When my grandma used to buy me new clothes, she would always say, “Wear it in good health!”
I would give her a hug and say, “Thank you, Grandma!”
Then Grandma would warn me, “Please just take care of yourself, Irene Honey!”
I’d smile tolerantly and promise, “Don’t worry. I will!”
I figured that taking care of yourself is simple. Just do stuff that’s good for you. And don’t do stuff that’s bad for you! No problem, right?
In that time of my life, sometimes self-care WAS simple. After I moved away from home, I would get a very upset stomach about once a week, most likely from stress. Clutching my belly, I’d walk a mile, moaning along the way, to the Umpteen Flavors Ice Cream Store. I would eat a hot fudge sundae and leave miraculously healed. This really annoyed my friends.
Unfortunately, taking good care of ourselves is usually not that easy. Many of us struggle, despite all the excellent resources, with more available every day, full of wise advice about how to make sure we eat healthy foods; get enough sleep; do the right kinds of exercise; reduce anxiety; succeed in our life goals; be grateful; have safe and supportive relationships with others; and live almost forever!
For years, I kept a bunch of self-help books next to and under my bed. I usually didn’t have time to read them all the way through, so I rotated sleeping with different books under my pillow in the belief that some of this useful advice would definitely sink in.
While DOING what is “good” for you and NOT doing what is “bad” for you sounds reasonable, so many things in our lives get in the way – such as trying to live up to the expectations of others; wanting to escape upsetting feelings; getting so focused on meeting the needs of someone else that we don’t make time to take care of ourselves; procrastinating and then being mad at ourselves; or having other people judge us harshly.
Experts now tell us that the journey to lasting and meaningful self-care begins with self-compassion and kindness.
And then, we have to find our own path to make sure we are giving our bodies and our minds the best possible care so that we can enjoy and make the most of our lives.
Here are three ways that have helped many people to make their self-care a high priority:
1. Take small steps rather than setting huge goals. Just like brushing your teeth, even a few minutes can help you to feel better and prevent problems. For example, make an appointment to spend three minutes an hour to stretch, move around, get a drink of water, and check in with yourself about how you are feeling. Or, spend 10 minutes a day focusing on your self-care– to just BE, to write down your thoughts and feelings, or to fully relax doing something mindless and fun.
2. Pay attention to what nurtures your body, your emotions, and your thoughts. To take just one of countless examples, mindful awareness of our habits and behaviors with social media and news can make a big difference in how well we spend our time and energy – in how stressed or peaceful we feel– and in how well we sleep.
3. Get support. Self-care is often much easier and more fun with others. Meet new people. Find fun activities to do together with your family or friends. Take classes. Make nourishing, delicious meals. Garden, dance, take hikes, play sports, practice tai chi -whatever gives you joy and motion. If you feel stuck, look for a mentor, life coach, or counselor to help you figure out what’s in your way and how to move forward.
All of us are different and constantly changing. Eating a hot fudge sundae used to cure a stomache ache for me – but didn’t for my friends. What works for one person might not work for someone else – and what works today might change as our situations and bodies change.
More than 50 years later, I almost never get upset stomachs from stress, which is fortunate because I don’t do so well with hot fudge sundaes anymore. Thankfully, ice cream still brings me joy, as long as I don’t overdo it.
Wishing you the best on your self-care journeys,
P.S. Again, thank you to AEO Foundation for inspiring and supporting our Take Charge of Your Mental Health Campaign.
Published: May 25, 2023 | Last Updated: May 25, 2023
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