Self-care has seen a recent boom in popularity. Trendy social media hashtags like #SelfCareSaturday may propagate the perception that the essence of quality self-care lies in a sequence of facial masks and bubble baths. While these pampering moments are important aspects of whole self-care, the concept entails a much more in-depth maintenance of mind, body, and soul.
For a professional perspective on the proper practice of self-care, I reached out to a Central Coast local and Master Practitioner, Tricia Parido of Turning Leaves Recovery, Life and Wellness Coaching. Parido defines self-care as “a crucial factor in creating a satisfying, well-balanced and highly functioning life. Caring for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual fitness keeps us in touch with who we are, the passions that fuel us, and the purpose that drives us.” Beyond physical, external maintenance, self-care asks us to pay attention to ourselves and tend to our innermost emotional and intellectual needs.
From a psychological perspective then, self-care is less about good skin care and more about developing, as Parido says, “better capabilities to adapt to change, value-driven priorities, and actions fueled from a moral foundation.” Self-care is a layered individualistic practice, developed in multiple areas. Here, we’ll cover some basic elements of self-care to integrate into daily routine aiming to enrich your life and the lives of those around you.
#1 Watch and Learn
Perhaps the most basic place to start self-care is to become self-observant. To illustrate, think of caring for a houseplant. Left unattended, the plant thirsts for nourishment and lacking water will eventually wither into a mess of dried leaves. Without paying attention, you’ll miss the signs the plant needs water in the first place like dry dirt, and the lackluster appearance of the leaves. The attention inherent in care is something then, we owe to ourselves as well. Parido terms it, “staying in touch with your state of being.” Becoming aware of our feelings, needs, and desires may be the unglamorous counterpart of the bubble baths of self-care, but nonetheless as essential.
To tackle this feat, Parido suggests, “Check in [with yourself] every two hours until you get the hang of it.” Diving into our feelings, setting a mandatory check-in may seem like it would bring more discomfort than relief. But, as Parido explains, “If you aren’t present enough to know what prompts a mental or emotional spiral in the wrong direction, you’ll be hard-pressed to stop or care for it before it infects your entire day.” To truly take care of ourselves, then, we first need to become aware of exactly what it is we need.
#2 Beat Burnout
When we neglect emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs, we risk wearing ourselves down to the point of burnout. In a 2018 self-care article published by Psych Central, psychotherapist Emily Griffiths, LPC explains the connection between self-care and burnout as such, “When we lose sight of our self-care practices, we can experience burnout which sets [us] up for getting sick, overwhelmed, and exhausted.” Forgoing our self-care time or merely not making that time a priority can be a dangerous game.
Self-care that combats burnout is an all-encompassing care that connects spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally. If this seems overwhelming, start small and simple. Jennifer Shepard, Central Coast local and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist suggests, “making a list of activities you can engage in that allow you to feel recharged, relaxed, and provide a sense of tranquility.” Set time aside for purposeful rest, engage in a hobby activity that brings creative joy, or simple at-home spa time. If intuition suggests you need a break, it may be worthwhile to listen.
#3 Food Focus
Though it may not be immediately associated with self-care, what we eat is an important element of how we treat ourselves. In addition to affecting physical well-being, food has the power to keep our minds working and alert. According to Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., in a 2018 Psychology Today article, “eating [certain] foods can help prevent short-term memory loss and inflammation, both of which can have long-term effects on the brain, and in turn, the rest of the body.” Just like all self-care is personal and needs to be tailored to the individual, so is diet.
Certain foods have higher anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pro/prebiotic elements; however, if you’re allergic or intolerant, the negatives outweigh the positive benefits. Find alternatives that work for you and focus on the foods that make your body feel good. In a 2018 Psych Central article, Kristen Brunner, MA, LPC, puts food-focused self-care in simple terms, “choose food…that [is] delicious to you and say no to anything that makes you feel awful.” Our personal relationship with food is often complex. This makes it an even more important aspect of self-care. Try paying closer attention to what you eat it, when you eat it, and ultimately, how it makes you feel, both physically and cognitively.
#4 Get Moving
In a society full of Fitbits and Smart Watches, tracking physical activity seems to be more accessible than ever. Getting up and moving is important not only to our physical health, but also to our mental and emotional health. Tchiki Davis, PhD, says, “Daily exercise can help you both physically and mentally, boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety.” From the gym to a yoga class, getting moving is an essential component of self-care.
Different forms of physical activity bring additional benefits, particularly when done outside, in close proximity to nature. Thinkers and writers from Aristotle to William Wordsworth found the value of walking outside for mental clarity and stimulation. A 2012 study published in the PLOS ONE Journal, found a “cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting.” The study attributes this cognitive advantage in part to natural stimuli being processed as an emotionally positive experience. Adding a hike, beach job, or leisure walk to your self-care routine could prove physically and emotionally beneficial.
#5 Divide and Conquer
Finding time, even ten minutes a day, for essential self-care practices may be the biggest obstacle we face. General busyness, taking care of others, and the pressure of productivity may get in the way of taking time for you. Master Practitioner Tricia Parido recommends a method of block scheduling to effectively manage time, stay focused, and build self check-in time into daily routine. Parido suggests, “Plan [your day] in two-hour time blocks and focus on your top five priorities, using action plans.” Using timers or planners can be effective to manage this routine. With this method, take a few minutes at the end of each time block to check in physically, mentally, and emotionally, and make adjustments as needed.
Additionally, you can use life planning to schedule self-care like you would any other appointment. As Tchiki Davis, PhD states, “It’s extremely important to plan regular self-care time.” What that time includes, however, is up to the needs of the individual, and could change daily. Ideas include a hot bath and a good book, a block of social time among friends, or a family game night.
Solitary or social, restful or active, our time of self-care must be mindful and rejuvenating. After all, it is in these moments, where we are completely and wholly cognizant of the present moment that fills us most with joy and gratitude. Taking some time to put self-care first may be the key to unlocking greater fulfillment in other areas of life.