An In-Depth & Thoughtful Look At Self-Care
Self-care is essential to your well-being. In this piece, we discuss everything about its importance from clarifying the very definition of self-care to really helpful tips.
What Is Self-Care?
There are a lot of definitions of self-care floating around the internet and they’re mostly longwinded ways of saying “take care of yourself.” However, self-care is a bit more than that. Yes, self-care is taking care of yourself and your well-being. But, at its core, self-care is really the practice of making choices that align with how you prefer to feel in a given moment, situation, or environment. The distinction is that while you always want to feel happy there are some times where your primary preferred feeling is something else like freedom, ease, security, or excitement. Let your goal be the feeling and self-care the path to it.
Here are some loose examples of what I mean by making choices that align with your preferred feeling.
If you’re tired and you prefer to feel rested, practicing self-care would perhaps be to take a nap.
If you’re hanging with friends and you know you’ll beat yourself up the next day if you have one too many drinks, practicing self-care would perhaps mean moderating your alcohol intake.
And, lastly, if you have an issue with someone and the idea of addressing it feels worse than removing yourself, then practicing self-care in that case might be to just remove yourself from the situation if possible.
Whereas the path of most resistance is always that which perpetuates your negative feelings. Practicing self-care is always the path of least resistance because it’s always the path that aligns with how you prefer to feel. That said, the individual entirely defines self-care. We all have different triggers that make us feel amazing or make us feel like crap. The real work is to get so in tune with your feelings that you can make sound decisions based on them.
The Purpose Of Self-Care
The purpose of self-care is to fulfill your personal desire to feel your preferred feeling. It helps you tactfully manage your mood and emotions, and in some cases, self-care is even a way to reward yourself.
However, what I never hear about in discussions of the purpose or benefit of self-care is that practicing it is a consistent way to give yourself mental and emotional clarity. I think this piece is arguably the most important reason to be more mindful about self-care because what is life but a series of choices?
People tell each other all the time to “calm down before making rash decisions,” “wait a day or two,” or “just think on it,” and they say that because when you’re feeling anxious, angry, upset or overwhelmed your ability to make sound decisions is non-existent.
When you have a clear mind, you can catch on to bad situations early. Likewise, you can catch on to great situations early. You just give yourself the freedom to be more tactical about your life.
Why You Should Take Self-Care Seriously
Work/Life Balance Statistics
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD is an organization that is dedicated to promoting policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. And, they have their own OECD Better Life Index which scores different countries well-being stats against each other.
Specific to work/life balance the OECD found that while the United States certainly isn’t the worst country for work/life balance, our time spent on personal care (which includes sleeping) is still only about 14.4 hours and less than average for the 38 countries included in the index.
So, let’s take a look at what this means for your “me” time. If we average 14.4 hours a day for personal time but deduct 8 hours (hopefully) for sleeping, that leaves 6 hours available to yourself, friends, family, and other non-work obligations. If you don’t have self-care plans included in those 6 hours, you will find that another person, group, or commitment will gladly fill the slot.
In January 2017 the APA published their annual Stress In America: Coping With Change report and found a significant uptick in stress levels among Americans. In the month before the findings, 45% of Americans reported some level of insomnia, 36% of Americans reported some level of anxiety, 35% reported of anger and irritability, and 34% of Americans reported feeling fatigue.
In short, the average working person is bearing some form of acute stress symptoms and with only 6 hours of non-working time to do anything about it. It’s time to get serious about how you feel, make plans, and be strategic.
How To Tell If Your Self-Care Tank Is Empty
Addressing a downhill situation at the top of the hill rather than midway down the hill is much easier. There are two pretty simple indicators that can alert you that some situational assessments need to be made.
(FYI, I use exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed interchangeably here because I rarely see either state present without the other. So, feel free to substitute.)
The first indicator is if you feel overwhelmed. Regardless of if feeling overwhelmed stems from self-inflicted actions or external factors the point is that you’re biting off more than you can chew. You can catch overwhelming situations in the early stages while it’s just an idea and you’re not knee-deep in turmoil. For example, if your boss suggests that you should take on a task at work to improve your internal resume but the more you think about it the more overwhelmed you feel, that’s a good indication that you should tactfully decline.
When you feel frazzled and worn down, that is your feelings, i.e. your Emotional Alert System telling you that you’re on a path of most resistance rather than the least. Are you performing a task that could be done easier? Are you doing too many favors for too many people? Are you merely used to grinding and ignoring how that makes you feel until the point of sheer exhaustion? Feeling overwhelmed is always a sign to stop and assess.
Telling white lies
You weren’t expecting to see this one. But, if you catch yourself telling white lies that means that you’re prioritizing someone else’s feelings over your own. Or, it says that you’re prioritizing someone else’s perception of you over your own feelings. If you find yourself telling more lies to certain people, or in specific environments, or in the same situations, then it may be time to assess why you’re doing it and why you feel uncomfortable being authentic.
