September is Self-Care Awareness Month, which is something I learned when I was yesterday years old. Better late than never, right? I have trouble keeping the current month straight, much less knowing what “awareness month” it is, but I digress.
Self-care is one of those phrases that has come to mean a lot of things that may or may not have to do with taking care of — or as I like to say parenting — yourself. Primarily because it means different things to different people. One woman’s massage is another’s weekly therapy appointment is another’s hike in the woods and is yet another’s saying no to organizing the upcoming family gathering. None of these things is better or more self-care-y than the others, but maybe the idea of getting a massage actually gives you anxiety, because you’d rather not have a stranger touch your naked skin for whatever reason. (Not that you need a reason, but I’ve heard that one a lot over the years. Also, if that’s you, might I recommend a Thai sports massage? Clothing stays on and they stretch you, so it’s like a massage and yoga [that someone else does for you], all in one!).
If self-care is something that is foreign to you, is the first thing that goes out the window when the life shitstorm hits the fan or if you think it’s dumb, perhaps Self-Care Awareness Month is a solid excuse for you to focus your attention on yourself a little bit. If so, perhaps you’ll find inspiration some of the ways I practice self-care. Some of my personal self-care is steeped in the yogic and ayurvedic philosophies developed in ancient India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. It involves not only what you eat, but also various daily self-care practices that promote balance. I’ve been practicing yoga for a few decades now and after diving more deeply into my practice by becoming a 200-hour Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher I also recently earned certification as an ayurvedic nutrition counselor. All of that is to say, some of the below is based on this aspect of my lifestyle, because I like to give credit where credit is due and not pretend I invented or discovered something new.
- Just Say No: This is No. 1 on my personal list for a lot of reasons. The primary reason being I’m a recovering people pleaser. There was a time when I would run myself into the ground trying to make everyone around me happy. I would even say yes to doing things for people I barely knew, because saying no made me feel awkward. It was all under the guise of being helpful and paying it forward, which are of course a good things, but not at the expense of your own health and wellness. Exhausting ourselves mentally and physically isn’t altruistic. It’s trite and cliché at this point but repeat after me: I must take care of myself before I take care of other people. Start with maybe if no is too hard at first. Maybe gives you time to think about it, check your schedule and make a thoughtful decision, rather than being put on the spot. It’s not an overstatement for me to say that learning how to say no changed my life.
- Rest: This sort of relates to saying no, because if you are running yourself into the ground, it’s likely that you aren’t resting. Rest might look different for you than it does for your spouse, sister, bestie, coworker or whomever else. Rest for me could mean a nap, getting out in nature, reading a book or gardening. For you, it might look more like a girls or guys night out or a taking a group pottery class. It’s whatever makes you feel replenished. (For the record though, if you are like most people though you probably do need more sleep.)
- Eat Nutritiously (For Your Body Type or Health Challenges): Again, this will not look the same for everyone. But learning what foods have a positive or negative effect on your digestion is a huge step in the right direction toward feeling as healthful as you can. Food is medicine and, for some, certain foods can also be poison (not to be dramatic, but food sensitivities and allergies are real). For example, dairy products might be soothing or revitalizing for me, but for the lactose intolerant among us dairy causes all sorts of problems. Obviously, no one should eat something that could hurt them or make them feel icky, no matter how nutritious it is. Find out what foods are supportive for you and consume the “good stuff” more than you consume the stuff that isn’t so great (in general or for you personally). Again, balance is key. Save room for treats, just don’t make them the staples of your eating plan.
- Move Your Body: Human beings are designed for movement. For some of us, movement is restricted due to health or mobility challenges, so the trick is to find ways to move that work for you. If you can run and you like it, by all means, run your little heart out! If you can run but hate running, find something else to do. Kickboxing, swimming, cycling — whatever, the world is your oyster. Walking, riding my bike, gardening and yoga are my go-tos. I particularly love yoga, because I can do it almost anywhere (chair yoga at the office or on an airplane, anyone?) and it can be as gentle, aerobic or strengthening as I need for that day or season. Do whatever works, but just be sure to move each day — a little or a lot, depending on what you did the day before. Remember, balance.
- Meditate/Pray/Reflect: Whatever you call it, make time to sit and be quiet. For me, this looks like guided meditation once or twice a day. It might look like evening prayer for you or a quiet reflection while you enjoy your morning tea or coffee. We need quiet time to process our feelings and emotions, digest the nearly constant stream of information that is being hurled at us day in and day out and to just be. If you do nothing else on this list, do this one thing. It’s vital.
At the end of the occasionally long, often stressful, sometimes frustrating day, it’s up to each of us to discover what works for our schedule, budget, lifestyle, personality and level of wellness and mobility. That usually means trial and error, so experiment.
How do you practice self-care or do you think it’s some namby-pamby bullhockey? Email email@example.com to share.