Beginner’s Guide to Self-Care

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(A Cheat Sheet for a Healthy Mind, Body & Soul)

You hear a lot about self-care these days, but what exactly is it? Is it treating yourself to high-calorie indulgences after a hard day or finally getting that massage you’ve been promising yourself? It can be. But it can also be much more than that.

What is Self-Care and Why is Self-Care Important?

Self-care is loving yourself enough to care for and take care of yourself.

Self-Care is taking care of yourself. It’s taking the actions and creating the basic daily routines and habits that help you maintain a strong, healthy body, a clear, sharp mind, emotional strength and stability, and social and spiritual well-being.

It’s about filling in the gaps and areas where you’ve been neglecting yourself. It’s filling up your tank so you’re not running on empty with the resulting stress overflowing onto everything and everyone in your path (and making you miserable in the process!)

You wouldn’t expect someone to run a marathon after a week-long water fast. They wouldn’t have the energy or the nutritional reserves in place to accomplish that feat without a heavy toll on their own health and well-being.

But do you do the same thing to yourself? Do you skip meals and push yourself beyond your own endurance only to attempt to prop yourself back up with a few extra cups of coffee and a low-fat energy bar?

It’s easy to get so caught up in the fast-paced modern lifestyle and multi-task your way through an ever-increasing mountain of tasks and to-do’s until something or someone (namely you) finally wears down. Therein lies burnout, illness, exhaustion and even possibly disease.

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What are the Benefits of Self-Care?

Self-care improves your life in ways you may not realize at first. If you’ve been running on empty and sacrificing your health and well-being for the daily grind, chances are you’ve forgotten how it feels to be at your best mentally, physically and emotionally.

By following a healthy diet and exercise, you’ll feel better, stronger and more energetic, not to mention increasing your resilience and building a stronger immune system. In addition, getting the proper nutrients on a daily basis can remove health issues that are the result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Sufficient, restorative and restful sleep can result in improved memory, focus and mental sharpness, not to mention more energy and a better mood.

Self-care helps you to be more productive, focused and have a more positive outlook. After all, if you’re getting your basic needs met, you can face your life from a position of abundance instead of the gnawing stress of lack.

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish… Or Is It?

Self-care isn’t about taking from others to benefit yourself. It’s not about treating others badly, either.

Self-care is filling and meeting your basic needs so you start at a position of strength and fullness. It’s learning how to nurture and respect yourself so you can better understand and respect others.

By treating yourself with kindness and compassion, it becomes easier to treat others with kindness and compassion, too. In addition to that, you then have the energy and resources to spare so you can more effectively help and support others.

You can’t draw water from an empty well. True abundance is having far more than you need. At that point, it’s easy to give and it feels good to give because you’re giving out of abundance and you have that much more to share.

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What are Examples of Self-Care?

What exactly is self-care? It’s taking care of the basic needs of your body, mind, and emotions. It can include all aspects of your life from your health, relationships, money, and career.

Here are just a few examples of self-care activities:

Emotional Self-Care

  • loving relationships
  • feeling and processing your emotions
  • maintaining healthy boundaries

Physical Self-Care

  • eating a healthy, nutritious diet
  • regular exercise
  • restorative sleep

Psychological Self-Care

  • reducing stress
  • managing your time
  • pursuing mentally stimulating interests or hobbies

Spiritual Self-Care

  • mindfulness or present moment living
  • meditation
  • yoga

Why Don’t People Take Care of Themselves?

If self-care is so important to your quality of life, why is it so hard for people to take care of themselves? While it’s (relatively) easy to start a new self-care routine in the beginning, maintaining it over time can be difficult. Here are some of the main reasons why self-care may continue to take a backseat to the rest of your lengthy to-do list.

Lack of Time

Who wouldn’t love to have more hours in their day? But would you just load them up with more and more things to do to fill the spaces?

Time (or the lack of it) is one of the main reasons or excuses for not making room for self-care. After all, we only have so much time in a day. But isn’t that part of the problem? The harder you push yourself, the more tired and exhausted you become which makes it harder and harder to stay on that hamster wheel and keep pushing on.

Any machine will burn out from overwork and you are far more valuable than a machine. You don’t have to treat yourself like one. That’s where self-care comes in.

