“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” – Jean Shinoda Bolen
So essential to life balance and our overall health, self-care fuels our emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Without self-care, our lives can feel harried, stressed and out of control. However, we often put our own needs on the back burner, feeling a sense of guilt if we carve out time for ourselves. If you are feeling low energy, stressed or that you’re lacking balance in some areas of your life, learn how you can develop a regular self-care practice. Learn how to make time for you in your busy life and why self care is one of the most important steps to better health.
Self care can be defined as giving yourself “permission” to do what your body needs. We receive signals from our body telling us to slow down or take a nap or take time for that yoga class, however in the crux of the decision, we often ignore our bodies’ signals and choose to “forge ahead, ” to keep “doing.” So, often we choose “busyness” or productivity in lieu of taking a walk in the woods. Self care is about taking care of the most important person in your life—you! Self care can only be provided for you, by you.
We live in an age where productivity is the new normal. From the time we wake up, we are in a rush; we rush to get kids ready for school, rush to our jobs or home to do housework and errands and then it’s homework, dinner, dishes, bath and bed. For many of us, life has become a treadmill that we can’t slow down or get off of. However, this state of always “doing” versus “being” is not good for our health. It can make us feel worn out, stressed and run down. This is especially true for women, who are notorious for putting others first and themselves last, for always nurturing others, but never themselves. Often sacrificing their own needs, many women develop a “martyr” syndrome, without even realizing it, which can create stress, resentment and unhappiness.
Self-care is especially important not only for your physical and mental health but also for your sense of self-esteem. If you take care of yourself, you are conveying to others that your needs are important, too. It reminds our loved ones; our husbands, wives, children and co-workers that you value yourself and they need to respect that. This is not being selfish. It is as essential as breathing. Think of the analogy of an airplane emergency. We all know that if we are presented with an emergency on a flight and the oxygen mask falls down, the first rule is to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Only when we first seek to help ourselves can we effectively give the best of ourselves to others. In fact, caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. It is also often one of the easiest things to forget.
Today stress has become one of the greatest risk factors to poor health. According to Statistics Canada, stress carries several negative health consequences, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, as well as immune and circulatory complications. Exposure to stress can also contribute to behaviours such as smoking, over-consumption of alcohol, and less-healthy eating habits. Statistics Canada reports that in 2013, 23.0% (6.6 million) of Canadians aged 15 and older reported that most days were ‘quite a bit’ or ‘extremely stressful’. Without a routine of self care, we are at risk for disease and unhealthy behaviours, so from this perspective, self care becomes an essential path to improving your health.
We need to be reminded how to create a practice of self-care, how to slow down that treadmill, because it’s in our own power to do so. As a yoga instructor, I often help to teach my participants to give themselves permission to be present during their practice, to let go of their “to do” lists and allow themselves this sacred time for themselves only. This gives them a chance to center, to become more mindful, like pressing a reset button during their day. Instead of mindlessly plodding through their day, I ask them to set an intention of what they would like to see manifested in their day. This is more a spiritual “to do” list, inviting more connection, more presence, or possibly more kindness into their day.
Yoga is only one example of inviting self-care into your life. If yoga isn’t for you, think instead about what fuels your soul; what makes you feel refreshed, energized, or soothed. Take time to identify your own needs and start taking steps towards meeting them. What are some activities that nurture you? What is your definition of self care? Your definition of self-care should be letting yourself do whatever you want to do. That may be taking time during your day to meditate, to get a massage, to get more sleep or to eat more regular meals. Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.
Self-care can have many manifestations. The good news is there is no right answer as to what self-care looks like. It can take the simple form of a good night's sleep on a regular basis, making sure to eat healthy foods, exercising regularly, meditating, or taking time to relax and see friends. While these examples of self-care may seem obvious, they're actually essential elements of feeling happy, productive and fulfilled at work and at home.
Think of your needs as encompassing three important areas of your life; your mind, body and spirit. All three components of your life need equal nurturing. Your physical body needs healthy food, sleep and exercise; your mind needs permission to take a pause from a demanding work or family life and needs to be engaged in learning; your spirit needs to be refreshed and renewed, by, say walking in the woods or writing in your journal. When developing your own self care routine, remember to balance out activities for all three of these areas of your life.
Establishing a self-care routine is such an important tool in creating healthy boundaries and developing a sense of balance, even in the face of a challenging work or demanding family environment. Start by introducing 10-15 minutes per day of an activity that nurtures you and once a week, commit to an hour of self care time. Start listening to those cues to slow down or take a nap, instead of tuning them out as you may have been accustomed to doing. Self care only works when you listen to your body, and do what you want without resistance. Like anything, with practice you will be better positioned to hear the voice that is begging for some “me” time and more likely to agree that you are very much worth it. Care enough about yourself to make room for what nourishes you and you will invite better health, happiness and joy into your life.