More Self-Care Articles
Now that we’ve tackled the framework or bones, if you will, of self-care, let’s discuss what you can do to improve your overall well-being.
Have more fun and give yourself permission to play. I went through a phase where I desperately wanted to have more fun but because I changed so much as a person I didn’t know what activities felt like fun to me anymore. I wanted to play, laugh, and feel exhilarated but for whatever reason I couldn’t translate that into an actual regular activity.
In my college years I had a blast going out with my girlfriends, having cocktails and dancing all night until my feet started screaming. However, while that was fun for me in my 20s, now that I’m in my early 30s that sounds TERRIBLE. The idea of traipsing the city all night until my feet hurt sounds like the worst.
A few months went by and I was no closer to figuring out some fun regular activities to thrown myself into when a buddy of mine mentioned he’d taken acting classes, and he really enjoyed it. So, one day I felt inspired to connect with his same acting coach, and I now spend my weekends in scene and improv classes which embody the very feeling of child-like play I’d been looking for.
So, find your fun and throw yourself into it. Ideate on different self-care activities and schedule the ones that sound really fun or at least intriguing into your week.
Here are some specific self-care ideas that can get you started:
Spend time near water whether natural or humanmade
Go to the nearest lake, pond, river or oceanside you can find and just admire the scenery and the sounds of moving water
If it’s easier, then take warm baths instead. One of my favorite things to do when I’m short on time is to take a shower in the dark or with a very small light source like a candle. It is SO serene and therapeutic.
Go to amateur comedy shows, even if the comedians are terrible it’s still fun people watching.
Go zip-lining if you’re feeling adventurous.
Attend a community theatre play.
Try out different sports just for the hell of it.
Give Your Home A Self-Care Overhaul
Let your home be the foundation of your self-care practice. Open the blinds, pull back the drapes and clean your windows so that the sun can shine in.
Add low-maintenance green plants to every room. Change your wall colors to those that feel bright, clean, and open. Run fans so that the air is always moving. Consider using air purifiers so that it’s easier to breathe and the air smells crisp and fresh.
Every morning, even before I make a cup of coffee, the first thing I do is open my patio door and let the fresh air and sounds of nature flow through my living room. Most of the time that door stays open all day long. My kitty gets to spend his days sunbathing, and my dog gets to run back and forth to bark at neighbor dogs. I’m like the Oprah of self-care in my home. You get some self-care! And, YOU get some self-care!
Make your home easy to keep clean and clutter free. Get rid of things you no longer use. And, if there are ways that you can automate your cleaning that are within your budget, do them. I personally purchased an automatic litter box for my cat and a Roomba vacuum because when you have multiple pets, it can be really hard to stay on top of cleanliness. I just love my home so much more when it’s clean. It’s not a sacrifice I’m willing to make if I don’t have to. I personally consider both items an investment because I rarely experience odors and dirty floors.
Stop Doing Those Things You Do
Stop doing those things you do that make you feel like crap. I was an avid video game player, not prolific but avid. What I mean by that is I had one video game that I played, but I played a ton of it from time to time. I could sit for hours in frustration playing and promising myself that this game would be my last if it turned out well. It’s not like I didn’t know that playing this particular game made me feel bad, it’s that once I got into the thick of the momentum, it was harder for me to stop.
No one was imposing anything on me; these wasted hours of frustration were all my doing. I had the responsibility to choose to stop doing this thing that made me feel like crap. Eventually, one day, I packed up my Playstation and put it in my closet. Since then, I’ve had a much easier time maintaining my mood, and I have zero desire to go back. Once you know better, you can never go back.
If you have habits that suck the energy right out of you. Or, if you have habits that you beat yourself over, cut ‘em out. In fact, get in that practice of not doing anything that you will beat yourself over. It’s never the act that’s the problem; it’s how you feel during the act and how you treat yourself afterward. If the habit is expendable it doesn’t make sense to continue to put yourself through it.
Most days I feel like an energy snob, and I’m so grateful for it because for many years my energy was a currency that I freely gave away.
It wasn’t easy at first to learn to be pickier because everything feels normal when you’ve been exposed to it or doing it for so long. For example, it used to feel normal to me to be frustrated all the time or feel anxious even though I wanted so much better for myself.
Luckily, the beauty of self-care is the ever-growing clarity of your emotions. When you’re tuned-in to how things make you feel you can easily discern if something doesn’t align with your overall goals.
Today, I’m much more picky about the media outlets and social media personalities that I expose myself to. I’m also unwilling to participate in certain conversations, and I’m unwilling to hang out with certain people.
Therapy can be an excellent self-care tool, but if you take one thing from this piece, it’s to let your feelings be your guidance system and treat therapy no differently. For example, if you consistently leave therapy feeling worse than when you arrived, that’s a strong indication that you haven’t found the right therapist or style of therapy for your needs.
