Self-care is the buzzword of all buzzwords. It’s simple and self-explanatory, conjuring up images of bathing and running through the meadows, sun on the skin, earth on feet. But let’s face it for the vast majority of us that’s not part of our self-care routine. Over the past couple of months, I have embarked on my own mission to create a self-care routine. I know that I should create a routine but somehow I’ve resisted it forever. Not really knowing why or how I minimised it and pushed it to the side in favour of anything that promised more excitement.

So What Exactly is Self-Care?

Self-care is the practice of taking action to improve one’s health. It’s focusing on you. Taking the time you need to function optimally. It’s slowing down, it’s filling up the tank. Modern life has become so frantic that sometimes we forget to look after ourselves. Those subtle actions we take on the quiet days when we have a little more time on our hands can make all the difference. It’s the difference between getting up early to make a healthy breakfast before you leave and running out the door panicked and hungry picking up a pain au chocolat on the way.

The difference between a good night’s sleep and 3 cups of coffee to prop you up at 3 o’clock. It’s taking the vitamins you could so easily skip. Or preparing your outfit the night before to avoid undue stress in the morning. Something as simple as listening to your favourite song or watering your mint plant. Basically it’s anything that takes you away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and brings you joy. The key thing with self-care is that it’s personal to you. Just because the media say having a bath or doing yoga is self-care doesn’t mean it works for you. So be sure to tailor your self-care plan to get the most out it.

Why is Self-Care So Easily Devalued?

In Western culture, self-care often takes a backseat to drive and ambition. There’s an assumed obligation to say yes – yes to extra hours, yes to the party, yes to the baksale. We want to look like we have it all together – like we can handle it all, all the time. But the problem with that is that it’s unrealistic. None of us can handle it all no matter how hard we try. You know you need to start taking better care of yourself when these cracks start to show:

  • You feel mentally or physically exhausted, overwhelmed or stretched too thin
  • Friends and family tell you you’re working too hard, or have to remind you to take a break
  • You’ve worked 50-60 hour weeks
  • Missed out on something important you wanted to do
  • Getting recurring colds or a chronic or serious illness
  • You shortchange sleep, regular meals or exercise to get more into your day

Kindness and Compassion are Key

The biggest challenges to our mental and emotional well-being happen when we are struggling. Learning to respond with compassion, rather than self-criticism, is key to taking good care of yourself emotionally. Self-compassion is not a valuation of self-worth. It’s just a way of treating yourself kindly whether things are good or things are bad. You can motivate yourself not out of fear of being inadequate, but because you care about yourself. Instead of condemning yourself, ask what you’re learning and what you can do to reach your goals, while taking care of you.

What Does Good Self-Care Look Like?

  • Getting regular exercise. This could be a walk around the block or a 20 minute HIIT session – whatever floats your boat. We’re well versed on the benefits of regular exercise on our wellbeing so incorporating regular exercise into your self-care regime is a giant step in the right direction. A healthy dose of endorphins never did anyone any harm!
  • Meditation. Working a regular meditation practice into your daily routine is one of the best ways to recharge. This can be a 20 minute blast in the morning. There are tons of videos and guided meditations on youtube as well as apps like Headspace and Calm that make meditating on the go easier than ever. Taking that time to connect with yourself really does work wonders for stress and self-awareness.
  • Gratitude is a simple and effective way to show appreciation, as well as a proven way to boost happiness. Starting the day by showing gratitude for the good things in your life sets you up for the day.
  • Smile. Even if you’re not happy smiling tells your brain that you are and sends a signal to the brain stimulating the production of serotonin. If that’s not case of low hanging self-care fruit I don’t know what is.
  • Do something for someone else. Take yourself out of the picture for a moment and think of another. Do something nice for a friend, a colleague. The simple act of helping another boosts the production of oxytocin.

These are of course just some of the ways you can begin to build a self-care routine. The important thing is that you start small, with a few small tasks, nail them and then build on it. Only embrace the things you love – after all this is about you. It’s a time to sit back and enjoy your time, to do the things that make you happy.