10 Ways To Do Self-Care
I believe self-care is an ESSENTIAL practice. But, what is it, really? Is it having a bubble bath? Feeding yourself vegetables, going to bed on time, and exercising regularly? Or does it actually just imply being selfish? This is something I have thought about deeply. As I grow and evolve I continue to learn what I need to really take care of myself. I continually seek to find balance in the dynamic and unpredictable process of my unfolding life, so that I can be my fullest, brightest self. I wrote this article to share some of the lessons I have learned.
I don't see self-care as simply sleep, food, exercise, and other basic needs. These can be self-care, but aren't necessarily. In my mind self-care is no one particular thing, but rather the quality of an action. Self-care, regardless of your chosen form, is in its essence a practice of deep presence with yourself. It is you compassionately tending to you, in a mood and manner of sweetness, care, and generosity. You could lovingly prepare and eat a beautiful organic local food dinner as a gift to yourself, or, you could make and eat the same meal but out of judgement or fear (of high cholesterol/gaining weight/not performing athletically etc). This is the same action, but done with a completely different quality. And it is this quality that is important.
One definition of self-care I really like comes from podcaster Natalie Ross, who says self-care is "giving yourself space". It is choosing to prioritize yourself on a deep level. It is finding a way that you can connect with who you deeply truly are and be embodied in yourself. I acknowledge that this can be very difficult. So much of our world provides opportunities for escapism and superficial living - our phones, social media, shopping, gaming, alcohol, partying, or just being busy. The immediacy and irresistible seduction of these offerings so easily take us away from ourselves.
How do you know if you need self-care? Well, if you are a human living in the world, you probably need it. If you notice yourself constantly reaching for distractions in an obsessive and addictive manner, you probably need it. These are maladaptive coping strategies that are indicators that we need some compassion, care, and healing. Additionally, if you feel anxious, depressed, or dissociated from yourself, those are all indicators that you need some self-care (a note here: it is essential for all of us to concurrently ask for and receive support from our relationships and community as well as doing our own self-care).
Conversely, you may have measures or indicators of when you are doing WELL. For me, this is my level of spontaneous generosity. If I am feeling over-worked and overwhelmed, I collapse inward and hold my resources tightly. If I am effortlessly selfless and freely giving, I know my cup is full and I am deeply well.
Self-care requires slowing down. Stopping. Being present with yourself. Gently listening. Feeling. Noticing. Allowing your body to relax and release. And this can take many different forms. What does it mean for YOU to conscientiously step away and give yourself the gift of time and space? Here is a list of some of my suggestions, things you can try or ideas to just get the ball rolling:
- Self-massage. Treat yourself to a nice smelling massage oil, choose a body part (shoulders, breasts, feet, hands, face, belly), and gently caress, knead, and explore this part of you. Be curious, and be loving. This can be short, just a few stolen moments alone in your room away from the kids, or perhaps you have the time and wherewithal for an hour long session of therapeutic self touch.
- Have a secret spot, just for you. Maybe a little cozy alcove in your house where you keep your journal. Perhaps this is an altar space you have created, somewhere you connect with your personal conception of the divine. Perhaps this is a place in nature. Create a specific location that you associate with nourishing time for you. Make it safe. Arrange it so that it feels good for you. Spend quiet time there, often.
- Brew yourself a cup of tea, sit on your porch, and listen to the birds. Just sit and BE. Feel yourself and your surroundings. Do NOT bring your phone.
- Have a bath. This is a classic example of self-care. Maybe this looks like candles, epsom salts, bubbles, essential oils, and pulling out all the stops. Or simply have a shower, not really because you need to wash but just to feel the sensations of the water rushing over your body, and the quiet white noise and alone-time the shower offers. Or maybe you have a lake or other body of water nearby, something you can jump into and feel the stimulating cold and the private quiet world under water for a few brief seconds.
- Wear a sexy pair of underwear. Not for show, just for yourself. For you to know it is there underneath your clothes so that you feel a little extra sexy, moving through your day.
- Deep breathe for ten minutes. Consider the common wisdom to "take three deep breaths" to calm down... imagine the impact ten minutes of deep breathing can have on your body and nervous system! If you need further support and facilitation, I recommend the app Breathe+.
- Move. Drop into your body, in a spirit of mindfulness. Do a few yoga poses: a downward dog, a warrior one and two. Or do a full at-home yoga practice. I love Yoga With Adriene for this. Try putting on a fun playlist and dancing in your room (I know, I always talk about dancing, because it is my personal favourite). Similarly, go see some live music. Listen deeply. Dance. Be moved.
- Play an instrument. Get in the flow. Music can be powerful and deeply altering. Express your creativity. Do your art. Draw, paint, cut, glue, get messy. Don't try to make it perfect, or even make it look like anything. Just do for the sake of doing.
- Go. Out. Side. Spend some time wandering slowly through nature. Listen, watch, feel, smell. Or just go for a walk in your neighbourhood. Look at the trees. Get your blood flowing and breathe some fresh air. Do your best to bring a deep quality of presence to this activity.
- Develop a body care ritual. Something you do regularly as an act of symbolic and actual care for yourself. Make it special, perhaps a little more so than necessary. Treat yourself to a luxurious facial oil. Scents can be helpful and powerful in simply shaking things up a little, bringing you back to the present and your body sensations. Or gently and deliberately brush your hair for a long time. Or exfoliate in the shower then moisturize your whole body. Do whatever feels good to you to take loving care of yourself.
- Give yourself a gift. Big or small, something special. Be generous and loving to yourself. Allow yourself to really acknowledge, enjoy, and be grateful for this gift. Expand into it receiving it.
- Alternatively, maybe your self-care is not a THING that you do. Maybe it is defined by NOT doing something. By knowing yourself enough to know when to stop, and when to rest. Not forcing yourself through but rather giving yourself a pause as an act of love and compassion.
Okay I admit, that was more than ten things. And the list could go on. But again, its really not about any of these specific items I have listed, but rather finding what works for you and bringing the quality of self-care to whatever it is you choose. Dance, sing, laugh, eat ice cream, hold hands. Nourish yourself.
Know that it is easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. As yourself: what, if anything, do I do as an act of love for myself? Speak to friends to learn what they do. Listen to podcasts for inspiration. Seek support or an opportunity to bounce ideas off of a mentor, therapist, coach or health professional. One of the things I do with my patients is my version of a wellness wheel to help them create a visual guide to the unique categories they identify as essential to self-care. For example, this could include: body care, rest, movement, connection, touch, intellectual stimulation, creative expression, and sexual expression. This helps to identify areas where there is room for improvement.
Why do self-care? We do it to be closer to who we are. To be able to understand ourselves and our needs better. To become integrated and whole as human beings. To be able to feel ourselves fully, know our emotions, and learn how to express them with integrity. To be able to exist in the world in a balanced and grounded state. To be able to serve meaningfully, in whatever realm we choose to do so.
The beautiful art in this post is sourced from artist Amy Ross.