10 ways to practise self-care
We take care of our physical bodies without even thinking, but we’re not always so good at taking the same care with our minds. Developing and maintaining a self-care practice can take time and effort, but it is just as important for your emotional and mental health.
Making time for self-care can often feel a little … selfish. As if you don’t deserve that extra hour in bed or you haven’t earnt the time to be completely alone for a few hours on the weekend. There are commitments you will always have in life, but when did the commitment to yourself become second to everything else? Finding time for you in this mad modern world and feeling good about it should be a high priority.
“Everyone needs to make sure they take care of themselves,” say psychologist, researcher and author Dr Terri Orbuch. “They need to make their own wellbeing and happiness a priority in their life. If you don’t, who will?”
The way you feel about yourself will almost always affect the version of you that the rest of the world sees. It’s like when you’re on a flight and the safety briefing instructs you to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others. If you’re not putting yourself first, how can you ever be expected to provide support and patience towards anyone else? You can’t pour from any empty cup. If you find you’re constantly giving to others and not taking care of yourself, you might start to notice signs of stress and overwhelm. Prioritising ‘you time’ will infinitely benefit those around you.
Research led by Tony Schwartz, CEO and founder of The Energy Project, looks at the importance of self-care not only for your mental wellbeing but also for your professional success. He found that practising self-care by taking time out from your schedule can infinitely increase your ability to focus on tasks. It has become commonplace to always say how busy we are, we always have so much on our plate and no time to do anything for ourselves but, as Schwartz says, “If you do not put your needs first, then ultimately you will not be able to perform well and show up for others consistently and happily.”
You can’t pour from any empty cup. If you find you’re constantly giving to others and not taking care of yourself, you might start to notice signs of stress and overwhelm. Prioritising ‘you time’ will infinitely benefit those around you.
Think about how you would care for your closest family and friends. If they weren’t feeling 100 per cent, what would you suggest or offer them in terms of support? The kindness and love you show them is the kindness and love you should be showing yourself, particularly in times of stress but not only then. If you regularly put self-care practices in place, you’ll begin to find it easier to cultivate calm and peace in those trickier situations that life loves to throw our way. You’ll also avoid the risk of burning out.
Self-care practices are personal and will look different for everyone. You can start by creating space for yourself and finding things that bring you joy, without the guilt trip. Having a self-care routine ultimately can make you happier, calmer, more centred and more present in your everyday life with your family, friends and in the workplace. And who doesn’t want that?
10 steps to self-care
This will look different for everyone. You might be lucky enough to have a physical space in your home where you can go and be undisturbed to do whatever it is you’re craving at that time, which might be reading or listening to music. Or maybe for you this could be space in your week — a time during the week that everyone knows is ‘your time’. It could be as simple as selecting one evening a week where you create boundaries so that you’re not disturbed — an hour to run yourself a hot bath with bubbles and candles, to read a book in bed, attend a class or workshop, or catch up with some friends. Whatever this time looks like for you, own it. Explain how important it is for you to have this time for yourself and notice how you feel once you’ve had this space.
There are so many different types of meditation out there. They won’t all work for you and they don’t all involve sitting upright with your legs crossed and your eyes closed. Explore different styles and see what suits you best. A walking meditation can be an easy way of bringing yourself into the present moment and begin to settle a busy mind. Focusing your attention on the soles of your feet moving on the ground beneath you, start to notice how the ground feels — you might be walking on hard concrete or soft grass. If you can be barefoot on a surface like grass or sand, this experience will be more grounding and perhaps easier to notice the feelings in your feet. Notice the pace you’re walking at. Can you slow down and see the detail in your surroundings?
Tune in to the things that bring you joy
Take time to sit with what you really want to be doing. Fear of missing out (FOMO) might be a term still associated with the younger crowd, but wondering if we should be doing something else or that something better is going on somewhere else is a real thing that can lead us to do things and go to places that don’t feel great for us. You might wonder if staying home is boring or that you’re standing at a party you don’t really want to be at. Start to notice what you really want to be doing — what situations lift you higher, what brings you joy? Make conscious decisions to do the things that make you happy.
