Dr. Lori Johnson
Over the past few years, it has become increasingly trendy to talk about self-care. This is especially true for people whose work or lifestyle puts them in positions where it is hard to take time for themselves, whether because they work long, exhausting hours, or because they are home with children all day and can’t seem to get a meaningful break. Also, let’s be honest with our current times. COVID-19 has added additional stressors on top of everything else in our everyday lives.But for many, the understanding of self-care doesn’t go too much further than taking time for yourself, whether by going out for a cup of coffee alone, meeting up with friends, or being available for a long luxurious soak in the bathtub.
However, I would suggest that self-care goes deeper than making sure that you can take those 10-15 minutes (or more) for yourself every day, as one can very quickly go from that relaxed feeling in one moment, back to feeling stressed and under pressure from the next triggering event.
This suggests that you are over-extending yourself and what you perceive to be a state of relaxation is actually a state of constant stress. This state of stress that you perceive to be relaxed is just a lower level of stress compared to the previous overwhelming event—which is why we are easily stressed out by any small event that is stressful. Our cup is already filled to the rim.
Self-care, when we are stressed, keeps our cups from overfilling. But, self-care when we no longer feel as overwhelmed will help lower your cup even more so that when stressful life events happen, you can handle them with more patience, grace, understanding, and love.
Self-Care Ideas to Maintain Overall Health
Self-care needs to make some sort of effort to meet your deeper needs if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. It needs to look at all the areas of your life, your physical needs, like rest and taking care of your physical health, as well as your mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
Focus on your physical health
One of the first steps in self-care is recognizing that you are responsible for taking care of your physical health. As an adult, no one is going to remind you that you need to eat or to get enough sleep. So, you need to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy and nutritious meals, and getting some form of daily exercise, such as going for a walk or cycle around the block.
All these things are important if we want our bodies to be operating at peak capacity. We need to make sure to set ourselves up for success by giving ourselves the fuel we need to feel good and manage our day-to-day responsibilities, and a healthy diet, rest, and movement all contribute to our general good health and wellbeing. Exercise is also known to help counteract feelings of stress by producing endorphins, so it has a double benefit.
Endorphins are chemicals produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress. These are often also called the “feel good” chemicals. If your body is not producing enough endorphins you might experience depression, anxiety, or moodiness. This is why your physical health plays an important role in your mental and emotional well-being.
The next step in self-care is to do a little self-reflection. Take some time to look at your life and think about how the various aspects of it affect you and your wellbeing. Understand your capacity and limitations, so that you can know more easily when to say “no” to taking on too much.
Recognize what energizes you and what depletes you so that you can know what to say “yes” to and how to best recharge. Think about what kinds of things add significant stress so that, if possible, you can remember to practice your coping skills and make plans to manage the stress.
Prioritize what relaxes you, make time in your schedule to unwind, and allow yourself to show love to yourself. For some people, a warm bath with music or a book every day is relaxing. For others, cooking, dancing, or drawing are relaxing activities.
Think about what motivates you, so that you can commit yourself to what is important and follow through. The better you know yourself, the better you will be able to anticipate stresses and work to mitigate them, and the better you will be able to identify what is important to you and be able to plan to meet your needs.
Only by taking the time to think about what works and what doesn’t work in your life can you make better decisions about how to use your limited resources of time and energy and how to be your best self.
There’s a saying about self-care being about choosing to create a life that you don’t regularly feel the need to escape from. So, ask the tough questions about your life, career, and habits, and whether these things are draining you or fulfilling you. And then make changes accordingly.
Once you have taken the time to figure out what is most important to you, and what you are best capable of handling, then you can begin to establish healthy boundaries for yourself. These will look different to different people and in different situations.
You may find you need a certain amount of time alone to refresh yourself, and once you’ve decided that this is a priority in your self-care you can determine where to take this time and set up boundaries to protect it. Your boundaries may look like saying “no” to certain commitments, or to saying “no” beyond a certain number of social hangouts. But there will be times where you need to establish a limit, and then enforce it.
Yes, life is not perfect, and things will come up that may require the relaxing of a boundary; however, the general trend of protecting your time and the things that are important to you should become a habit that you don’t feel guilty about. Boundaries will help you to prioritize what is important, and then you can let the less important things slide a little if necessary.
Focus on your mental and emotional health
Once you have taken care of your physical needs and taken the time to establish boundaries to protect what is important to you, you can focus on investing in things that will build you up mentally and emotionally. For some, this may look like a change in their job to find something more fulfilling or making better use of their gifts and interests.
But momentous changes like this are not always options for everyone and looking after your mental health may mean investing in a hobby or other activity that challenges you and gives you a feeling of fulfillment. This might include getting involved in community service or taking a class in something that interests you, whether art or economics.
For some, it might mean being available to regularly spend time reading an enjoyable book. However, it is important to be available for things that challenge you positively and give you a sense of progress and growth.
Invest in friendships that build you up
While you may have hundreds of friends on social media, it is important to recognize the friendships that you have in real life. One rarely has the time to invest meaningfully in many friendships in real life, but when you have a solid friendship that uplifts you and builds you up, take the time to invest in that person.
We are made for relationships and do not function well in isolation, and that time with a friend can be life giving, especially when you are going through a challenging time. So don’t forget to prioritize time and energy for investing in the people that are close to you.
Focus on your faith
For many people, the spiritual aspect of life is particularly important. This is a part of life that shouldn’t be left as the last priority. It should be our first priority. For a Christian, God is more than a distant idea, but a close comfort and help in times of trouble.If your faith is important to you then you will not find fulfillment in just going through the worldly motions but will need to seek a relationship with God by reading His living Word daily, praying without ceasing, and following His commandments.
It will also be important to fellowship with people who share your faith, whether only for the weekly gathering or more frequently. Pay close attention to the people you gather with. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Invest in your faith community and you will find yourself spiritually fulfilled. If your spiritual life is not in alignment with God, it gives license to Satan to attack you in those areas that are not in alignment. Jesus gave us “The Great Commission” as our purpose on earth. Neglecting what Jesus commands us to do can be physically felt as an ache or need that we cannot satisfy in any other way.
This is the Holy Spirit convicting us, “and He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). When you are in alignment with God’s Word, you will feel peace in your Spirit and no longer be at war with your flesh.
Make time to fill your cup
All these things may feel like a lot that needs to be thought through and prioritized, but at the end of the day, we are complex people with needs across all parts of life. If any of these needs – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – are not being met, then we will struggle to feel satisfaction and contentment where we are.
But if you make good choices when it comes to how you fuel your body, what you prioritize, and how you guard what is important to you, you will find yourself increasingly fulfilled by the life you are building. And while you are investing in all these things, you mustn’t forget to allocate time to rest. “Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man’”(Mark 2:28).
Give yourself time to unwind and do the things that fill your cup, whether that is spending time in nature, socializing with good friends, or relaxing with a book, or even taking a long candlelit bubble bath. When the rest of your life is well balanced, these moments of rest will easily refresh and revive you and help you feel prepared to face the next challenge that comes your way.
“Wake up and Glow”, Courtesy of Ellieelien, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Self Love”, Courtesy of Content Pixie, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman Making Heart”, Courtesy of Jackson David, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “White Mug on Chair Arm”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License