7 Paths to Essential Self-Care
*Note: in honor of International Self-Care Day, here is a new and improved version of an earlier post.
As a coach I’m always looking for good metaphors to help make sense of things we humans keep tripping over or bumping into. For instance all know that in case of an emergency, we need to secure our own oxygen masks before we try and help others. If we can't breathe then we are useless to everyone - including ourselves. Daily living in the 21st century can feel relentless and stressful and often keeps our adrenals running so high that our bodies think they are in an actual, ongoing emergency and that ain’t good. What’s a girl to do? For starters, embrace new ways turning down the stress and amping up the self care. Self-care is not selfish. It’s the metaphorical oxygen mask. Here are 7 ways you can you can add in more self-care, without breaking the bank or even breaking a sweat (mostly).
1. THE PATH OF PAYING ATTENTION.
The quickest path to true self-care is to Pay Attention. Your Essential Self is sending you messages all the time—you just might not be hearing them. We are so busy, busy, busy that we go on autopilot and forget to pay attention to our own needs and wants. What are you feeling? What are you noticing? What are you craving? Change begins with awareness. Start by simply stopping, getting quiet and taking 3 deep breaths. Then check in. Listen closely to the first word or feeling that pops up—it’s usually spot-on. For instance, if you hear the word "peace", then it’s a prompt to move in that direction. What would feel like peace right now? Maybe it’s yoga class after work or a 15 minute walk around the block. Maybe it’s reading an actual book instead of scrolling the daily news headlines. Maybe it's booking a massage or writing in your journal or calling the BFF who always calms you down. The main thing is following instructions from that inner guide. Other Paying Attention exercises can include starting a daily journaling practice like the Morning Pages exercise from "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron or some form of meditation—even just 5-10 minutes a day. Get curious, notice, watch and take stock. You are the expert on you and listening to yourself is the ultimate form of self-care.
2. THE PATH OF PAUSING
As writer Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again after you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Our society has become addicted to the cult of busy. We get totally caught up in thinking that we need to do this, find that, call here, go there—and all the while our phones are ringing, our texts are pinging and our email inboxes are getting fuller and fuller. It's exhausting. Taking regular timeouts is a path to self-care that will provide balance to all that excess cortisol and can often bring immediate relief. Even pausing and taking a few deep, intentional breaths can be enough to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system into gear which helps you feel calmer, more grounded and better tuned in. Other ways to pause include things like a 20-minute catnap, a walk around the block, a few Yin yoga poses like Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) or Shavasana, a bath before bed, shutting off your ringer while you read the Sunday paper or just taking a few deep belly breaths when your car is stopped at a red light (instead of checking Facebook or text messages). A morning or evening beverage ritual counts as pausing, especially if you drink it mindfully. Longer pauses like a digital detox, a day of silence or a silent retreat, a road trip or a vacation also count. Whether it's a 20-minute catnap, a bath before bed, shutting off your ringer while you read the Sunday paper or just taking a few deep belly breaths when your car is stopped at a red light (instead of checking Facebook), make it a point to pause so that you can recharge.
3. THE PATH OF PRAISING
In case you haven't heard, it's cool to be kind. And being kind to yourself is a crucial path to self-care. Start to notice what you say to yourself on a daily basis. "You're so stupid,"“Your thighs are disgusting" or "You always screw things up" are not nice things to say. Would you say those things to a friend? Remember that you are, in fact, awesome and start telling yourself that instead. If you don't feel particularly awesome then get more specific. What have you done lately that you are proud of? What are some qualities that you feel grateful for or love about yourself? Examples of praise can include anything and everything from "Damn girl, that was a killer salad you made yesterday," to “You got up early and made it to yoga! Yay!" Every time you catch yourself talking smack to yourself is an opportunity to change the conversation. The more emotion you feel around what you are saying and the truer it feels, the more power it will have to bring positive change. It might feel uncomfortable or clunky at first. But the truth is that your negative beliefs are the lie! In fact, ditch the self-deprecating humor. I’m not saying don’t laugh at yourself from time to time (being too serious is no good either!) but if it becomes incessant it’s time for a change. Our thoughts become words, our words become our beliefs, our beliefs become our actions, our actions become our habits and our habits become our realities. And, PS - learn to accept praise from others too! When someone says “You look great,” don’t respond by saying things like “I’m just having a good hair day.” Just say “thank you.”
4. THE PATH OF PLAYING
Research shows we're happier, more productive and better leaders when we balance work with play. Making time for play is a wonderful and often overlooked path to self-care. As adults we barely even remember how to play let alone make time for it. Have a dance party in your kitchen, sign up for paddle board yoga or a belly dancing class, get your makeup done at Sephora, take that painting class you've been thinking about, go to the library, go for a drive with no destination —whatever floats your boat. Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone! What's the worst thing that could happen? So what if your neighbor catches you in your pajamas belting out an Aretha Franklin tune into a broom while you're sweeping the kitchen floor? They’ll see how much fun you’re having and start wishing they could be doing the same thing. Schedule a play date with yourself and enjoy every minute!
5. THE PATH OF PRIORITIZING
What are your personal priorities and values? Prioritizing things like a date night with your partner, spending time outdoors hiking, biking, running, or simply strolling through your neighborhood, going to church or synagogue, learning a second language, doing volunteer work, cooking healthy food or whatever your personal values may be is another important path to self-care. We feel better when we are doing the things that feed our souls, energize our bodies and stimulate our minds.
6. THE PATH OF PAMPERING
Pampering is a delicious and imperative path to self-care , and it’s usually the first thing to go when our lives feel busy or overwhelming. Pampering can mean anything from getting the prefect latte at your favorite coffee shop to giving yourself permission to spend 30 minutes reading The New Yorker when you ‘should’ be folding the laundry. It can also mean scheduling a long-needed massage, scheduling a girls weekend or having a spa night at home. Listening to that voice in your mind telling you all the things you "should" or "need" to be doing can counteract your pampering! Respectfully acknowledge the voice and then remind it that life is short and you are choosing to spend a little more time enjoying it!
7. THE PATH OF POSITIVITY
There is a ton of information out there about the power of positivity but when you’re feeling stressed or down in the dumps it can seem like a challenge to get to a positive place. Intentionally reframing your negative thoughts and beliefs - even a little bit - can often be enough to change your perspective and get you on the path of positivity. Putting a positive spin on things can brighten moments up so that you feel energized enough to keep moving forward. This is not the same thing as practicing positive affirmations (although that can sometimes be helpful too). This is more about finding the good or the beneficial in a situation to help you start to feel better. It can even be as general as “this is happening for me not to me - even if I don’t know why yet.” Flipping the script to positivity qualifies as self-care! Following these paths will help guide you towards creating your own personal practice of taking exquisite care of yourself on a regular basis. Remember, practicing good self-care is like putting on that oxygen mask. When you are tuned in and taking care of yourself, not only will you feel better equipped to handle emergencies big or small, you will feel happier and more connected to your life as a whole.