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Self-care: ‘The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.’ – Oxford Languages
We hear the term ‘self-care’ a lot, but what does it actually mean and why is it so important?
We all know that a build up of stress and anxiety resulting in burnout is detrimental to our health and wellbeing. But why do we sometimes put off essential ‘me time’, or lower its priority so it sits at the bottom of our to-do-list?
I often hear five common reasons as to why self-care is shelved or downgraded as a priority:
Our interconnected lifestyles mean that we can access information 24/7, and as such there is an increased demand on our time. Demands from work and family can feel like an ever-increasing tsunami of commitments meaning that we often reprioritise what we see as important.
However, what is important to consider at the same time is ‘sustainability’. The human body is only designed to undergo periods of stress for a short period of time, not sustained over a longer term. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’
Our wellbeing bank account works exactly the same as our financial one. Maintaining a healthy balance is made up of both credits and debits. Self-care acts as a credit to our health and wellbeing, whereas demands placed on us act as debits.
Self-care can be the simple acts of drinking enough water, preparing healthy meals, exercising or getting enough sleep.
Thinking about where you spend your down-time is an essential part of understanding how you can restore your energy. For example, does your downtime consist of back-to-back Netflix series, or do you scroll aimlessly through social media feeds? If the answer is yes, there is definitely space that can be carved out within your routine for self-care.
Perhaps you feel as if you are being ‘selfish’ in creating space just for you? This is a common barrier and trying to justify time just for you can feel like a difficult balance. Fundamentally, self-care is never selfish, it is the space needed in order for you to recharge to be able to fully give to others.
Rule number one when it comes to self-care; it doesn’t have to be lavish. Self-care actually doesn’t have to cost a penny if you don’t want it to. It can take so many forms, from simply getting enough rest, taking a walk outside in nature or even taking time out for meditation, all of which are free.
Of course, there are ways in which you can invest in self-care. From yoga courses, journaling or taking up a new sport, there are lots of options out there; but spending money isn’t essential and doesn’t equate to increased levels of benefit. Good self-care routines can be simple and what’s important is that you are able to find something that works for you.
Starting something new can be daunting, in fact any type of change can be. Like it or not we are creatures of habit, so adopting new habits can be hard at first. Our inner critic can really go to town when we don’t have the confidence to do something, and usually talks us out of doing something new. Sound familiar?
As a yoga teacher, the most common barrier I hear most is, ‘I’m just not flexible enough to practice Yoga’.
Perhaps this resonates with you too. The reality is that flexibility and strength don’t happen straight away. It all takes time.
Remember when you started a new job or perhaps learnt to drive? Getting to grips with new tasks or software took time for you to learn and feel comfortable doing. So, it’s important to remember that even self-care practices take time to develop too – no one was born a master at doing anything.
The multiple benefits gained from practicing Yoga certainly outweigh the difficulties first experienced when learning; from increased flexibility, improved core strength, better posture and even sleep.
Mindfulness can also be a challenge to get to grips with at first, but starting off with short bursts and building up can be the best way to garner all the benefits that bringing stillness into your life can bring.
Begin by focusing just for one minute and building up is a perfect starting point. Taking time to acknowledge how you feel, allowing the mind to rest and scanning the body can help refocus your attentions.
Perhaps when we think of adding self-care to our routines, we need to see this not as a ‘task’ to complete, but more so an oasis for our health and wellbeing. With diaries so busy and the need to spin numerous plates at once, we can sometimes feel as if we are on a constant treadmill.
Have you ever found yourself needing to finish one task, but already thinking about the next? Feeling overwhelmed with how much you need to do?
Ringfencing time in your routines for practicing self-care isn’t just adding another item to the to-do list. Allowing our minds and body to fully focus during self-care is really where you gain the most benefit and allow yourself the space to recharge.
The psychologist, Abraham Maslow said “The ability to be in the present is a major component of mental wellness.”
Being present is key to reaping all of the rewards you can gain from self-care. So, by redefining self-care, not as a task, but as a moment to be present, is a way of reminding ourselves just how essential this is for our health and wellbeing.
Adding something new to a routine takes time to get used to – it takes practice. You may or may not have heard of the 21/90 rule when it comes to building new habits and making these as part of a permanent lifestyle change. According to this rule, on average it takes around 21 days to form a habit, and a further 90 days to make this a permanent lifestyle change.
So, when we start to understand the time that it takes to incorporate changes, perhaps we can also see why we may sometimes have unrealistic expectations when we start something new.
The world we live in is fast paced and our expectation of instant results doesn’t always correlate to reality. For example, same-day or next day delivery is pretty much the norm nowadays when it comes to online shopping, and we may baulk at the idea of having to wait up to 7 days to receive our order.
Our expectations of instant results can easily permeate their way through to our health and wellbeing goals, leading to many of us giving up great intentions purely as we don’t see results quickly enough.
So, it’s crucial to understand the realistic timeframes when it comes to adding something new and really feeling the benefits.
Self-care is a commitment to your own health and wellbeing, and adding this as part of your routine will take time to embed it as part of your lifestyle. However, when you understand that it won’t happen overnight, perhaps we can positively manage our expectations and appreciate that working on ourselves is an investment.
The benefits of incorporating self-care into your routine are far-reaching and do have a direct impact on your own health and wellbeing. A little can go a long way; especially if you are not already incorporating this into your lifestyle. Starting off gently and building up is a great way to start.
As the saying goes ‘almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.’
What are your first thoughts when you hear the words ‘peace’ or ‘pleasure’? For some, the words may be associated with each other even possibly used interchangeably, but in reality, there is a very distinct difference as observed by Jay Shetty.
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