We hear a lot about self-care these days. It’s a buzz-word and many people think they don’t have time to fit self-care activities into an already busy day. But if you’re looking to sleep better and prevent burnout, it’s important to understand that self-care is a requirement for your long-term health and well-being. First, let’s debunk 3 common misconceptions about self-care.
3 Myths about Self-Care
- Self-care is about pampering yourself or making yourself feel good. The term “self-care” might make you think of going to a salon and enjoying a mani / pedi. Self-care can most certainly include activities that feel like you’re spoiling yourself and that feel good. But sometimes self-care is about doing things that feel hard but will support you long-term, such as taking a break from social media or from a toxic relationship.
- Self-care requires a good chunk of time. Doing something like a full-on yoga class does take time, and these days even an hour can be hard to come by. While we know we “should” make this time, we put off self-care until we have a bigger chunk of time. But that extra time never comes, and so we end up doing nothing. In truth, self-care can be done simply, in 5-15 minutes.
- Self-care is a luxury; something to be done on special occasions. This is closely tied to the previous 2 myths. We must shift our mindset about self-care away from this idea that it’s an occasional, luxury activity. For the sake of our health and well-being, we need to think of self-care as something we do as a daily practice. Let’s talk about why.
Why Self-Care Needs to Happen Daily
Now that we have a better understanding of self-care, and assuming we can support ourselves in smaller time windows, let’s talk about WHY you’d want to make self-care a daily habit.
- Self-care naturally supports, preserves, and restores your energy. As human beings, we have natural ebbs and flows in our daily energy. Unfortunately, we often power through any lows with caffeine, sugar, or pure willpower. Substances and techniques might scrape you through a day, but over time they cause stress, and can lead to burnout. Satisfying a natural energy lull with a short self-care practice means you’re listening to your mind-body system and responding with skill and compassion.
- Self-care is an antidote to the stress response. Whether or not they feel good at the time, many self-care practices have the potential to induce a “rest and digest” response—the opposite of the “stress response” we hear so much about. If an activity is pleasurable, it’s easy to see how self-care is an antidote. But even more challenging actions, like establishing healthy boundaries with your colleagues or friends, can reduce hurt feelings, banish unnecessary drama, reduce negativity, and create relationships based on mutual respect and support. Over time, this means fewer interactions that stress you out or lead to anxiety.
- Self-care is an unconditional acceptance of your humanness. As human beings, you’re designed to have a balanced nervous system. Meaning, you’re not designed for the chronic stress or the “always on” mentality that has become our culture. A nervous system in balance means you alternate being alert with being calm and relaxed. You easily shift back and forth between these states. The more you can restore this fluidity, the healthier you’ll feel.
- Self-care sets you up for a refreshing night’s sleep. Many people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, which impacts both the quality and quality of sleep. Their body, mind, or both are restless and anxious. Short self-care practices—done throughout the day—remind your mind-body system that you have a mode other than top speed. Self-care helps your minds and body remember what it’s like to truly rest. This re-training in how to down-shift your energy is required for refreshing sleep.
- Self-care fortifies your confidence and self-esteem. The more you listen to yourself, the more you intuit and respond to what you need, the more confident you’ll feel. The more you speak up when others try to push your boundaries, the more empowered you can feel. Healthy self-esteem means being kind to and helping others, without sacrificing yourself in the process. When you give as much as you can but no more, you do it without resentment and from a place of true service.
Ways to Improve Your Self-Care
If you’re on board with these ideas, where do you start? The answer is: start small, and let something go before you add something in.
Why? In my experience, many people who lack strong self-care habits are over-achievers, perfectionists, care-givers, and identify so strongly with their work they lose themselves in the process. They usually take on too much and are so worried about missing out that they can’t say “no”.
Here’s one way you can systematically improve your self-care:
- First, find something small to let go of. What causes stress or anxiety, drains your energy, or isn’t serving you anymore? Take 5-15 minutes to journal a complete list.
- Then, select the ONE item from your list that worries you the LEAST. Decide now to remove it from your life or make a plan to do so. Maybe the plan involves talking with your boss, setting a reminder, or something like that.
- Next, select the ONE item from your list that worries you the MOST. Take 5-15 minutes to journal your fears. Why are you resistant to removing this from your life? What do you worry will happen? What are the benefits of keeping this stressor?
- Find support. Get a mentor, hire a coach, or locate someone you trust who prioritizes their self-care. Talk with them about your challenges in making self-care a daily habit—such as an inability to ask for what you need, feeling guilty, etc.—and learn by modeling their behavior. Try out different approaches and learn from each experience.
- Fill your self-care toolbox. Once you’ve successfully eliminated something from your life, learn practical ways to incorporate self-care into your days. Explore 5-15 minute strategies by signing up for the free 7-Day Self-Care Challenge, and feel what it’s like to nourish and care for yourself as a rule rather than an exception.
Originally published September 2020 for Journify*.