Getting Real About Self Care: 5 Tips to Follow (or not)
Ah, the joy and promise of a new year. So many of us mark the start of a new calendar year by, to put it bluntly, beating ourselves down under the guise of self improvement. We must lose weight (in only certain places while gaining in the other places society deems worthy, naturally). Achieve that goal we’ve never gotten to (and remind ourselves how behind we are for not already having achieved it while we’re at it). Clean out all of the cupboards. Be better moms. Be better wives. Volunteer more. Eat less. Eat more. Eat better. The list goes on (and on…and on).
But even the best laid plans are not always, well, the best plans. Wanting to become a better version of yourself is a noble and worthwhile goal. Challenge and growth is, after all, what a well-rounded life is all about. But—as someone who has survived cancer four times, raises a special-needs child, and runs more businesses than I can count on one hand—if there is one thing I’ve learned after years of relentless resolutions and rigid goals unmet, it’s that nothing can change without first looking after yourself. Self-care (real, honest, effective self-care) is the soft, forgiving foundation we all must lay before we can build upon it.
Today, then, I wanted to offer up the five simple self-care areas I focus my efforts—and what little energy I have left after a day of laundry and car pools and medical appointments—on. I find that when I keep the following in mind, all of my other goals, worries, and wants tend to work themselves out.
1. See sleep as productive.
Easier said than done, I know—particularly for anyone with a newborn or toddler at home. But neglecting sleep undercuts your creativity, problem-solving and decision-making abilities, learning, memory, health, emotional well-being, and immune system. Study after study tells us that the sleep deprived are more stressed, more sick, more irritable, and more depressed than those who manage to get a good night’s rest on a regular basis.
Energy doesn’t grow on trees (if it does, someone please point me to that tree). It comes from those moments when our motor functions and brains shut down and our bodies are finally able to recharge. The simplest thing you can do—particularly if you’re someone who needs to feel like you’re constantly being productive (hello, every woman ever)—is to reframe your outlook on sleep as a valuable, productive self-care task. Sleeping doesn’t make you lazy or complacent or a bad mother. Sleeping is, by far, one of the most powerful things you can do to ensure you’re showing up wholly and well in all other areas of your life.
2. Drink water, eat smarter.
If there is one simple self-care “task” you can do to boost your energy and creativity levels, enhance your immune system, and balance your digestive system—it is to drink more water. Set a reminder on your phone. Play a mental game with yourself where you get a piece of dark chocolate for every 32-ounce bottle you finish. Whatever you have to do to get yourself to remember to drink more water, do it. After just a week or so of getting at least 64 ounces (but preferably more) a day, you’ll absolutely see the change in your energy levels and digestion.
Second up is the thing we all know we need to do but struggle to do: eat smarter. (You can roll your eyes at me—full permission given.) The pandemic has made it wildly difficult to stay disciplined—particularly for those of us who are working from home and have access to a slew of sugary snacks we wouldn’t normally have at the office. I’ve made it a point to keep my cupboards stocked with healthy snacks (think: dried fruit instead of milk chocolate)—and to keep granola in my car and purse so I’m not tempted to swing into a coffee shop for a sugary pastry every time I’m out. I still treat myself to pastries, chocolate, and all of the tasty things—don’t get me wrong—but I try to use them as a one-off treat on a Friday, rather than digging into them at all hours of the day.
3. Take time out.
So many of us are busier (and more stressed) than ever. We own businesses, we manage teams, we manage our households…so who are we to pause, right? This mindset is a common—and understandable—one, but taking the time to pause is just as important and productive as folding laundry, answering emails, or ticking items off of your to-do list. Our bodies are under an incredibly increased amount of physiological stress with the pandemic—which means we’re in an even greater need for self-care tactics like taking time to pause and breathe. When you relax and pause, you experience existence without any need for doing. You can set aside all stress and worry. Time seems to pause while in this state of just being. Even though the seconds still pass by, you needn’t attach any meaning to the passage of time.
Instead of demonizing the habit of pausing for being “bad” or “selfish,” recognize that it’s actually serving an incredibly meaningful purpose (just as I talked about earlier with the case of sleep). If you have to pencil “pause time” in your calendar to get you to follow through on it, do so!
4. Set realistic goals.
Big, exciting goals are fun to set—and there’s no denying that, when we put our mind to something, we’re capable of pretty much anything. But lofty goals can go from “super exciting” to “incredibly stressful” in a matter of just a few busy days, one spilled cup of coffee, and two unwanted emails. The aim here is to set goals that are realistic and fairly easy to achieve—rather than ones that will only serve to brew stress, anxiety, and feelings of not being “good enough” the longer they go unachieved. These past few years have been wild—your plate is plenty full and your shoulders have enough weighing on them as is; do yourself a favor and lighten your load by setting goals that feel meaningful but not excruciatingly impossible.
5. When all else fails, forgive.
If there’s one self-care tactic I want you to walk away with today, it’s the willingness to forgive yourself when you didn’t drink enough water, neglected to achieve that goal, or gave in and stopped at a drive-thru instead of cooking up a healthy dinner for your family. As well-intentioned as all of the advice in today’s post is, everything I’ve outlined here isn’t always realistic.
Sometimes (read: all the time), modern life is busy. Many of us are juggling work or study commitments, meaningful relationships, fun hobbies, looking after our physical health, keeping tidy homes, and doing thoughtful things for others. Celebrate the little wins—waking up on time, talking to your neighbor for a few minutes, putting that thank-you note in the post, choosing a green juice instead of a sugary smoothie—and forgive yourself for the things that didn’t go as planned.
Overall, realistic self care—the kind I’ve attempted to share with you today—is all about a balance of idealism and realism. Big growth and major improvement can be the end-goal—but little wins, small victories, and something as simple as going to bed 30 minutes early are often the stepping stones it takes to get there. It’s all about knowing where you want to be tomorrow—but being willing to accept the reality of today.