A Guide for Self-Care

Our life is happier if we take care of ourselves.  If we eat tasty and nutritious food, move our bodies sufficiently, rest our bodies sufficiently, practice activities that are meditative to us, sleep soundly and for the right amount of time, and have social outlets, our lives flourish.  We feel a sense of joy and energy every day.  So, why do we only keep to-do lists for our social events?  They are commitments to other people and important to our well being, but why do we not equally value our commitments to ourselves?

We’ve all heard the old adage that if we can’t take care of ourselves, no one else will.  Or, that we can only take care of others once we’ve taken care of ourselves.  But how many of us make nourishing our own well being a major life goal or priority?  Even the things that we think of once a year around new year’s that are focused on improving our health are on often our to-do list for the wrong reason.  “I need to lose weight so that I can attract a partner.”  “I need to eat better because my doctor says it is good for me.”  “I need to do my yoga practice daily so that I won’t make a fool of myself in class.”  No wonder these ideas get abandoned before February rolls around.

At this time of year, when the weather begins to change and the days get shorter, our focus naturally moves a bit more inward.  As the temperature outside becomes less welcoming, whether we recognize or not, we subtly feel more like staying at home and reading a book or having a home cooked meal or sleeping a little later in the morning.  That makes the fall and winter a great time to make an effort at better self caring.

So, here’s the plan.

1.  Discover what really does make you feel better.  Every expert around you will tell you to follow this diet or try that yoga class, but how do you know what really works for you?  Rather than reading a book about your constitution or taking someone else’s advice, try a few new things that you suspect might be good for you or a few old things that used to make you feel good, but haven’t been your priority.  If your mom says a macrobiotic diet is great, try it for a few days or a week.  If your friend wants you to run with her, give it a shot for a week or two.  If you’ve never had a massage/facial/pedicure and you’ve always wanted to try it, get one.  If you used to play music and it made you feel great, but you don’t have time in your life anymore, make a few minutes a day for it.  Be playful and open to the possibilities and invite good and healthy things to come into your life.  As you openly try new things, be honest with yourself about what works for you and why: “Running is hard, but I feel great all day after I run” or “Eating a vegan diet makes me feel fatigued” or “A more vigorous yoga practice used to make me feel good, but now I feel better when I do a restorative practice”.

2.  Write down a short list of things that you know you can be doing to enhance your happiness and well being on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  For me, I have a daily morning routine (pranayama, breakfast, dry brushing, and either run or lift weights), an afternoon asana practice, and daily evening routine (charting, taking my vitamins, washing my face).  Weekly, I attend a yoga class, go to the Farmer’s Market, shave my legs (twice actually), thoroughly clean my living environment, and soak in a warm lavender scented bath.  Every six weeks, I have a haircut and a massage and have recently added a day at the Korean spa.  Don’t put things on your list that you never do, but think you should, as that is not realistic or helpful, but feel free to add things as you go through Step 1 and begin to try new things.  Encourage yourself to do more of what leaves you with a feeling of being happy and enlivened or peaceful and accomplished.

3.  Pare down.  Look at your list and decide what is really key and make sure that what you are suggesting to yourself is manageable and doable for you.  So, if you aren’t a morning person and you have to be to work by 8 am, perhaps your morning routine is just eating a healthy breakfast, rather than running three miles, going to the sauna and prepping for the night’s dinner before you go to work.  But if mornings are harder for you, maybe you can do more in the afternoon or on a weekend day?  Make your plan reasonable for you.  Make it achievable so that it feels invigorating instead of just like another thing you have to check off of a list.

4.  Remind yourself of your commitment to yourself.  Put post it notes in your bathroom, set a reminder on your calendar, or use an alarm to clue yourself into the items on your plan.  Find a way that works for you to follow the plan every day for at least a week or two.  As you continue to practice your plan over an extended period of time, it begins to become assimilated into your life until it is almost second nature (this is abhyasa for you yogis), but at first, you need to be reminded again and again.

5.  Find a balance with your plan.  Even the best intended ideas don’t always work and no plan works all of the time.  Give yourself permission to make some mistakes, but go back to your plan and don’t give up.  If you set aside a time for a work meeting, you might miss it on occasion due to illness or needing to rearrange your schedule, but you wouldn’t make that a routine.  Never beat yourself up about missing an appointment with yourself, but keep coming back to your commitment to a happier you.  Make your keeping to your plan a routine, but also allow it to grow and change as you develop a better sense of what things in life give you joy.

One person’s plan may be very simple (5 minutes a day reading a book for fun) and another person’s might be more involved.  But, either way, when New Year’s Day 2012 rolls around, you can already have an established practice of taking care of yourself and the revitalizing energy that a self-care plan brings to keep it going.

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6 Responses to “A Guide for Self-Care”

  1. Bob Sweeney October 30, 2011 8:40 pm #

    You have a beautiful and thoughtful site, Becca.

  2. Becca October 31, 2011 8:20 am #

    Thank you!

  3. Leah November 20, 2011 5:59 am #

    Becca, I love reading your thoughts on self-care. This blog entry is truthful and motivating. I love all the points you make, and the way you’ve written #5 is beautiful.

    • Becca November 20, 2011 9:03 am #

      Thank you Leah. :)

  4. Polly November 20, 2011 11:22 am #

    I loved that! So inspirational

    • Becca November 20, 2011 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Polly. Miss you!

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