Far from being some hippy-dippy buzzword, self-care is absolutely critical for anyone looking to live a balanced, healthy, and fulfilling life. (Hopefully, that’s all of us!)
At its simplest, self-care is defined as any action you take that helps take care of yourself, whether it’s reducing stress or otherwise improving your mental and physical well-being. Making a habit of self-care allows us to be more fully in touch and engaged with our lives. In the process, we undergo improvements in our physical and mental well-being, our relationships, and even our income.
It’s normal to feel resistance to self-care if you’re new to the concept. Like strengthening a muscle, it gets easier the more you often you do it. If you’re new to self-care or you’re looking to add more activities to your routine, here are five practices that are all but guaranteed to make your life better.
1. Ditch screens first thing in the morning.
If you’re like 60 percent of adults in this country, then one of the first things you do upon waking is to consult a screen for texts, missed calls, emails, social media updates, and so on. Even though the temptation is real, it sets a dangerous precedent: one in which you begin (and, likely, continue) your day in a state of reactivity and constantly prioritize other people’s desire for responsiveness over your own needs.
To fundamentally shift the way you start each day, make an effort to avoid all screens for the first hour after you wake up. Instead of responding to emails or browsing social media, use that time to take care of yourself. Linger over a cup of coffee, do some yoga or simple stretching, or choose from any of the other entries on this list. As a bonus, there’s evidence to suggest taking time for yourself in the mornings can actually make you more productive during the day.
2. Embrace mindfulness.
You probably expected this entry to show up on the list—much ado has been made about mindfulness in recent years. The hype is well deserved. Mindfulness practices such as meditation have been shown to relieve stress, improve our ability to be compassionate, bring clarity to our lives, improve focus and concentration, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. What’s especially great about meditation is that it continues to benefit us even when we aren’t actively practicing. Dedicating just five or ten minutes a day to a meditation practice can help you reap lifelong benefits in the form of improved emotional and mental well-being.
3. File away all the compliments you receive (literally).
Human beings are prone to a nasty condition called negativity bias, in which we allow negative comments aimed at our work, character, and so on to influence our sense of self much more strongly than positive comments. While the sting of criticism might stick around for weeks, months, or even years, compliments tend to go in one ear and out the other—even if we receive fifteen compliments and only one negative critique.
The good news is you can combat your human impulse to privilege negative feedback over the positive by taking time to affirm the positive feedback you receive. Whenever someone pays you a compliment, write it down and literally file it away. Then, make it a habit to refer to this file on a regular basis. Schedule a “review” on your calendar every other week, once a month, or every day—whatever timetable works for you. By returning to these compliments over and over again, you’ll reinforce their impact and gradually start to shift your own self-concept to one that emphasizes your positive traits and accomplishments.
4. Keep a journal.
Throw away your preconceptions. Journaling is not just for middle schoolers. Well-regarded psychological research has found that journaling can improve both our mental and physical well-being.
Writing engages your left (analytical) brain so that your right (creative, feeling) brain is free to express itself. As a result, journaling can help you recognize your thoughts and feelings, identify solutions to challenges or personal disagreements in your life, cope with stressful life events, and generally get to know yourself better. It’s also been shown to reduce stress, improve immunity, and even relieve the symptoms of some physical conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Spend time outside.
Even spending just fifteen minutes (ideally more) in the forest or another green space has been shown to reduce stress, improve overall well-being, increase life satisfaction, improve powers of focus and concentration, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and generally help people feel more alive. Spend that time walking, and you’ll help counteract the effects of sitting all day. Plus, you’ll give your body a chance to soak up some vitamin D which is a powerful immune booster and has even been linked to improvements in mood. In short, spending time outside is easily one of the most effective ways to improve your overall well-being.
At its core, practicing self-care is just good common sense. In order to stay healthy and happy you need to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. By implementing these strategies on a regular basis, you’ll help ensure that you get some serious bang for your self-care buck.