When embarking on a health journey, there is a lot to think about and get into place. Once you’ve made a commitment to take better care of yourself, you may be thinking, “Where do I start?” Hopefully this guide will help you think of pursuits that bring you joy and good health and how to get started.
It is very common for people to use food as a comfort or stress reliever, because eating is something that we already do several times per day. However, in the long run using food for emotional comfort is counterproductive because it leaves emotional and spiritual needs unmet, can cause weight gain and will eventually diminish physical health in the process. The purpose of food is for nutrition, and it’s ok to choose something that tastes good, but eating a lot of food when you’re not physically hungry will eventually make you feel worse unless you replace it with a more appropriate coping strategy.
“What is self-care?”
Let’s start simply with the Wikipedia definition:
“Self care has been defined as the process of establishing behaviors to ensure holistic well-being of oneself, to promote health, and actively manage illness when it occurs. Individuals engage in some form of self-care daily with food choices, exercise, sleep and hygiene. Self-care is not only a solo activity, as the community – a group that supports the person performing self-care – overall plays a role in access to, implementation of, and success of self-care activities.”
From my perspective, this definition is a good start. But, there are more things to think about and address that this definition leaves out. Let’s start by answering some common questions about self-care and why a STRATEGY for self-care is necessary.
“Why do I need a self-care strategy?”
A lot of people who embark on a health journey and want to lose weight start out complaining about their bodies – they don’t like how they look, they don’t like how their body works and feels, they don’t like their body fat, and many times they say they hate their bodies. The human body is a highly complex biological machine that does so many amazing things, so it doesn’t make sense to have a negative perspective about it. Before you can make any meaningful improvements to your body, you must first develop an appreciation for it. Acknowledging that the human body can do amazing things like move around, create life, and heal itself will set the stage to honor your body enough to change how you treat and care for it.
Write down a few things that you are grateful for about your body, and it doesn’t just have to be about looks. Be mindful of things it does for you like allowing you to solve problems, build things, process nutrition, work and make a living, give and receive love, create families, and so much more. It’s ok to also acknowledge some visual things like pretty hair or kind eyes. Self-care starts with self-appreciation, and it’s important to be intentional about it so that improved habits can be established and sustained.
“How do I even start a self-care strategy?”
There are a lot of things that everyone does on a daily basis that could be defined as self-care, even though we may not label it or define it in that way. Simple things like wearing a seat belt, getting vaccinated, paying for health insurance, and even brushing our teeth and hair would be part of self-care. From a holistic perspective, other self-care activities can include meditating and praying, talking with a friend, or getting your nails done. Even reading this article is self-care!
Think about the areas of your life that feel unbalanced or deficient. For instance, if you always feel sleepy, this likely prevents you from performing your best and feeling your best. If you’re chronically sleep deficient, this can also impact your overall health and make weight loss more difficult. Think of ways to improve your sleep at night or have a consistent rest period during the day. If you’re an adult, your mom is not going to come and tell you to go to bed early or lay down for your nap! So, you must acknowledge that sleep is important before committing to working on improving it.
“Isn’t self-care just being selfish?”
You may be thinking, “but I don’t have time,” or “I can’t take away from my family or work.” It can be challenging to juggle your own needs and those of others who need you to help take care of them. If you are always putting your own needs at the bottom of your priority list, then the needs of others will take precedence time and again. So, if you fail to address and meet your own needs, then you will be expected by others to always say “yes” to them and “no” to yourself.
A working mother has her hands full with family, work, the home, friends, and other responsibilities. But, because she is so valuable and vital to those who depend on her, it is ever more important that her own self-care not only be valued by her, but also insisted upon by those who care about her. It can take some time and effort to create a place for yourself on your own priority list, but the payoff will be enormous. Not only will you be creating a happier and more peaceful life for yourself, but you will also be a powerful example to others in your life on the importance of expending time and effort for yourself.
For example, a busy working mom takes her 2 kids to 2 different sports practices in the evenings during the week. From very young ages, her kids have come to expect that their mom not only drives them, but she also stays to watch each practice, even after the kids were old enough to feel confident and comfortable on their own. So, instead of using the time that her kids are engaged in their own activities for herself and her own self-care pursuits, she continues to sit and wait for each of her children at each of their practices. As a result, her family has come to expect that no matter what, she would be there to serve their needs, despite her own unmet self-care needs. Eventually, this mom got comfortable with dropping the kids off and going to the gym for her own workout or to enjoy some alone time at a nearby coffee shop. The kids actually began encouraging and congratulating their mom for her own goals and accomplishments the same way she had been encouraging them through the years.
“What are some ideas for my self-care strategy?”
The title of this article invites you to become your own best friend, so if someone you love came to you with their feelings and emotions, what would you say or do to help them feel better? Think of your self-care strategy as an “emotional toolbox,” where you can address different emotions and needs in the appropriate way to help process them. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but also be thinking of your own emotional challenges and how to meet them appropriately.
MY EMOTIONAL TOOLBOX
When I feel…. I do this….
Stressed/Anxious Take a brisk walk or practice yoga
Angry Vent to a trusted friend or discuss in counseling
Depressed/sad Pray, meditate, read scripture or inspirational book
Exhausted Soak in the bathtub, light candles, listen to relaxing music
Bored Engage in a hobby – it crafting, scrapbooking, puzzles, etc.
Lonely Call or text someone (think of a loved one who might also feel alone)
Overwhelmed Write in a journal, read scripture or a spiritual book.
Excited/Happy Treat yourself to some pampering – ie facial, manicure, etc.
Develop the habit of self-care by incorporating it into other things you do daily. For instance, if you’re commuting to work daily, you could take that time to listen to a podcast, a favorite play list or an audio book. Be mindful that this is YOUR time, so challenge the urge to make or take calls during this time. If you work from home, put your self-care time on your schedule and tell your team and family of your intentions. For example, if you go to an exercise class on the same day each week, make sure that your time doesn’t get double-booked. Again, if you don’t establish this boundary, it will become the norm in your life for your needs to remain unmet consistently. In the beginning, it may feel uncomfortable and selfish to spend your time and effort on you instead of something else. Be committed to the idea that your needs are important, your best self is crucial, and your wellness should be not only your priority but also to those who truly care about you.