by Brad Krause
Who doesn’t appreciate an hour—or two—to relax and let your mind wander, indulge in a good book or your favorite TV show or chill in a hammock guilt-free? Alas, with all of life’s demands, whether it’s your job, family and other responsibilities, we tend to cancel or put off those activities that give us time to recharge. But self-care is critical for maintaining good mental, physical and emotional health.
Self-care helps you to stay connected with yourself and remind you of your self-worth, produce positive feelings, boost self-confidence and self-esteem. When you take time to take care of yourself, you’re setting a good example for your family while reminding them that your needs are important, too.
Self-care staves off stress that stems from working too much; contrary to popular belief, workaholism is not a virtue. Workaholism leads to mistakes, decreased productivity and utter exhaustion. Overworking becomes a slippery slope that can invite serious health issues including anxiety and depression, insomnia and heart disease.
Self-care prevents burnout from too much work, too many demands on your time and too many areas in which it’s all too easy to spread yourself too thin. When you’ve pushed yourself beyond that proverbial breaking point, you’re simply going through the motions and, let’s face it—everything suffers. Plus, taking that step back and physically taking a break, can often lead to a breakthrough. In fact, science has proven that taking breaks—and ensuring that you’re getting consistently restful sleep—will enhance your performance.
Self-care habits like taking breaks from work—eating lunch with a colleague or taking a stroll during a break—improve energy levels and your mood. Mobile technology makes it all too easy for us to stay connected 24-7, so make a conscious effort to unplug and set boundaries between work and personal time.
How to start
Whether you’re trying to cultivate a new self-care routine or looking for other ways to increase your mental and physical mojo, check out this list of stress management hacks. Try them out and tweak as you need, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition:
Schedule time to exercise. Put it in your calendar like your kids’ activities and work meetings. If it’s already part of your daily routine, you’re more likely to follow through. Need help with accountability? Join the gym or a class with a friend or two. Too busy to hit the gym? Download self-care apps, which will give you suggestions to get your move on—even if you only have five minutes to spare.
Eat well. It’s way too easy to hit the drive-through or grab a slice of leftover pizza. Instead, use your Crockpot or instant pot for easy meal cooking. Take a few hours on the weekend or a weeknight to plan and prep meals for a week or a month. If you find yourself reaching for comfort foods because they taste good (and they make you feel good), think about changing how you eat, too. Are you reaching for a box of cookies to reward yourself for a rough day, or consuming too many carbs at dinner because you skipped breakfast and lunch? Check out these suggestions on how to eat well.
Practice mindfulness to manage stress and help your body to relax. Think about it: What do we do, daily, to maintain our psychological health? During the day, take a minute to look at a picture or listen to a song that makes you happy and recharges your batteries. Take a stroll around the block, electronics-free, to feel the sunshine and connect with nature.
These resources from the Positive Psychology Program include worksheets and exercises to build mindfulness, including the self-compassion pause, self-inquiry meditation, five senses exercise, and mini-mindfulness exercises. Deep breathing techniques are another good way to reduce stress by turning off the chemicals your body releases when the fight or flight response activates.
Change your perspective
Value yourself—guilt-free. Prioritizing and taking care of yourself improves all aspects of your life. As you’re evaluating where and how to prioritize your self-care, also think about your social, financial, and workspace needs, too.
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