Move your body and breathe
It’s no mystery that regular exercise releases endorphins. Make time to move your body in any way that makes you feel good. Bend, stretch, get the energy moving around your body. Turn the lights out, close your eyes and dance like nobody is watching! And don’t forget to breathe. It’s that simple. If in doubt, take a long, slow, deep breath through your nose and out of your mouth. Fill your belly with air then slowly release. The Dalai Lama says it takes three breaths to meditate. A few simple, conscious breaths can totally shift you from your mind into your body. Focus on bringing fresh air into your lungs and notice yourself becoming more grounded.
Start to notice what you really want to be doing, what situations lift you higher, what brings you joy. Make conscious decisions to do the things that make you happy.
The importance of a good night’s sleep is not breaking news. Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours sleep per night, but for some people getting these hours in is easier said than done. We’re all guilty of spending our last waking hours in front of a screen answering emails, chatting with friends or catching up on our latest TV-show binge. This late-night screen time could really be messing with our sleep quality, leaving our brains busy and buzzing well into the night and sometimes stopping us from being able to sleep at all. Developing a nightly self-care sleep prep routine can work wonders. Start by enforcing a shutdown time for all devices — phones, laptops and TVs — at least one hour before bedtime. A night-time meditation can help slow down a whirring mind and essential oils such as lavender can help you feel relaxed, making it easier to fall into a slumber and wake feeling rested.
Read a book
Transport yourself to another world, indulge in someone else’s story or listen to an interview with your favourite star. Gifting yourself some time out of your own head and immersing yourself in a story not only is a way of giving your busy mind a break, it might even inspire you — developing creativity that you can then bring into your daily life. As children, the stories we read help to develop our imagination and teach us important life lessons. As adults, they help us stay connected to stories across the world from other cultures and other world. Fantasy, fiction and biographies can all bring a new perspective into our lives and the act of storytelling takes us somewhere else, even if only for a few hours.
Spend quality time with friends and loved ones. Be present. Connecting with friends increases oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as the “bonding hormone”. Do you ever notice even when you’re not really in the mood that how seeing a close friend almost always makes you feel better? Even if the conversation doesn’t change the situation, sharing will almost certainly shift your mood. Spending time with love ones helps with feelings of support and validation; we can create safe spaces for sharing and understanding.
The Dalai Lama says it takes three breaths to meditate.
Take time away from digital screens and the distractions of everyday life. Even just a few hours away from phone calls, emails, Instagram, Facebook, online shopping, Netflix, etc. It is so important that we take time away from the stimulus created by the digital world. Too much exposure to technology can cause sleeping problems, fluctuate your moods, create low energy levels as well as affect your concentration. Imagine these digital distractions like tabs open on your internet browser that you never close. You can visualise the inside of your brain like a filing cabinet that becomes increasingly harder to keep in order. Switching off for a few hours, or even a full day if you can manage it, can help start to close down some of those tabs and clear space in your mind, making it easier to relax and find a sense of calm.
Three apps to help you spend less time on your phone
- Forest. Watch your forest grow as you spend less and less time on your phone.
- Screen Time for iPhone. Set your own boundaries based on the apps you use the most. This handy iPhone tool will remind you how long you’ve been scrolling through those Instagram feeds!
- SPACE. Phone addiction is real. This app aims to help you create more space in your day by reminding you to breathe and pause before you dive back into your most used apps.\
Keep a journal
Getting those wild, wonderful, buzzing thoughts out of your brain and onto paper can bring calm to the chaos, as sometimes these thoughts just need a home outside of your head. Setting aside time to write about your day, how you were feeling, special interactions or stressful experiences on a regular basis can feel like a form of therapy. Maybe it becomes your creative outlet or a way of getting clarity around something that has happened. Starting to create a positive mind-set and even tracking your thoughts and feelings over time can be so helpful. Even on the hardest of days, writing down three things that you’re grateful for can start to shift your mind-set. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a guideline that might help. Fill in your thoughts at the end of each sentence:
Today I would like to feel …
Today I am grateful for …
Be kind to yourself and others
The way we think about ourselves and the way we speak about ourselves are arguably the number one driving force for how we feel in our own skin every day. Next time you catch yourself criticising the way you look, giving yourself a hard time for not exercising enough or not getting the promotion at work — whatever it is — stop and ask yourself if you would ever speak to your best friend like that? If the answer is no then there’s your answer. If you’re not cutting yourself a bit of slack by showing kindness and compassion, then how can anyone else?
London-born Laura Kelly is a content creator and yoga teacher who lives in Sydney. Instagram: @laurakelly_yoga
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