What Is Self Care?
Your body is like a vehicle. We all have an engine that allows us to be functional, achieve our goals, and create masterpieces; everything we do in life can either create fuel for that engine or make the engine work extra hard and deplete our fuel source. Now, you might have heard about the importance of self care, but what is it exactly? At its core, self care is anything that nurtures you and fuels your engine. This can get complicated if you consider how some activities fuel you in some ways yet deplete you in others. For example, volunteering at a nursing home may fuel your heart and soul, but deplete your physical energy. It’s hard to argue that volunteering is a bad idea, and it might only be a problem if you are already so depleted, tired, or sick yourself that the fuel gained from giving to others is not the healthiest method of self care for you in that moment. So when thinking about how to do self care, to know if something you’re doing is good for you you have to really check in with yourself and your needs.
Types Of Self Care
There are different types of self care for each part of you and your life; the important thing is to just find a balance of activities that help you feel full. Some think of how to do self care as a long term function and are willing to make hard or not fun choices in the present to help them move towards a future goal of self improvement. Others think of how to do self care in terms of short term functioning and use the things they do each day to make them feel rested, invigorated, happy, or at ease. There’s no objective right way how to do self care; below are some ideas for how you can structure your self care regardless if you are thinking in short or long term goals:
- Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual
- Something that connects you to others/to yourself
- Something that give you comfort and relaxation/something that stretches or pushes you
- Something that expends energy, something that gives you energy
- Something that makes you feel beautiful or good on the inside/on the outside
- Something that’s been on your to do list for a long time
- Something that improves the space around you
- Something that will make you feel good right now/some that will make you feel good later
Structure can be important because we all know how easy it is to make a plan to prioritize yourself and never see it materialize. Many people find it hard to give the energy and love back to themselves that they give to others. You must remember that you are worth it! Plus, it’s hard to fully be present for other’s when your tank is near empty. So just as you might schedule a work meeting or social obligation, you can schedule in time for self care to help hold yourself accountable.
Identifying What Fuels You
Take the next few days and really pay attention to all you do. This can help create a baseline to see how much self care, and what types, you’re already doing. It will also give you an opportunity to turn inward and be mindful of how each experience impacts you. Sometimes we don’t realize how much certain activities deplete us. Take note of how you feel mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually after each experience and ask yourself if you feel energized, more full, envirgotated or at peace? Or instead do you feel drained, tired, irritated or uneasy? Does one part of you feel good while another feels bad (ex: the emotional vs physical). Write down which activities make you feel which way and get specific. Perhaps talking to one friend makes you feel good while talking to another is draining, or talking to anyone for 10 minutes feels great but beyond that you reach a socializing limit.
Scheduling Self Care
Next, generate a list of self care activities that you can add to your schedule. You can use the self care categories listed at the beginning of this tip or reach out to your social network and see what others do to rejuvenate themselves. Record any examples that spark your interest. These will be the activities you can add to your self care calendar. Think about the ideal amount of time you would like to spend on each activity. Now consider the minimum you would need to do to maintain some sense of happiness. Start out putting that minimum amount in your calendar. It’s great if you want to be running daily, but if you’re not a runner now this goal may be very hard to obtain and maintain. It is better for the psyche to set yourself up for success by setting a goal that is realistic and achievable. Start small and work your way up!
Any form of giving back to yourself is better than nothing, even if it only feels like a drop in an empty bucket. Overtime, those drops will add up to something substantial if we are committed to scheduling self care. The goal is to prioritize self care, even if we need to modify the type we use to accommodate our fluctuating needs. Perhaps you scheduled a call to a friend after work and when the time comes you’re just feeling too drained to be social. After you communicate this with your friend of course (always good to be accountable!), perhaps you can choose something else to do from your self care list so you are intentionally giving back to yourself instead of completely vegging out on the couch. You’ll probably feel better about yourself if you do something, even if it wasn’t the original thing planned. Also, it’s ok to veg out sometimes, but set a limit. This is a great time to take note of how the same activity makes you feel when used in different ways. Perhaps watching an hour of TV feels really refreshing, but 4 hours makes you feel antsy. Don’t judge yourself, just take note and try to hold yourself accountable to what you know is good for you.
Identifying What Depletes You And Making A New Plan
In addition to making a list of self care activities to schedule into your calendar, you can think of all the things you like to do that may actually be draining you in some way and consider how you can make a small actionable change for the better. For example, you could say, “Instead of binging Netflix all night, I will read,” or “I will read a chapter of my book after I finish 2 episodes/an hour of tv.” Or “Instead of cake I will eat fruit.” “Instead of calling myself stupid for making a mistake, I will tell myself I am human and humans make mistakes, or I will do something that makes me feel smart.” Some people thrive with a list of all possible options for how to do self care. Others find it more helpful to make a plan for what they will use when, such as in the examples above.
How To Hold Yourself Accountable
Remember, you can even make scheduling self care a form of self care by being creative or having fun with it. If you want to create a fun visual representation of your efforts, you could get a magnetic white board calendar with several small different colored magnets. For this you should group self care activities into categories and then designate a color for each type of activity. For example: mental is blue, emotional is green, physical is red. It doesn’t really matter how you group them, but the colors can help you get a quick sense of how well you’re doing and if you’re giving as much time as planned to each type of self care activity. Each time you do a thing on your self care list, put a magnet of corresponding color on that day.
Alternatively, for a simpler visual you could just designate one color to all self care activities and not get as detailed with your color groupings. You could also get black or white magnets to represent depleting activities (while the colors would represent fueling activities) and put the black or white magnets on the days you don’t take care of yourself or do a harmful habit so you can get a better picture of that as well. Feel free to customize your magnets in whatever way feels good to you. If you don’t have access to a white board, you could also use colorful markers to put dots in your planner to record progress and setbacks. The point is to find a way that makes it easier to remember to give back to yourself. This is especially important when experiencing a depressive episode, as depression can make you much less motivated to do activities you once enjoyed and sometimes it can be hard to even know where to start.
If you find yourself struggling to understand how to do self care, how to identify what fuels you or depletes you, cannot come up with self care activities or perhaps find motivation to do them, it might be helpful to talk to a professional therapist. For support, please don’t hesitate to call The Center For Growth at 267-428-2615.