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How Can I Actually Practice Self-Care?

How Can I Actually Practice Self-Care?

by Megan Kovach, LCMHC-A, NCC

Do you ever get tired of hearing the word or phrase, “self-care?”

What does it mean?
Many of us feel like we are already doing the best we can to take care of ourselves and some of us wonder what self-care is actually supposed to look like. Have you ever thought, “I am so sick of people telling me to go take a bubble bath and relax and it doesn’t take my problem away?” Well, guess what? You’re right! Self-care is not to take the problem away or magically make you feel 100% better. Self-care is the concept of allowing yourself to have permission to detach and focus on what your body needs. This is often very difficult for parents, professionals, and students. Researchers Ayala, Winseman, Johnsen, and Mason (2018) completed a study with medical students and found that students who reported engagement in self-care activities appeared to decrease the strength between the relationship of stress and it’s impact on quality of life. Therefore, we should consider that self-care does not take away stress, but can help our quality of life when we are experiencing high levels of stress.

You may be thinking, “well that’s great, but I still don’t really understand how I can make this happen.”

What does it look like?
Self-care can look and feel like a lot of different things. It’s individualized and there is no “one size fits all.” For some, maybe bubble baths and candles can help for a relaxing evening away from other stressors. For others, that advice may be useless! The truth of the matter is, many of us are boggled down when life becomes overwhelming, when we are struggling to meet a variety of expectations, and when we are constantly working to be productive. Unfortunately, we must accept the ugly truth that all of these expectations and demands on us don’t ever stop! The pace of the world continues and we are going to always be trying to keep up. Self-care is actually difficult sometimes because we have to force ourselves to focus on what we, our bodies, need. Integrating self-care doesn’t happen overnight. Here is your encouragement to give yourself some grace and simply focus on finding ways to incorporate it where you can. Below are some steps, as well as examples, to figure out how to incorporate self-care into your life to have an increased quality of life, even (and especially) when stressed.

Steps to start incorporating self-care:

1. Pause and be still.
It is important to solely focus on your mind and body for a few minutes.

2. Recognize what your body feels like.
Do you notice that you’re hungry?
Do you notice it’s difficult to concentrate?
Do you feel weighted by your to-do list today or this week?
Are you feeling a sense of dread for an upcoming plan/event?
Are you worried about how the dishes are going to get done?
Are you feeling tired?
Does grief feel heavy today in your soul?
Do you feel tension in your muscles or bones?

3. Think about what you found in your body, feelings, and thoughts.
What would help take a little bit of weight off or provide relief today or this week?

4. Identify 1-3 things that may help this feeling in your body become a little bit more manageable or provide relief.
Is there a task or activity that I can reschedule, push back, or cancel?
Can I make time for an enjoyable activity today or this week?

6. Plan, plan, plan!
If you have an activity in mind, plan for it to be successful in following through.
If you are pushing back something, plan for when you can do it later.

Note: We often feel guilty rescheduling and may not follow through because we didn’t plan.
Recognize this guilt and determine why you may be experiencing it to help allow yourself to move past it.

7. Make it happen! And if you can, routinely integrate similar things in your schedule!

It is important to give yourself some grace and remind yourself of how this is helpful for yourself, providing you with a better quality of life for yourself, which in-turn – helps you provide better quality of whatever roles you have (parent, student, spouse, etc).

Examples of what self-care can look like:
– Instead of the doing the dishes, it might be going for a walk alone, with an animal, or with family.
– Spending time outside and being in the present moment (e.g. listening to the sounds of nature, how it feels).
– Saying “no” or rescheduling a task that would prevent you from some time of rest because you are trying to always be productive.
– Intentionally leaving open blocks on your schedule to do something that you enjoy.
– Taking a break of concentrating to do something that helps (e.g. getting water, going outside, music, exercise).
– Not attending that event that you’re only going to for others and that you may be dreading.
– Not spending time cooking and enjoying takeout pizza and extra time with your friends or family.
– Spending time to focus on your budget or calendar that you always push off to get other tasks done.
– Putting your phone down that tends to help distract yourself from life stress by scrolling on social media, but is not actually serving the purpose of relieving yourself of some stress.
– Planning a day off when you aren’t sure if you need to, simply to go catch up on errands or household tasks so that you have a free evening with your family or to yourself that is normally absorbed by all of these things.

And hey, maybe it’s ordering an appetizer at dinner for a sense of joy this week. The point is, there is no “right” way to do self-care. It is what you have determined that you need to improve your quality of life daily and weekly.

Do any of these things make your problems go away? Of course not. Once we adjust our expectations that self-care is to help us improve our quality of life instead of expecting it to resolve our problems, we can then focus on how to improve our quality of life despite everything that’s going on. Self-care can give us some hope, some joy, and a little relief when our bodies are desperately needing it. I hope this week you can find something to do for your mind, body, and self. And most importantly, trying not to feel guilty while doing it 😊

Sources Cited:
Ayala, E. E., Winseman, J. S., Johnsen, R. D., & Mason, H. (2018). U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life. BMC medical education, 18(1), 189.