We hear the term “self-care” thrown around a lot these days. The upside is that as a culture we’re starting to see the importance of taking care of ourselves. The downside is that self-care often becomes something that we ‘do’ rather than a practice that we cultivate. And when we ‘do’ self-care, it doesn’t always have the intended impact of filling up our cups. A deep practice of self-care requires us to pay attention. It asks us to get quiet and listen to what we need in any given moment.
And we won’t always get it right. Sometimes we’re so exhausted or overwhelmed that it’s really hard to get a clear answer when we pause to listen. Do I go to the gym or do I go home and get started on my homework? But in each moment, there’s a new opportunity to practice turning towards ourselves. Just like the woman in the picture is turning towards the kitten in her arms (this sounds cheesy, but this is what we’re wanting to cultivate towards ourselves). Suppose we decided to come home to get started on homework and then catch ourselves thinking about how we should have chosen to go to the gym. This is a perfect opportunity to practice self-care! To ask ourselves, what is most caring toward myself in this moment? *hint: the answer will not be, give myself a hard time for not going to the gym. What is most caring will look different for all of us and different for you in any given moment. You might decide to work for another 30min and then go on a run or give yourself permission to have a rest day or focus on how good it will feel to finish your homework before dinnertime.
So I’d like to invite you to take a new approach to your self-care over the next few weeks. Instead of looking at your schedule and making sure you schedule in self-care practices throughout the week (don’t get me wrong, it’s also super important to make time and space for activities that you know replenish you), set the intention to be caring towards yourself throughout the day. Write a post it to remind yourself or put it in your phone. Take time to pause and ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now?’. This can be especially helpful during transitions in your day.
If you’re feeling like you’re not going to be able to offer yourself exactly what you need, I want to challenge you to work with what you have versus throwing the baby out with the bath water. Here’s an example: You’re coming home from work and are feeling exhausted. What you’d really like is the night off, just to relax, but instead you’re having to gear up to move into evening family routines and prepping for the next day. So you might ask, given what needs to get accomplished this evening, how can I treat myself with the most care? Could you lie down for 5 minutes and be ‘off’ before being on for the remainder of the night? Could you take your kiddos on a short walk around the neighborhood before dinner? Could you put on some fun music and have a dance party while cooking? Could you give yourself permission to skip bath night? These are just some ideas but you can see how you can play with caring for yourself within the constraints of your responsibilities. And perhaps there are some responsibilities that could even be let go of a little bit!
So I’ve really emphasized the importance of shifting our frame around self-care from doing to being. But, I decided to still include a list of some easy, not super expensive or time consuming self-care activities that you can ‘do’. Sometimes it’s helpful to have some ideas when we don’t know what we need but we need something.
1. Detox Foot Soak
Combine 1C Epsom Salt, 1C Sea Salt, 2C Baking Soda and several drops of your favorite essential oil (lavendar, peppermint, wild orange) in a large mason jar and shake. Add 1/4 of the mixture to a large bowl or tupperware of hot water. Enjoy soaking your feet for 15-20minutes. Visualize physical and emotional toxins being released. Notice how it feels to be treating your body with such care and attention. Soak it up!
2. Technology-free retreat
You can play around with a couple of ways to do this: a)Set a consistent time each day, at least 30min long, that you’re totally unplugged and/or b)Look at your calendar and schedule in a day long technology-free retreat. You can do this on your own or with friends/family. It may help you feel more comfortable being unplugged to let people know what you’re doing–and it may even inspire them to do the same. Do some journaling before, during and after to notice how creating intentional technology-free time affects you.
3. Brighten up your space
So often we don’t pay much attention to the impact our physical space has on us, especially with all of the other demands on our attention. Take a few minutes this week to brighten up your space with a bouquet of wildflowers. All you need is a small mug, glass, or jar with water and fresh picked flowers, herbs, or any weeds that catch your eye–and presto, you’re space is instantly uplifted! Notice how you feel as you take in the presence of the flowers in your space.
4. Do something kind/thoughtful
When things are feeling messy or chaotic in our own lives, we can get hyper-focused on ourselves and how to improve our situation. Sometimes it can be a welcome respite to focus our attention on someone else. And not only is it a respite but doing something kind for someone else also helps to brighten our mood. So take a few moments this week to send a text that says ‘You are loved!’ or leave a chocolate bar on your friend’s doorstep or leave a note on someone’s car wishing them a beautiful day! Notice how you feel afterward and take in that felt sense of generosity.
5. Create a daily gratitude practice
It’s easy to lose focus on the things we are grateful for especially when we’re experiencing pain, anger, anxiety, fear. Take a few minutes each day this week to write down 1-3 things that you’re truly grateful for. Make them specific so that you can really tap into your felt sense of gratitude for the experience, e.g., I’m grateful for the warmth of this hot tea; I can feel it thawing out my hands and warming up my body from the inside out. Your ability to tap into the felt sense of gratitude is more important than the number of things you’re grateful for. That being said, this practice will still work even if you’re struggling to feel the sense of appreciation.
6. Light a candle
Take some time this week to brighten up your space by lighting a candle (or more than one!) It’s easy to get lost in the busy-ness of the holidays. When we’re exhausted at the end of the day and preoccupied with all of the remaining items on our to do list, we don’t take time to slow down and attend to our physical space. Choose a night this week where you light some candles, turn out the lights, and take a few moments just to sit and take the candlelight in. Notice any positive effects on your sensations, thoughts, or feelings. Soak in any pleasant changes like a feeling of settling in, slowing down, or feeling grateful. *Remember to blow them out–this may not be a good self-care activity if you’re too exhausted!