Taking time to stop and relax, eat right, exercise, and take care of your unfilled needs not only gives you more energy and stamina, but it also can give you a better perspective. When you can step off the hamster wheel and look at your daily challenges in a new way, you can see different options and better solutions.

Not Believing that Self-Care Will Really Help

Why bother starting a self-care routine if you don’t really believe that it will help? It’s like falling on and off of a diet and haven’t we all done that? While you know that eating healthy is good for you, it can be so overwhelming trying to sift through all the conflicting diets out there that it’s just too overwhelming to start.

Instead of looking at self-care as a broad, overwhelming lifestyle change, focus on one area in your life where you want to feel better. Think of one small thing that you believe would help you to feel better quickly. Add that in for a few days and see how you feel. It doesn’t have to be something big, but it can be.

If it doesn’t help, then try something else. Just by taking the time to listen to yourself, your body and your emotions, you are taking an important step towards better self-care.

Feeling Guilty

It’s not unusual to feel guilty for taking time for yourself. It’s too indulgent or brings up feelings that you shouldn’t or don’t deserve it or it’s selfish, or fill in the blank.

When you feel these feelings, notice the thoughts that go through your head. Are they reasonable? Do they even make sense? Remember, they’re just thoughts. Are they helping you to be healthy and live a great life or not?

What is the Real Underlying Reason Why People Avoid Self-Care?

Perhaps there’s one underlying reason beyond all the others that explains why people don’t make self-care a priority. And that single issue can have a profound effect on our perspectives on self-care.

Dr. Ivel De Freitas and Psychotherapist Stefan Deutsch were searching for a breakthrough in the treatment of stress and burn-out. They realized that it was love that was missing, not romantic love, but love for the self.

According to Psychotherapist Stefan Deutsch, in order to apply the information that clients were learning to deal with stress and burnout, they needed to first be taught: “1. That it is as OK to love self as it is to eat and drink, 2. How to do it effectively, and finally 3. that we all need to become self-sufficient feeding ourself love, as we are feeding ourself food.”

The heart of self-care is learning to love yourself. Once you do, then caring for something you love (namely yourself) is worthy of your time and efforts. It’s not just a chore or something on a to-do list. It’s a way of demonstrating love through your actions and choices.

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What Qualifies as Self-Care?

How can you tell if something is self-care or not? In a toss-up between a brownie and a green salad, is one good or bad? Both or neither?

That’s for you to decide for yourself. Sometimes a brownie is just what you need that moment and sometimes it’s the salad.

Self-care is a very personal thing. It requires you to check-in with yourself and make decisions based on where you are and what is best for you at the time.

It’s being compassionate with yourself when you need to, and firm with yourself when it’s needed, too. It’s making a conscious decision and choosing for yourself. It’s not perfection, it’s not a should or a shouldn’t. It’s learning to listen to yourself, your body and your heart and consciously create your life.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Self-Care?

How do you know when enough is enough? Ask yourself the following questions and listen, really listen, to your answers.

Is it Becoming an Obsession?

Are your fitness trackers and apps stressing you out? Is it just more work to do? Do you beat up on yourself if you don’t get it all done? Is it just one more thing to feel guilty about or criticize yourself over? Is it simply supporting the same old negative patterns that you were trying to overcome?

Does Your Social Media Feed Get You Down?

Social media can sometimes seem less of a blessing and more of a curse. When scrolling through your feed, do you start off feeling excited but then start to feel bad or worse? Are you comparing your life to someone else’s highlight reel?

It’s hard not to start feeling that you should be keeping up, doing more, trying harder. That’s not self-care, it’s competition. It’s beating yourself up for what you’re not doing instead of giving yourself credit for what you are.

It’s also allowing yourself to be influenced, both in your mind and in your feelings, by someone else and something else outside of yourself. You have the power to control what goes into your mind. If you notice a certain person’s feed is bringing you down, you can stay friends, just simply unfollow them.

If they’re all bringing you down, consider taking a break from social media with a digital detox. It can be one of the best self-care steps you can take.

Is Your Self-Care Routine Helping You or Harming You?

