When I end every post I write with “take care,” I truly mean it.
In the past years, I have really come to appreciate and stress the importance of self-care. I wish I had discovered it much earlier, especially in my times of deep depression or crippling anxiety. At least now I can look forward to more pleasant days ahead.
So if you have no clue what I’m talking about, self-care is your own way of going a step beyond just everyday, respectable functions. Sometimes even those are the best self-care, such as just simple acts of brushing your teeth, showering, eating good foods and moving your body in a loving way. But these basic functions are usually the ones we think about when taking care of ourselves. Sometimes, especially when life gets busy, we can neglect the mental aspects of our well-being.
It’s kind of weird explaining it as something we have to teach ourselves how to do. You might think, “Well, I have activities and hobbies I enjoy, that’s cool, right?” But how regularly do you do those things? We live in a society where things are constantly happening, and we have social media to constantly see it. It can get to a point where we feel like we need to be in our optimal performance levels at all times. But our wellness quickly suffers. We fill up our schedules with so much time to be productive, wanting to “make the most of our time,” but if we forget to leave time unscheduled, you’re bound to crash.
So as I’ve alluded to, if you’re someone who enjoys planning and you have plenty of activities on your plate, make the conscious effort to leave frequent times open where you will not do anything. Again, I refer back to mindfulness because that’s an important aspect of self-care. You are making the deliberate decision to attend to your own physical, mental and spiritual needs. At first glance, seeing time left open to do nothing seems pointless, a waste. But for you to achieve the highest quality of self, you need that time. No matter who you are or your personality or any other excuse you might throw out there, everybody can benefit from self-care.
Self-care would be much easier for us, especially Americans, if our capitalistic society supported self-care. Compared to other first-world countries, we fall way behind in the number of vacation days we get per year. We have a standard of producing top-notch product all the time, that we feel guilty about taking breaks. Even when we’re feeling physically ill, we still get ourselves to work. I know a couple times this summer I really wanted to take a mental health day to break up the dragging week and help my mood, but I always went in anyway because it felt so wrong. And I think THAT is so wrong. We are humans, not machines. Machines need to have their batteries replaced and charged, and so do we.
Once you have time set aside, start becoming more aware of yourself and how you’re feeling. Optimal wellness requires balance in physical, mental and spiritual areas. If one of these areas gets pushed aside, the other areas will feel the effects, too. The physical health is the most recognizable, as already mentioned with diet and exercise (and don’t forget sleep, too. Especially college students). I see mental as a combination of emotional and social health. I look at my stress levels and mood, and I look at my relationships with others. Spiritual is very dependent on the person, but even those who aren’t too spiritual or religious themselves, this can include mental clarity and the practice of seeking and desiring knowledge.
Self-care will look different for everybody in whatever they feel is best for them, but eventually it should become routine. Whatever helps you slow down and relieve the pressures of everyday life. I would suggest turning off social media for a length of time. Maybe you escape with your favorite TV show, take bubble baths, go on nature walks, take road trips, write in a journal (or blog), go out with friends, use coloring books, diffuse essential oils, read a great book…the possibilities are vast. Try different activities and see what you’re drawn to the most. Not only will these simple, relaxing activities be enjoyable, you’ll feel so much better and your productivity in all of your other tasks will be much higher.
Sometimes you’ll need time not originally set aside to practice self-care, more emergency, in the moment techniques you can rely on when you’re overwhelmed. A theoretical toolbox you can pull out whenever you need it most to keep you grounded. Deep breathing exercises, positive affirmations and mantras, and meditation aren’t just things “hippies do.” Depending on what you need, you could want to take time for yourself or resort to a friend’s comfort. Again, self-care is a very personal journey. You can’t just copy somebody else’s routine and expect to feel the most satisfied. You will likely discover new things about yourself along the way and perhaps try new things you never thought you would ever do or enjoy.I think that’s one of the really beautiful parts about self-care: we take a break from the external stimulation to listen to our internal voice that can get lost in the shuffle.
I encourage you to look more into self-care yourself and see what you find speaks to that internal voice. We might not even realize we need self-care until we start making an effort to do it. Think of self-care as just another task on your to-do list that deserves the same amount of attention as everything else. You deserve it.
Take care (I mean it), and keep the faith. -Allie