In the age of anxiety, where burnout is the new normal, self-care shouldn’t be considered optional. Science reveals it’s critical nature as something we should be devoting ourselves to, for ourselves.
“Self-care is a regular, intentional process of devoting oneself to protecting and sustaining mental health. It is backed by science and not just feel good, self-indulgent sentiments” (Lee, K., 2019). In essence, it’s the mindful taking of time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you (Baratta, M., 2018).
WHO (The World Health Organization) has declared a global mental health crisis and defined burnout as “both an occupational risk and a workplace condition. Escalating pressure to do and be everything at work and at home are creating a context breeding exhaustion, overstimulation, and angst” (Lee, K., 2019).
Often people avoid asking if self-care is happening, due to the extraordinary demands around every corner. It can often times feel as though taking time out for self-care is more of a luxury than achievable. With expectations all around us, at work and at home, millions run out of time in the day before they are able to set down and repair.
However, self-care is a huge part of what’s missing in the life of someone who’s busy and stressed. According to the American Psychological Association, “we often don’t know that stress is negatively affecting our health until we get sick” (Lee, K., 2019).
What Does Self Care Look Like?
So what does self care look like and how do you take care of yourself in order to avoid burnout or compassion fatigue?
Here are 10 ways you can exercise self care and take better care of you:
- Self care means knowing who you are and your limits. You know that feeling you get when you get home, your body aches, your head hurts, and you feel like you did the work of ten men? Yeah, you overdid it. Self care means knowing when you are doing more than you are used to, and figuring out what you can do to slow down.
- Self care means getting the sleep you need and knowing how to rest. Know how much sleep you need to be the most refreshed, and well rested you. Make it a priority to get enough rest and sleep every day. Doing this is essential to healthy well-being.
- Self care means making sure that you’re well fed. Are you eating what you need to provide you the energy you need to function? Are you taking time out of your work day to eat meals and ensure you are getting intermittent snacks? Plan meals and snacks ahead of time to prepare for your day.
- Self care means finding a way to decompress throughout your day, not just when you leave work (Baratta, M., 2018). Do you like phone games? Checking your social media, or talking to a friend? Looking at pictures of loved ones, or taking walks? Make time during your day to take mini-breaks, walk and stretch. Say hello to a friend, play a game, or catch up on social media. By integrating these mini-breaks into your day, you’re refreshing your mind and body.
- Self care means giving some thought to changing a difficult work situation. Take the time to assess your work situation. Is there anything that can be done to make your workday less stressful? Do you enjoy where you sit, your hours, and your work environment? You know best what you need and what you can deal with. Make it a priority to speak with your supervisor or manager about the things that can be done to make your workday better. Sometimes supervisors aren’t even aware of the reality of your position and experiences during the work day.
- Self care means taking time to get to know you better. Identify and explore yourself and your limitations. Make the time to understand your temperament and your triggers so that you can plan accordingly to lessen the inevitable stress. This may mean something as simple as accounting for extreme hunger by packing a handful of almonds to eat before lunch, or wearing a more comfortable vs fabulous pair of shoes.
- Self care means identifying what you enjoy doing and making a serious effort to integrate it into your day. Or at the very least, your week. Make it a habit to plan something that’s fun, something to look forward to every day. It can be as simple as looking forward to reading a good book every night when you get home, or sharing a meal with someone who’s company you enjoy.
- Self care means knowing how to decompress after a day’s work. Anything you need to do to clear your head. Listening to music on your way home, taking a walk after dinner, or even doing something in complete silence.
- Self care means feeding your spiritual self. That might take the form of meditation, praying, communing with nature on a walk, enjoying a sunset or sunrise, attending a religious service, practicing gratitude, or listening to something inspirational (Baratta, M., 2018).
- And finally, self care means taking time to love yourself and appreciating that there’s only one you, and you’re the expert on that (Baratta, M., 2018).
Here are three more considerations to make self-care a regular practice:
- Small things make a difference. When we are busy, it’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. We tell ourselves over and over each day that we’ll feel better if something gets scratched off our lists. The reality is that 10 new things pop up in the meantime. “Break rituals are activities that we embed into our day to help us stay calibrated and avoid mental overload.” Just as when we neglect ourselves there is a cumulative effect on our health, the same is true when we make a regular point to nourish our mind, body and souls (Lee, K., 2019).
- Self-care comes in many shapes and sizes. There is no one size-fits-all formula. “Key activities include lifestyle medicine, creative pursuits, hobbies, time with loved ones, and positive mental dialogue. Science shows the tremendous value in all of these activities to protect and bolster mental health” (Lee, K., 2019). Engage in a process of reflection (therapists, significant other, and loved ones can play an excellent role in creating ideas and brainstorming) identifying the high impact activities you can weave into your day.
- Self-care starts with giving yourself permission. Upon reflection, one might discount self-care as an activity which is counterintuitive. Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of taking time for ourselves. Give yourself the green light and understand that you are worth your own investment. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Make sure you are taking break rituals everyday (Lee, K., 2019).
Baratta, M., May 27, 2018), Psychology Today: Self-Care 101 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/skinny-revisited/201805/self-care-101
Lee, K., (October 4, 2019), Psychology Today: Self-Care Isn’t Selfish or Superficial https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rethink-your-way-the-good-life/201910/self-care-isn-t-selfish-or-superficial