In the midst of busy work schedules and obligations, we will inevitably run out of steam if we don’t take some much needed time for ourselves to decompress. Self-care practices act as a reboot and refresh button to our systems. Allowing ourselves to do something good for our mental and physical well-being is absolutely essential to keeping the gears turning smoothly.
So much in modern culture is focused on a means to an end -- the quickest, cheapest shortcut that requires the least amount of time, energy and effort. “Can we just be there? Can’t this just be over and finished already?” we seem to shout through our collective actions and choices. This creates an unwillingness to be present in the moment, to be grateful for the developmental process of what we spend our time doing. If you try to apply this same mentality to self-care, you will find it does not work. At all. Why? The point of self-care is, yes, to feel better, to feel rejuvenated and revived -- yet if you rush through activities meant to center and still you with your focus on the end, you will find you’ve missed the point altogether. It is in the concentration of the process and of the journey (however small) unfolding in the present moment that we discover peace and the opportunity to revitalize our spirits.
For example, when I journal, I don’t think about reading over what I’ve written once I’ve finished -- making sure my hand writing looks perfect or that I’ve spelled every word correctly (it’s for me, after all, not a homework assignment). I point my attention instead to how freeing it feels to let the words flow out unbridled onto the paper, releasing thoughts and ideas that have been whirling through me. When I dance for my own enjoyment and relaxation, I don’t think about making sure each movement is flawless, I focus on letting the built up energy emancipate itself from my heart through my limbs. When I go for a run in the forest to clear my head, I don’t pay any mind to the end of the trail. I concentrate on my breath, the sound of the birds and the wind rustling through the trees.
Self-care can be any practice that is done simply for the sake of it that brings you joy and fulfillment. To ease your mind, try to set aside 10 minutes out of your day to sit quietly in meditation. This can fit into the very beginning/end of your day or even right in the middle during your lunch break. Close your eyes and focus on slowing your breath. My mind likes to wander, so I use this time to take an inventory of everything in my life that I am grateful for. You can also take this time to draw, journal or catch up on a few pages of your book. Life is meant to be enjoyable, and challenging ourselves to continue to learn and grow helps us to be more conscientious, mindful and compassionate people. Taking a class once a week or a workshop once a month of something you have always wanted to try or learn more about can be very rewarding and gratifying. My grandma Grace, for example, always wanted to learn to paint and a few years ago began to take watercolor classes twice a week. It has been a blessing to witness how much happiness this has brought into her life. There are so many useful classes that cater towards a wide variety of interests if you take the time for yourself to do a bit of research. There are classes on cooking, fitness, writing, art, jewelry making, woodworking, anything that resonates with you.
Finding a pleasurable form of exercise and bringing it into your weekly routine is also extremely beneficial to overall mental and physical health. In addition to balancing a healthy weight, exercise improves blood circulation, decreases risk of health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke, and boosts energy by delivering elevated levels of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Regular exercise has also been linked to reducing stress and managing depression. Chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin are released during physical activity, which naturally creates a state of euphoria and relaxation. On a biological level, exercise greatly improves the communication between systems in the body that deal with stress response. Therefore, the more physically active we choose to be, the better our bodies deal with stress. A few ideas for exercise: taking walks in the woods or by a body of water, dancing, running, swimming, surfing, volleyball, basketball, hiking, kickboxing, etc.
However you may choose to utilize your time for self-care, recognize the importance of taking that time for yourself to recharge. Life, as they say, flies by in an instant -- and making sure we find moments of personal fulfillment allows it to be that much more special when we look back on where we’ve come from, how much we have grown and all that we have learned along the way.