In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that self care - taking care of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs - has been one of my major tripping points in this lifetime. For a long time, I really believed that if I were to take care of myself I would be the most selfish person in the world.
I always thought about how there were people starving, people really suffering. How could I possibly sit here and think about myself?
This way of thinking eventually led me to develop a full-blown eating disorder that almost took my life. As I have come to understand it, the truth is this:
By taking care of myself I have so much more to offer the world than I do when I am running on empty.~Ali Washington
By taking care of me, I create a space around myself where I am not desperate, I am full. I am feeling nourished and cared for and thus am so much more able to nourish and care for those around me.
This is still a work in progress for me, and I sometimes slip up. But I am so much better than I used to be at taking care of me, and my life is so much better for it. Here are my top five tips for starting a self care routine.
1. Eat When You Are Hungry, Stop When You Are Satisfied
To some this is going to seem ridiculously easy, to others this will seem like one of the most challenging things in the world. When I was first beginning my recovery from my eating disorder, one of my first thoughts was “do people really just eat when they are hungry? How do you know if you are hungry?”
These are both good questions, and you do not have to have an eating disorder to be a little less than connected to your body and its signals.
So often I see people who eat on a schedule, they eat when it is “time” to eat rather than because of actual physical hunger. I see many people eat until they are so uncomfortable that they have to go take a nap, or eat too little and end up having blood sugar spikes and crashes all day long.
The point I am trying to make here is that by connecting to your body, by taking the time to learn to listen when your body tells you it is in need of food, and when it tells you it is time to stop, you will start to foster a deeper and deeper connection to the innate wisdom your body possesses. As you take care of eating when you need to eat, you are sending a signal to yourself that you love yourself and that you are willing to listen to what you need and provide it.
2. Sleep When You Are Tired
Again, I understand if you feel like this is crazy talk. It is very common to walk around totally drained all the time because we all have so many things on the go. We are a culture obsessed with being busy.
I am not going to tell you that you have to quit anything, or give anything up, but I am going to tell you that by getting more sleep you are going to be better equipped to handle all the things you have in your life, you are going to be less likely to become ill and you are going to be smarter. Really.
This simple self care act can make such a huge positive impact in your life. My suggestion to you is to practice a few elements of sleep hygiene if you cannot actually afford to add any extra hours of sleep to your routine right now.
First, set a bed time and a wake up time. Go to bed at the same time every night and try to wake up at the same time every morning. If this means you have to say no to a few social events, or TVO your favorite show, do it. You will find that you sleep better and fall asleep faster once you get into a routine.
Second, shut down the electronics 30-60 minutes before your bed time. The light will decrease the amount of melatonin your body produces, and melatonin is an essential hormone for regulating sleep. Dim the lights, read a book, have light conversation. Sipping some herbal tea (but not so much that you are running to the bathroom all night) is also a great idea.
3. Carve Out 5 Minutes A Day To Sit
You can journal. You can chant. You can repeat mantra. You can breathe. You can do nothing, but close your eyes.
Taking 5 minutes a day that are just yours to calm, quiet, and soothe your mind will automatically decrease stress levels and communicate to you that you are a high priority on your list. Make this time sacred. Close the door and lock it if you have to. Just tune into you.
4. Move Your Body
Exercise is one of the most fundamental things you can do to improve your health, take care of your body and clear your mind. But driving yourself to do an activity that you hate, or pushing yourself to burn out at the gym is the exact opposite of self care.
Sure, getting a good work out does mean being uncomfortable and pushing yourself sometimes. But if you are dreading your workouts or if you are getting symptoms of overtraining (excessive fatigue, prolonged muscle soreness and fatigue, poor digestion, anxiety, etc.), you may want to consider dialing back the intensity a little.
On the other side of the scale, if you are not moving your body at all it is possible that you will be causing yourself to feel more fatigued than you need to.
Twenty minutes of light to moderate activity is really all you need. Go for a yoga class. Dance to your favorite music in the living room. Walk to work or on your lunch break. Whatever feels good to you, whatever feels doable for you, do it. You deserve that hit of endorphins!
5. Allow Yourself To Feel Your Feelings
This was a huge one for me. I spent so many years feeling guilty for having the feelings I did. For not liking someone. For not agreeing with how things around me were being handled. For feeling sad, angry, upset or hurt. But the longer I ignored and pushed these feelings down, the longer they festered and the larger they grew.
I found that by acknowledging my feelings when they happened in a healthy way, either through journaling, talking to someone I could trust, or just saying how I felt out loud to myself, I was able to process my feelings and release them. This is far preferable to holding onto them and allowing them to ruin my day, week, month or year.
Being honest with myself about how I was feeling gave me the freedom to move forward. Some feelings may be scary to feel, but know that the pain of facing them is so much less than the pain of holding onto them. I promise.
What do you do to take care of you?