7. Set a daily intention
Take a few minutes when you wake up to set your tone for the day. There are several ways to do this: a) you might know something specific is coming up for you where you want to set an intention to show up in a certain way or b)you might just take a few minutes to listen deeply to your higher self (the divine, God, whatever you like to use) in the morning and see what intention wants to be set for the day. You could acknowledge this silently to yourself, say it aloud, share it with a friend, and/or write it down.
8. Have a solo dance party
There’s nothing like getting in our bodies to help us feel more connected. Next time you have a few minutes at home on your own, choose a song that makes you feel alive, turn the volume up, and shake it! See if you can shake off your critic–no one is watching. Get connected to the lyrics and feel of the song. If dancing feels like too much of an edge, sing it, or just listen and feel it–the most important thing is to get connected to the felt sense of the music in your body and you can do this without moving at all. (Make sure to choose a song that has a tone and a message that’s uplifting or feels like something you need to hear).
9. Drink more water
Okay, so this may seem like a lame self-care idea but hydrating is one of the most important things we can do for our bodies. Here are some ideas to jazz up your water drinking experience and make it feel more like a self-care experience versus an obligation:
1. Experiment with adding lemon, cucumber, Emergen-C or something else
2. Treat your self to a new water bottle or mason jar that you’re excited to carry with you and drink out of
3. Try noticing the qualities of feeling thirsty and pay attention to how refreshing and relieving it feels to quench that thirst
4. Charge your water with positive energy by putting your hand over or along the sides and visualize sending love and gratitude towards your water.
10. Take a nap
Especially during a time of year where there’s a lot of growth and outward energy, it’s extra important to give yourself some downtime. Sometimes we don’t even know how much we need it until we take it. Even if you don’t fall asleep, there’s incredible value in just lying down and letting your body relax. Try starting your nap with a body scan or yoga nidra practice–there are many free options on youtube or on iphone apps like calm.
10. Plan some unstructured time
Take some time this month to look at your calendar and block out at least an hour of open, unstructured time. When you get to that time, check in with yourself and see what you feel like doing. Perhaps you want to take a nap, work on a creative project, call a friend, go for a walk, clean our your closet, lay in the sun. Give yourself the gift of letting yourself do exactly what you want to do (letting go of any guilt or ideas of what you should be doing–it’s just an hour!)
11. Take a bath or shower
Water is a powerful energy-shifter and can be very soothing. If you’re a bath person, play around with really doing it up, light candles or incense, put on soothing music, use bubble bath, essential oils, or epsom salts. For those of you who aren’t bath people or don’t have access to a tub, showers can be just as relaxing when that’s your intention. You can play around with imagining the water cleansing your body of any emotional sludge, feeling the water massage your head and shoulders. Notice how you feel following the bath or shower, take in any sensations of relaxation or calm.
12. Listen to an inspiring podcast
Take some time this week while you’re driving, working out, cooking to put on an inspiring podcast. There are so many great podcasts out there that it can be hard to choose. Here are a couple of series that I recommend: On Being with Krista Tippett and Sounds True: Insights at the Edge with Tami Simon. I recently listened to a great interview on Insights at the Edge with Jeff Foster. Here’s a little snippet: “Allow restlessness, see it as a welcome friend. The rest is in permission, the welcoming, the love. Finding the courage to hold everything in love, instead of trying to fix your experience. Like you’re holding a child–we don’t hold a child and try and fix it ‘I don’t want a sad child, I want a joyful child’ We wouldn’t do that.” -Jeff Foster
13. Practice soothing touch-hand on your heart
This idea comes from a talk with Chris Germer on Self-Compassion. Here’s how to do it: Place your hand over your heart and sense into the warmth and gentle pressure of your hand. As you attend to the felt sense of your hand over your heart, feel yourself soaking up love, support, and compassion. Imagine offering yourself any kind words that would feel comforting to hear, e.g., ‘It’s going to be okay’ or ‘I’m right here with you’. Feel free to play around with it and get creative with your imagery. Notice any shifts in sensations, thoughts, feelings, energy following the practice.
14. Take a walk
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 10 minute walk outside your workplace or an hour hike in the woods. With our culture’s push for productivity, it can be tempting to respond to phone calls or follow up to texts or emails while you walk. So you might experiment with leaving your phone in your pocket or at home and seeing what it’s like to walk and just be engaged with the walk and your surroundings. Notice the impact! Even if it’s not super scenic–just being outside, feeling the cool air or sun on your skin, moving your body, can do a world of good during your busy days!
15. Watch the sky
Connecting with nature is such a powerful form of self-care. Sometimes we feel like we can’t really do this unless we have time to go to the woods so here’s an idea that you can do anytime, anywhere. Lay a blanket out on the ground and lie down on your back with your feet on the ground and knees in the air (or if it’s comfortable for your body, you can lie flat). Notice the support and solidness of the ground underneath you, feel your body relaxing into the earth. Look up at the sky and see what you notice. Do you see clouds? Trees? Birds? Feel the sun on your skin? Feel a cool breeze? Notice how your body responds as you watch the sky. You can also play with getting bundled up and doing this at night!
Lastly, remember to really ‘take in’ the moments in which you’re caring towards yourself, meaning tune into the self-care moments with all of your senses and notice any positive shifts in your state. The more you practice caring for yourself and taking in those moments of care, the more accessible they’ll become.
Challenge: Set the intention of creating more of a daily self-care practice. Take time throughout the day and during transitions to ask yourself ‘What do I need?’ and do your best to meet the need, even in a small way. Experiment with some of the above ideas!
Affirmation: May I treat myself with care in each moment.