The term “self-care” may conjure the image of a woman at the spa, perhaps with cucumber slices over her eyes while someone paints her nails and massages her feet. But self-care is more than a superficial indulgence; practicing self-care is a necessary part of life that demands more attention than we have been giving.
Self-care looks more like visiting the doctor regularly, eating a diet that consists of healthy food options, getting fresh air and exercising regularly. But the aspect of self-care that is so often overlooked is mental self-care. In our quest to do it all, we can become hard on ourselves if we do not feel we measure up, and this can be extremely destructive to our mental health.
Mindfulness, a form of meditation, is the first important step to mental care. It is the ability to be fully present and aware of what we are doing and take in all of the experience. Mindfulness exercises are a wonderful way to soothe a tired mind. According to a recent TED talk given by Andy Puddicombe, just 10 minutes a day of quiet meditation can have a significant impact on our mental well-being. There are a multitude of resources from books and videos to apps (like Clam) that can be useful guides on mindful breathing to keep your mind quiet, or you can try it on your own.
Getting enough sleep is the second important step to mental care. Sleep is paramount to both mental and physical health, and it is so easy not to do! Try setting an alarm not just for waking up, but for going to sleep as well. A visual reminder to go to bed at a reasonable hour (and I do not mean to lie in bed and scroll aimlessly on social media) can help make sure we practice this very important aspect of self-care.
Physical self-care is important as well, and is often a reflection of our mental state. We start to become so overwhelmed by the stresses of life that we start to let personal grooming slide. Letting our physical self-care wane is because we have convinced ourselves that it isn’t important, but this sends ourselves the message that WE aren’t important. Brush your hair and teeth, put on clean clothes, clean the dirt from under your fingernails. It doesn’t matter if you think that others won’t notice; do these things for yourself. Feeling confident in our external appearance can have profound effects on our internal attitude and thought patterns, and thus, on our mental wellbeing.
There are numerous other self-care activities you can try out as well. I have found that journaling can help me work through difficult emotions, and art helps me focus my mind on something less stressful for a period of time. Many individuals find that gardening has healing powers, while others find yoga keeps their minds and bodies more flexible. Many people turn to books for a brief escape into another world, and return to their own world feeling refreshed and perhaps even inspired. The challenge is to identify your personal needs and honor them. You cannot pour from an empty cup, as they say, so fill yourself up before trying to take on the world through self-care.