I don’t have time to take care of myself.
Clients tell me this all the time. I suggest that you don’t have time not to take care of yourself. Insufficient self-care was the #1 obstacle I mentioned in my earlier post, Top 5 Obstacles to Productivity.
“Self-care” gets a bad rap. Perhaps it’s because many equate self-care with self-indulgence, but they are two very different things. When I talk about self-care, I’m talking about giving our minds and bodies the fuel they need to perform their regular functions. If you want to be more productive and more effective at what you do, your chances for success improve as your self-care improves.
What are the elements of self-care? Here’s my quick summary of the areas I see that impact my clients’ day-to-day functioning:
- Sleep–Sleep has a huge impact on our functioning, both physical and mental. When we are getting adequate sleep, we see improvements in focus, emotional regulation and will power, just to name a few things.
- Nutrition–In addition to supplying the building blocks of muscles and fuel for our bodies, the nutrients in food make up the neurotransmitters our brains need to think rationally. I also include water as a nutrient. Hydration is very important to keep our bodies and brains running smoothly.
- Movement–As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Our bodies need to move regularly to maintain mobility. Exercise helps burn off extra calories and supports many physical processes, like digestion and respiration. It also creates neurotransmitters that improve mood and focus.
- Spirituality–This can be a bit more subjective. I use the term quite loosely, to refer to connection to the universe and within ourselves. Some may perceive it as a connection to a higher power; others feel connected to seasons, and the natural environment. It’s also about our relationship with ourselves. Do we speak kindly to ourselves and acknowledge our inner yearnings?
- Socialization–Again, this is highly individualized, but we all need some minimum level of contact with other humans. Some may need deep intimacy, while others do well with only brief encounters, but we all need some opportunity to experience ourselves in the company of others.
The balance of requirements for each of these elements is different for each individual, and sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure it out.
Baby Stepping to Better Self-care
Adopting better self-care can seem overwhelming. Many of us are quite far removed from anything resembling healthy habits. It’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. I’m not suggesting that we aim to be elite athletes or spiritual gurus. We just need to start moving in a healthier direction, one tiny baby step at a time.
I’m no expert in any of these areas, but I have learned a few things along the way. Here are some baby steps that may serve as an entry point to improving self-care:
Sleep–If getting more sleep sounds like the impossible dream (pun not intended), then maybe look at sleep quality, first. Good sleep is not just about getting to bed on time. Here are some things that can improve how well we fall and stay asleep.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol. Start by cutting the portion size of your last serving of the day.
- Dim the lights and lower the temperature in your home an hour before you intend to go to bed.
- Put screens on nighttime display settings. Try to avoid larger screens like tablets and laptops. If your computer is your only source of TV, then position it a bit further away when you watch.
- Try a warm bath or other relaxing activities before bed.
- Make your bed as comfortable as possible, so you’ll look forward to crawling in.
- Drink more water.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Include healthy protein with each meal.
- If you tend to eat too much, chew a bit more slowly.
- If you tend to forget to eat, purchase some healthy snacks to have on hand, and set alarms to remind yourself to eat.
Notice I haven’t mentioned anything about depriving yourself?
- Park a few spaces further away.
- Get up and stretch every hour.
- Take a 5 minute walk on your way back from the restroom at work.
- Walk with a friend instead of going for coffee or a drink.
- If you’re religious, learn a new prayer.
- Sit quietly and focus on your breathing for 30 seconds.
- Take a 5 minute walk without headphones, and listen for wildlife or count how many trees you pass.
- Buy a low-maintenance houseplant.
- Say something nice to yourself.
- Talk to one other person each day, even if you only say “hello.”
- Shop at a bricks and mortar store instead of online.
- Eat at the restaurant instead of ordering take-out or delivery.
Share your baby steps!
Image courtesy of Ambro @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.