Articles on Self Care are nearly always accompanied with pictures of luxurious bubble baths, reinforcing the belief that Self Care is all about taking time to relax and pamper yourself. And sometimes it is, but it’s also so much more of that. It’s taken me a long time (until this long!) to realise that Self Care isn’t just about indulging yourself and doing things you enjoy, or treating yourself – a lot of Self Care is about making yourself do the things you need to do to stay healthy both mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Not all of that feels like fun or a pampering treat!
(Sometimes Self Care looks like a healthy breakfast eaten in the garden!)
Self Care looks a lot like going to the gym, or for a run or even a daily walk, when you’d much rather stay on the sofa. It looks like making the doctor’s appointment, or arranging the blood test even though you’ve convinced yourself that it’s not important. It’s setting an alarm to remind yourself to meditate, or a bedtime reminder to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s referring yourself to a counsellor or therapist instead of ignoring your problems and telling yourself that you’re fine. Investing in your ongoing education or personal development. Cleaning your house so that your environment doesn’t drag you down. Tackling the To Do list and avoiding procrastination on the tasks you’re anxious about – as the longer you leave it, the more anxiety you’ll have to deal with. Eating sensible meals instead of skipping them and grabbing snacks. Asking for help. Making time for hobbies, crafts or reading even though it means turning off the TV or stopping scrolling through Facebook.
None of this sounds much like fun, or luxurious pampering. It’s about creating healthy routines… then making yourself stick to them as much as possible. It’s not about beating yourself up, but supporting yourself to make better choices. We live in a culture that increasingly tells us not to bother, not to force ourselves into doing things we don’t like or don’t feel like. Yet we have to do things we don’t feel like every single day, otherwise dishes wouldn’t get washed and the laundry hamper would overflow while the wardrobe empties. When I remind Lily that it’s her turn to wash up, she crinkles her nose up at me. “But Mum, I really don’t feel like it.” As if somehow that’s going to get her off the hook. Oh, okay, if you really don’t want to wash up then you don’t have to.I understand. No, my answer is usually along the lines of Tough. It’s your turn, I do it every single day and I never feel like doing it either.
Increasingly I’m realising that Self Care looks a lot like a traditional English Nanny, who simply isn’t going to put up with any nonsense. It’s about telling yourself Tough, you need to do it, like it or not. Realising that as the day ends, you’re going to feel so much more positive if you’ve pushed yourself into doing what needed to be done, rather than convincing yourself that it was fine to take it easy because you didn’t feel like it. Of course, it’s not about beating yourself up, pushing too hard or being hard on yourself. It’s not about turning to productivity gurus and accounting for every single minute of the day. It’s about not giving in to yourself when you know you need to make a better choice. And maybe that looks a lot like Mary Poppins standing over you, arms folded, one eyebrow raised, reminding you that you’re worth taking care of.
- Set an alarm to get you up on time – not too early, not too late.
- Start your day with hot water and lemon, or a herbal tea.
- Try a short meditation session such as the 10 minute Daily Calm (Calm App) to put you in a good frame of mind.
- A few yoga stretches are a great idea first thing.
- Take enough time for showering, washing, and dressing in a way that makes you feel good about yourself. If you feel better wearing make-up, take the time to put it on.
- Avoid watching/listening to The News first thing – play some uplifting music instead.
- Throw some laundry into the washing machine. You deserve clean clothes.
- Don’t skip breakfast. Make yourself something nourishing to start the day off right.
- If you can, sit outside in the early morning sunshine while you eat breakfast or sip your drink.
- Plan your day. Take a few moments to remind yourself what your priorities need to be. Work out when you’re going to fit in some exercise or a daily walk.
- Fill your water bottle. Do it in the morning rather than waiting until you get thirsty – if you’ve got it with you then it increases the chances that you’ll sip your water rather than opting for another coffee.
- Tackle the work that you need to get done. Don’t procrastinate over difficult or unpleasant tasks as they’ll just be hanging over you for even longer, making you anxious and stressed. You’ll feel so much better when you can cross them off the list.
- Limit your availability as necessary. Check emails a couple of times a day instead of constantly, switch your phone off if you don’t want to be interrupted.
- Remember to take a break when you need to. Stretch your legs, refill your water.
- Feed yourself. Make lunch nourishing. Try to sit outside, and read for a short while, preferably from a book or magazine. Don’t eat at your desk or while you’re trying to tackle emails etc.
- Go for a short walk every day, preferably through a green space. Put your phone away and look around you, start appreciating the beauty of the sky, the trees, the plants and flowers. Take a moment to breathe deeply.
- Dinner. With vegetables. Home cooked.
- Take time to wash up and quickly clean up the house. It’s depressing to live in a mess and you’ll feel so much better in the morning if you wake to a clean house.
- Unwind purposefully in the evenings. Choose how you’re going to spend your time rather than mindlessly watching TV. If your favourite show is on and you want to watch it – great! But don’t sit there watching any old thing – you’d be better off spending time doing a hobby or a craft project. Creativity is brilliant for mental health.
- Turn screens off an hour before bed time. Avoid anything too mentally or physically taxing as bedtime approaches.
- Get to bed at a sensible time, make sure you’re getting enough sleep or life starts to feel very difficult.
- Jot down anything that’s on your mind before bed, anything you need to remember for the next day. Remember to schedule in any healthcare appointments, don’t put them off. Try to write down three things you feel grateful for.