Are you using it as a distraction to avoid dealing with a deeper issue in your life? Sometimes a bit of retail therapy is the perfect day out. Sometimes what you really need is to do the deeper, more scary work like establishing boundaries, discovering your own unique talents, or working through those old reoccurring issues from the past that are still affecting your life. This deeper work may take more time and effort but the pay-offs in your future quality of life are priceless.

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It Isn’t Always Fun, Though It Can Be!

A lot of popular self-care activities are fun, feel-good things. A facial or manicure, a bubble bath or massage, can be excellent ways to pamper yourself and help you relax.

But self-care isn’t always fun and it doesn’t have to be. Self-care can involve stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things. It can be pushing yourself toward new adventures or facing your own fears. It can be slightly scary, challenging or require a lot of courage.

It can be pushing your limits and reaching for something just beyond what you think you can do. It can stretch you mentally, physically and emotionally. It can cause you to grow (and we all know how painful growing can sometimes be!) and learn and experience new things.

It can mean making a decision and standing behind it. It can mean changing your mind and changing your course. Sometimes, self-care is just the nudge you need to start on the journey to truly find yourself again.

It’s about living your life, listening to your heart and making your own choices based not on what others may want you to do, but instead based on your own inner yearnings. Now that I think about it, that does sound kind of fun, doesn’t it?

How Do You Start a Self-Care Routine?

Take a few minutes and look at where you are right now. What’s working in your life and what areas could use some improvement? Chances are, you already have a self-care routine for the things that are working well. Now, it’s just a matter of adding in some new habits to help out in the areas that are feeling a little neglected.

Your self-care routine needs to be personalized for you and your needs, lifestyle, and interests. Make it a priority to do at least one self-care activity each day for your body, mind, emotions and spiritual well-being.

Make It Easy On Yourself

This can be as simple as drinking a green smoothie, reading a chapter of a favorite book, cuddling with your pet (or loved one!) and taking ten minutes at the end of the day to relax and think of three things you are grateful for.

Think of things that you enjoy and would look forward to. If you need more exercise but hate the idea of going to a gym, try a workout video or take a class. Take your dog for a walk or take up hiking.

Remember, self-care is not a punishment. Make it a pleasure instead.

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How Do You Keep Up A Self-Care Routine When Life Gets Hectic?

That’s when you need it more than ever. A good self-care routine can give you the energy and stamina to get through those crazy, busy times.

Self-care can become a habit. When you get down to it, self-care is really a series of small, healthy choices. Mindfulness helps a lot here. When you’re stressed, you tend to run on auto-pilot and repeat old patterns because they’re familiar. The key is recognizing that you do have a choice and you can choose what will benefit you the most.

Make a Plan

Be aware of your habits and plan accordingly. If you’re trying to eat healthier, but keep finding yourself at the drive-through, plan your meals in advance and keep on-hand ingredients to make quick, simple meals on the go. If you find it nearly impossible to work out in the morning, fit in a workout on the way home.

Schedule your self-care in your planner. Make yourself a priority in your life.

Fit your self-care into your regular daily routine by anchoring it with another activity. For example, keep the floss with your toothpaste and make it a habit to floss before you brush your teeth.

Check-In On Your Routine Regularly.

If there’s a self-care activity that you just can’t seem to stick to consider changing it for something else. After all, you aren’t doing it now anyway. If you can’t find the time to exercise at the gym, try something else like turning on your favorite music playlist and dancing for 20 minutes. It’s quick, it’s easy and you don’t have to go anywhere else to do it.

Remember it’s supposed to be self-care, not just another chore on a never-ending to-do list. If you just don’t want to do something, don’t do it! Think of something that you would like to do and do that instead.

Change Up Your Self-Care Routine

Change it up. If you find yourself getting tired of your routine or if your schedule changes and you just can’t get your old routine to fit, try a new one.

Take stock of where you are and what you need. At different times, you need different things. Sometimes you need more emotional support and need to schedule more time with friends and loved ones. Sometimes you need time to focus and create which leads to a need for more alone time. Adjust your self-care routine to support you and your current needs.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is loving yourself enough to take care of yourself, mind, body, emotions and spirit. It’s checking in with your heart and making conscious choices. It’s ensuring your cup is filled to overflowing because when you have more than enough, you naturally begin to add to and enhance both other’s lives and your own. Self-care is also taking care of yourself because you’re worth taking care of. Besides, if you don’t, who will?

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