coaching, music, room decor, makeup, communication style, sport—the list is endless and most people have multiple expressions.
Expression is a huge freedom that many of us take advantage of, yet it is a large proponent to our mental health. Become aware of yours so that you can hone in on and grow that passion. When we become so emersed in doing a passion that we think of nothing else and lose track of time, we enter a state called flow. I encourage you do look up "flow" and learn more about it, as it can have similar effects as meditation.
Expression is a self-care method because it allows us to connect with our inner beauty, accept ourselves whole-heartedly, and be more respectful of every other person's own version of expression.
8. Show yourself some love.
Hang out with yourself and have fun. I know it sounds weird, but talk to yourself, joke with yourself, laugh with yourself, and give yourself a big hug once in a while. You are the only person who will be with you your whole life, so you better make friends with yourself.
You can promote this self-love by doing little things for yourself, by yourself. Some examples are taking yourself to watch the sunset outside somewhere, having a picnic, setting up a warm, candle-lit bath, having a spa hour or day, saving time to do a hobby, read a book, or cook a meal each day, take yourself to a movie or out to lunch (when safe to do so), and really anything else that you can think of and enjoy.
There is so much freedom in feeling complete with yourself and relying on no one else. Once you are happy with nothing but yourself, no one can hold power over you. You can walk through life with the confidence that you are beautiful, constantly evolving, worthy, and deserving of love and fairness. With that energy surrounding you, people will flock to your side knowing that you ask nothing from them but for them to be themselves as well.
Though this is not necessarily alone time, seeking out a therapist is a great way to show yourself some love and do something good for yourself. It is time that we reduce the stigmas around mental health and seeking professional help. Even those with the highest well-being can gain from going to therapy. Many therapists themselves seek therapy as well. During quarantine many therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists offer their services through Zoom or phone calls, so do not be dissuaded. Take the leap if this feels necessary for you.
9. Get out into nature.
Nature has been the salve to all wounds since the beginning of human existence. In modern days, many of us have lost touch with nature's beauty and healing properties. Now, I'm not claiming that nature can miraculously heal every ailment in the book, but Eastern medicine shows us the endless possibilities of earth-based, holistic care.
Before cars, grocery stores, air-conditioning, toilets, etc., humans used the basic qualities of nature to survive. They made shelter, clothing, and fire, foraged, caught, and raised their own food, created medicines and health practices, bathed in and drank straight from water sources, told time by the sun, and so much more. In comparison, humans nowadays are out of touch with the wonders of nature.
So, step outside at least once a day. Touch your bare skin to the earth, respect the other living beings going about their day alongside you, breathe in the fresh air, and soak in the sunlight.
This is especially important in our current pandemic, where a lot of us are staying inside more often. It can be extremely humbling and connecting to spend time with nature. We're all made of the same stardust, after all.
10. Create routine.
Routine is helpful in making us feel grounded and relaxed. You can be the most spontaneous person and still incorporate routine into your life. Start with the minute you wake up. Make a routine out of the steps you take to start your day. Do you brush your teeth and wash your face first? Make a cup of coffee or tea? Write a journal entry? Do you work out, and if so should you set out your workout clothes the night before to speed things up? What about work clothes? When do you like to eat breakfast? Morning routines can set you up for a productive day.
If you like more routine or have a lot to get done, make a list for the rest of your day.
At night do you have a skincare routine? When do you need to go to bed so that you get enough sleep? Set boundaries for yourself in the name of self-care. Too little sleep can lead to irritability and burn-out, but I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone that. As always, play around with what works best for you.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by these tips, my advice is to start with one thing that seems feasible for you and work up from there.
Personalize these things to your own lifestyle and do your research. And, always put your mental health first. You cannot spread your light to other things, projects, and people if you are already feeling worn out.
Respect and get to know yourself on a deeper level so that you can make the best choices for yourself in the future. We all start somewhere.
From my heart to yours, stay well, stay you, and spread love.