Here’s a common scenario: You are exhausted and overwhelmed by responsibilities, and the only way you’ll get it all done is by working harder and longer, sleeping less, and cutting out the “nonessential” things you do to take care of yourself.
We’re Americans—taught to power through and not complain. But if we do not take time to recharge, we inevitably burn out, causing even more problems than we started with.
What exactly is self-care?
The term “self-care” refers to anything we do intentionally to care for our physical, mental and emotional/spiritual health.
If we first make our own health and happiness a priority—if we start by resting adequately, exercising, and adding a little fun and joy to our schedules—we actually become better, more effective workers, partners, parents and friends.
If you feel you need to justify these acts of self-maintenance, to yourself or anyone else, think of it this way: Take care of yourself in the following important ways, and you will, in turn, be able to take better care of everything and everyone on your list.
Skipping meals deprives your brain and body of the fuel it needs to function and focus throughout the day. And while there is room in a healthy diet for the occasional indulgence, turning to take-out too often will wreak havoc on body and brain, making you less effective at work and possibly more irritable and impatient. (Not to mention the fact that processed foods have been shown to contribute to depression and weight gain.)
Get into gear by dancing with your kids, hitting the gym or even just taking walks in your neighborhood. Physical activity has a positive impact on body and mind. In fact, exercise has been shown to boost your mood, to increase creativity, and aid concentration and focus—all of which makes you more productive and a lot more fun to be around.
According to studies, lack of sleep contributes to obesity, heart disease, and a host of other ailments. It also leads to slowed, foggy thinking,which is not exactly how most of us want to show up for work, parenting, or life in general.
It’s not just nighttime sleep that makes us more productive. While we are working, taking an occasional break to meditate, go for a walk or take a short nap keeps us firing on all cylinders.
Longer periods of rejuvenation, such as vacations, have also been shown to increase productivity, creativity, fitness levels and overall health and happiness.
You’ve heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine,” and now science has proven this to be true. Who knew that giggling with girlfriends or cracking up at a comedy show are great ways to take care of ourselves?
Relax and be in the present
One way to slow down and add more joy to our daily routines is by being mindful and present each moment we can. Practicing mindfulness—whether that means meditating, journaling, doing yoga, taking some deep breaths, or a mental mini-break—has been shown to have incredible positive impact on physical, mental and emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
We need to plan for these breaks or they may never happen. Add a weekly yoga class or an occasional massage to your schedule if you can.
You only have five minutes to meditate? That’s OK, you will still reap the benefits. And just taking a moment or two when you wake up in the morning to make a mental gratitude list will set the stage to appreciate blessings big and small throughout the day. Keeping healthy snacks on hand at home and in your gym bag or desk drawer and/or making a meal plan for the week will help ensure that you always have nourishing options available.
We all know how easy it is to fall into the trap of overscheduling. But before you take on more work, more volunteer and kids’ activities that will drain you and keep you tied up for hours, remember that you have the power to say “no.”
Setting aside time for a little self-care will make you healthier, more energetic and efficient at work, and more effective at caring for all of the important people and things in your life.