For Self-Care Habits, Set Smart Expectations
Too often, when we hear the expression “self-care” we imagine an annual island getaway or some afternoons in a spa. But smaller – and more regular – approaches to personal maintenance will produce better results.
“We wouldn’t think of doing exercise to maintain our physical health, as something we do just once a year when we have the time,” said Amber Reints, PMHNP, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Avera McKennan Behavioral Health. “We can’t afford to relegate self-care as something we’ll only do when we have time.’”
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is simple – it’s time you deliberately take for yourself. It’s your job to define what helps replenish your mental health.
It can be anything from a bubble bath or reading to going to the gym. It can as simple as a five-minute break to do breathing exercises.
Simple Steps for Self-Care
Look at your current routine and see if you can include a few simple steps that add depth to self-care, benefiting your mental health:
- Take three big, deep breaths after leaving your car but before going into work or when you get home from your busy day
- Play a podcast, book-on-tape or other enjoyable recording during your drive to work (or home)
- Go through your list of things you’re grateful for when you’re on an elevator or when waiting in a line
- Try some affirmations, prayers or reflections on a regular basis – aim for daily at first, and more as you get into a routine
“Tiny steps are better than big and bold ones in self-care,” Reints said. “Look to add or adjust a few small things so there’s something soothing, encouraging or enjoyable in your day-to-day routine.”
Remember self-care is not selfish. Remember the payoff: when you commit to self-care, your work, family, friends and teammates will all benefit.
Barriers Beware, Here Comes Self-Care
It can be hard to keep a routine, in part because we can sabotage our own efforts. Those tiny voices in our head that dismiss our efforts can be tamed, Reints said.
She shared a hypothetical that presents a common barrier: You get home, your self-care walk plan in place when suddenly a spouse or child needs you “now.”
What do you do? You know self-care is important, but you might feel guilt.
“It’s important to stop and rethink,” she said. “Is that guilt unreasonable? Can your loved one wait briefly while you care for you?”
Sometimes we can best care for ourselves when we step back and imagine we’re coaching a friend. Say a friend said they needed a 10-minute walk when they get home, “If they asked, you’d likely encourage them to take it,” Reints said. “You can look at yourself in the same way – offer yourself the same space for grace – and time for self-care.”
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Why Does Self-Care Matter?
Your self-care habits are important because they replenish your energy and can challenge the stress and anxiety you face during the day’s challenges.
“Self-care is like rest – look at caring for your mind and spirit as you would caring for your body,” she said. “Exercise and activity benefit you on many levels.”
Reints said look at caring for your mind and spirit as you would care for your body.
Also, remember that your self-care goes beyond you – you’re modeling a good trait for your kids, spouse, friends, colleagues, and loved ones around you.
Need Help With Self Care?
Some life events and circumstances can leave you in a place that’s beyond self-care.
- If you find yourself struggling, or if maybe symptoms of depression or anxiety are barriers to you being able to practice self-care, seek support from a professional.
- Many people have Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits through their employer. This can include services to help with stress, anxiety and other issues. Check with your human resources department to see if this is available to you.