I found therapy to be so helpful in addressing my severe depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. My therapist was amazing, and by the tail end of our time together (about a year and a half) our sessions had transitioned from discussing the past to staying in the present and addressing all of the wonderful things I was so excited about. Our sessions really catered to where I was on my journey and it felt like a graduation of sorts once I no longer needed to relive the past. In all honesty I could have discontinued our sessions about a month sooner than I did, but I really liked our hour long “rah rah” “you go girl” cheerleading meetings.
Much of feeling low energy is really stagnant energy. So if you feel a lull try to motivate yourself to go for a walk or blast some music and dance around the house. If you’re into sports, join a local amateur league. Really common advice is to get more exercise, but the point is to get physical in whatever manner appeals to you. Move your limbs.
Meditation is energizing. Meditation is replenishing. You would be surprised just how much fatigue is really mental fatigue rather than physical fatigue. If you think about it, the main difference between sleeping and resting is a consistent-quieted mind which can also be achieved through meditation.
Just for kicks, test out my theory the next time you feel like you need a nap. Rather than taking a speed nap which is mildly irritating, meditate for that same amount of time. Try to drift into a deep meditation where all you experience are the sounds of the room or music and let the goal be to achieve an almost disconnected feeling from your body. You will come out of that meditation feeling like you took the most fantastic nap ever.
Massage Your Body
Who says you need to ignore or even get used to minor body discomfort? Roll your feet and back over tennis balls. Massage your wrists and neck. Purchase an inexpensive massage stick and go to town on your legs and arms. Soothe your body when it needs soothing.
Talk To Yourself
I told myself the other day that I was the funniest person I know, and I agreed.
Talk out loud to yourself. Create inside jokes between you and you. Make yourself laugh. Instead of beating yourself up over an action or decision, tell yourself it’s okay, and you’ll be fine. Become so good at entertaining yourself that other people are icing on the cake rather than the whole cake.
A lot of people try making lists of positive aspects in an attempt to change how they feel about a topic. Instead, you should make lists about stuff you already love or appreciate. For example, make a list of all the ways your dog is stinky but is the best dog in the whole world. Or, make a list about why you love your old reliable car. For example, you appreciate your car for getting you around for so many years. Or, maybe you appreciate the nicks in the dashboard from shoving all your possession into it for your many moves. Focus on the stuff that’s easy to love.
Journaling is a really great self-care activity because writing can be extremely cathartic. But, be mindful of the topics you write about. If you primarily write about painful experiences you can unintentionally add more momentum to the very feelings you’re attempting to overcome. Conversely if you write about things you’re happy about or excited for you’ll add more momentum there.
The Difference Between Mindfulness & Self-Care
Mindfulness and self-care are frick and frack. They’re like Bert and Ernie. They’re peanut butter and jelly. I could go on and on. But, the point is, one simply does not work without the other. Mindfulness is your data collection and self-care is the action you’re choosing to take based on what the data (your feelings) is telling you.
Let Your Self-Care Practice Gain Momentum
Momentum is ease, and everything you let flow will eventually gain momentum including your self-care practice. The more you try at consistently acting on your preferred feelings the more second nature it will become, and the more people around you will come to accept it (they’re just going to have to).
The momentum is the sweet spot. However, momentum doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always do the right thing on behalf of yourself. But, it indeed indicates that you take care of yourself more often than not. It also makes getting back into the practice easier if you’ve fallen out temporarily.
Lastly, and most importantly, allow self-care to help you feel better and better. Don’t treat it as merely prescriptive to a negative experience, it’s not pain medication. Instead, practice self-care to feel better. Then, practice self-care to feel good, then practice self-care to feel great and then amazing and so on.
Self-Care And I AM & CO
Self-care is the mission of I AM & CO and we’re fulfilling that mission by providing content that feels good to read rather than limiting. It’s possible to create content that covers a wide array of topics without inspiring rage, helplessness, or fear etc.
Our news is entirely made up or a hilarious satirical take. We provide oodles of self-care tips and tricks. We celebrate style choices. We praise accomplishments. We encourage greater understanding of self. And, when we do find a controversial topic that we’d like to explore, we’re careful about the tone. We have a very specific goal we’re steering toward.
As the Founder and Editor In Chief of I AM & CO, I read each piece and examine their “emotional aftertaste.” Did I feel optimistic? Did I feel encouraged? Did I laugh? Did I feel warm & fuzzy? That benchmarking along with many other factors go into whether or not I feel a piece is right for the I AM & CO reader.
Self-care is what I believe in. It’s what I practice. It’s what I defer to. It’s what I submit to.
I have to say that I had a lot of fun writing this piece and am so very eager to discuss your thoughts in the comment section below.