Let’s talk about you—yes, you!—for a moment.
What have you done today? Did you walk the dog? Pack lunches? Change diapers? Rock a spreadsheet? Grab groceries? Fix dinner? Feed the neighbor’s cat? Order your sister’s birthday present? Pay bills? Call your mom?
If you’re a list maker, you’ve probably checked a lot boxes (and felt a little rush of accomplishment doing so). But how many of those to-dos were for you? Really, intentionally, for you?
Chances are you’ve taken care of a lot people today—children (of the human or furry variety), partners, friends, employees and bosses. You probably didn’t mind. In fact, you might even feel fulfilled by many of these simple tasks, these acts of service and kindness. But have you taken care of you yet today?
Taking care of ourselves is often the last thing we get around to doing, at the end of the day, when our energy is sapped. By then, sometimes we might prefer to have someone else take care of us, bring us our slippers, make us a cup of tea, wrap us in a blanket or a hug. But isn’t it empowering when you can be the one that takes care of you?
It might not seem feasible. Perhaps it sounds selfish, the idea of taking time for ourselves when we have so many other obligations, to work and to family—to children or parents (or both) who need us, to friends we haven’t seen in weeks, to groups we volunteer for, to causes that beg our time and passion. Yet, despite all these commitments, and in fact, because of them, self-care isn’t selfish at all; it’s downright essential. When we invest daily attention in maintaining our bodies, minds and spirits, we reap better —more patient, more energetic, more creative, more fun— versions of ourselves to offer the world.
The concept isn’t revolutionary. You didn’t read it here first. In a world that is becoming more mindful of mindfulness, the idea of taking care of ourselves has gained traction (and a lot of beautifully illustrated inspirational quotes, see Pinterest). But until we take it to heart and make it a habit, it bears repeating. As much as we might love a mantra, we may need detailed ideas for actually living it. So, in the spirit of practical advice, here are five of our favorite self-care strategies.
It helps to prevent disease and manage chronic pain. It can improve your flexibility and posture. And, of course there’s that little phenomenon of endorphins: your body’s natural high. But what matters most in this context is the intentionality of devoting that time to you. Whether its yoga, walking, jogging, hiking, riding a bike, swimming, or dancing around the kitchen, choose an activity that you enjoy. Focus less on working toward a specific fitness goal and more on just being present in the activity, and you may find you are more motivated to make exercise a habit.
Treat yourself to lunch (or brunch or breakfast)
But don’t take your phone (or your tablet or your laptop). Since you have to eat anyway (really, this is non-negotiable), consider this a built-in opportunity for “you time” in your day to day. If you do go to restaurant, ask to be seated by the window so you can watch the world go by. You certainly don’t have to dine out, though. Find a picnic table in the park, or simply eat at home (bonus points for lighting a candle and using a cloth napkin). Savor the food, the nourishment, the tastes and the textures. Appreciate the person who prepared it (especially if that person was you). Don’t think of it as dining alone; you are charming company.
For some, meditation is a deeply spiritual practice of transcendence. For others, meditation is simply a means to calm and clear the mind, helping us prepare for, or wind down from, the tasks of daily life. If the concept is new to you, there are many techniques and almost countless resources including guided meditation apps for smart phones. But you might try getting started by just sitting comfortably and quietly, focusing on breathing naturally for 10 minutes.
Discover a Hobby
Have you always wanted to learn to knit? Would you love to name the constellations? Is there a historical period that intrigues you? Turn that thing that interests you into a hobby. Take a class. Read a book. Watch a documentary. Allow yourself to pass a little time each day in the pursuit of your pastime, researching an idea or practicing a skill. You may find that nurturing a passion builds confidence by virtue of the knowledge you gain; more importantly, hopefully, you find pleasure in pursuing something simply because it is fascinating and appealing to you.
Sometimes, treating yourself right is about a good old fashioned treat. And now there’s science to back it: cocoa increases serotonin, a chemical in the brain that stimulates mood. Stick to the purest forms, meaning dark organic chocolate, because the added fat and sugar in the average candy bar can actually counteract the positive benefits of the cocoa. And a little bit each day goes a long way — in a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the equivalent of 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily made people feel calmer and more content.
However you go about it, make a little bit of each day about you. Treat yourself with the same respect and love you give to others. The world will be better for it.
Do you have a favorite self-care practice? What do you do for you each day? Tell us in the comments.
REFERENCE: Cocoa Science