Simple Self-Care Advice For A Happy And Mindful Life
Feeling burned out? Practicing self-care can make you more aware of the activities and behaviors that nourish your mind, body and soul.
“Put on your own oxygen mask first before you help the person in the seat beside you.”
We hear this message every time we’re on a plane, but it can be hard to remember that it’s an important lesson for everyday life, too. Women, especially, are used to putting other people ahead of themselves. Whether we are mothers or not, society seems to expect us to take care of everyone else before we take care of ourselves. We even expect it of ourselves, some of us feeling guilty when we sleep in, sit down for a cup of tea, indulge in a TV show, or even when we take time for a yoga class or a run.
But if we don’t take the time and make the effort to take care of our own needs – ensuring we have oxygen to breathe – then there’s no way we’ll be able to help anyone else.
I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I had a burnout after putting the needs of others ahead of myself. I thought I was being selfish if I did something that was just for me when my to-do list had so many other things on it. And my to-do list felt endless.
It finally sunk in when my yoga teacher told my class that unless we were happy and healthy ourselves, we wouldn’t have the energy to help other people. I finally realized that if I did want to help others, I needed to be a little bit “selfish” and take care of myself first. And, most importantly, I needed to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with that.
How Can You Put Yourself First?
“We are living through uncertain and anxious times,” says Psychiatrist Janet Taylor. “Self-care is important because we all suffer or have pain in our lives. Learning how to address your own needs with self-awareness and confidence can be extremely powerful.”
Self-awareness is a critical aspect of self-care. Thanks to working with a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) psychologist, I’ve figured out what saps my energy and what replenishes my supply, and what my ultimate goals and priorities are. In this way, I find it much easier to make strategic decisions about what I will add to my to-do list and what I will say “no” to. I have a much better understanding of the type of activities that make me feel good about myself and in what kind of circumstances.
I know that kundalini yoga helps me sleep properly, and that when I’m spinning my wheels on a project the best thing I can do is take a walk and gaze out at the horizon. I know that I need regular doses of learning and inspiration, especially from different cultures. And that if I spend any time with a chronic complainer who doesn’t take responsibility for improving their situation, I need to quickly find a jolt of creativity to stop me from spiraling into complaining mode, too.
Where Can You Start With Self-Care?
You don’t need the wake-up call of a burnout or regular sessions with a CBT psychologist to effectively practice self-care. But it does help to get to know yourself, and learn what makes you happy and what sucks your energy.
Where to start? Dr. Taylor recommends, “Our greatest resource is our ability to connect our heart and head with the breath. The simple act of a deep inhale and exhale while non-judgmentally letting go of thoughts is a necessary tool.” Dr. Taylor has more information on her website, SelfCareDoc.com. She’s also regularly featured in magazines and on news and morning TV shows.
Take a break from your to-do list, even if it’s just to stretch. Self-care is simply taking an intentional action to tend to your own needs, whether they are mental, physical, emotional or spiritual. To get into the habit, schedule time in your calendar or set a reminder.
There’s no need for self-care to be expensive or even time-consuming. It does help to do some thinking – and some trial and error – to figure out what activities nourish you and what circumstances make you feel energy-starved.
Expert Suggestions For Self-Care
Start with a few of these five suggestions. Pay attention to how you feel during and afterwards to help guide you to what works well for you and what doesn’t.
Meditate for five or ten minutes. If you’ve not found it easy to meditate in the past, try an app like Headspace or Simple Habit to guide you. Don’t be hard on yourself when your mind wanders; even the Dalai Lama says his mind wanders when he meditates.
Pick up some crayons or felt pens and make a design. Color a coloring book. Paint a picture or create a craft. Doodle. Write your name in unusual letters. Just have fun – no one is judging you (including you). When you do something creative, you rest the part of your brain that you’re using for the regular parts of your day, and it energizes you for later.
Unplug. Turn off your phone, especially soul-sucking social media, and try to go distraction-free for a few hours. Build up to a day, a weekend, or even more. Observe how it affects your energy and mood.
Spend some time with your pet or a neighbor’s pet. Animals, especially dogs, don’t expect anything of you, but are grateful for the attention you give them. Better, take a dog for a walk. Exercise, even a stroll, triggers the release of endorphins that make you feel good and reduce the perception of pain.
Wander freely. Whether you’re in your own city or traveling somewhere, take an afternoon and wander through a neighborhood you’ve never been to before. Don’t bring an agenda, just explore. See what you discover and how it makes you feel.
And if all this seems like too much on your to-do list? Start with just breathing. Remember: You can’t help yourself, let alone anyone else, if your own oxygen mask isn’t on first.
Johanna Read is a Canadian freelance writer/photographer specializing in travel, food and responsible tourism. She also gives workshops on stress management and coaches executives. She’s written previously for RUBY on burnout. Traveling is one of the ways she prevents a relapse. Read all of her articles at TravelEater.net and follow her travels on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.