We tend to talk about self-care in terms of luxury and pampering, and that narrow definition might just be hurting us. It’s time to change our self-care definition to be a lot broader.
Rethinking Our Definition of Self Care
A friend shared an article about self-care by Tami Forman at Forbes recently, and it rocked me. Forman argues that, at its core, self-care isn’t about scented baths or 90-minute massages. It’s about making everyday choices that serve your physical and mental health.
“It’s taking care of yourself in a way that doesn’t require you to ‘indulge’ in order to restore balance,” Forman explains in the Forbes piece. In other words, put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.
Sure, self-care can look like a fancy spa treatment, but it can also mean something as simple as getting that precious eight hours of sleep or taking a walk on your lunch break to squeeze in some daily exercise.
Taking the time to care for yourself will make you “a happier parent, a more grateful spouse, a fully engaged colleague,” says Forman. ”Those who take care of themselves have the energy to take care of others joyfully because that caregiving doesn’t come at their own expense.”
Small Acts of Self Care Matter
Let’s take a closer look at the simple act of getting enough sleep. I see so many people glorify how little sleep they get, and that attitude can be incredibly harmful.
Inadequate sleep damages both your physical and mental health, especially if you make a habit of shirking sleep. When you don’t sleep enough, you’re more prone to getting sick. It can also cause brain fog and moodiness. Those symptoms impact every aspect of your day, from your drive to work to your career to your home life.
I know that not everyone is missing out on sleep by choice. Maybe you have a new baby or are working two jobs or both. In those situations, it can be a lot harder to take care of yourself, but even the tiniest acts of self care can make a difference. Sneaking in a 10 to 20-minute catnap on your lunch break can work wonders, for example.
But what about other small acts of self care? The Family Caregiver Alliance dives into how sleep, diet, exercise, resting when you’re sick and taking the time for preventive healthcare all make you a better caregiver by making you healthier, happier and better-equipped to handle stress.
Caregiving can actually increase your risk of depression and chronic physical diseases, and you can’t take good care of anyone when your own health is failing. Whether you’re taking care of kids or a sick family member, caring for yourself first puts you in a better position to care for them.
Another small act of self-care that we tend to gloss over is the simple act of taking a break. When your life is over-scheduled, it’s hard to get even one quiet minute, and that can be incredibly taxing on your mental health. Schedule some “you” time into your week, even if it’s just a 15-minute coffee break with a neighbor or a walk around the block by yourself with your favorite music or comedy podcast playing on your headphones.
Self-Care is Work
Just like any new habit, taking charge of your physical and emotional wellbeing takes practice and might mean stepping out of your comfort zone. If you’re in the habit of always putting others first, caring for yourself can be difficult. You may even feel like you don’t deserve time for yourself.
I was listening to a podcast not too long ago, and Sarah Silverman was the guest. One of the hosts was really getting down on himself, and Sarah interrupted to say, “I don’t like hearing you talk that way about my friend Mitch.”
It might sound like she was joking, but she meant it. We often treat ourselves a lot more harshly than we treat other people, and keeping that in the back of your mind can help you take better care of yourself.
Next time you’re sick and considering going to work anyway, for example, ask yourself what you’d tell a friend to do in the same situation. I bet you’d tell them to get in bed and rest.
If your work and caregiving schedules leave you in constant sleep debt, ask a friend or family member for help, so you can squeeze in a nap once in a while. You’d do it for them in a heartbeat, and you deserve help, too.
Self-care isn’t something we should think of as a splurge—it’s a practice, just like yoga or meditation. Practicing even small acts of self-care makes you a better friend, a better partner, a better worker and a better caregiver.
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