How to adopt a sustainable self-care routine
The term self-care is currently hyped up in media, urging us to engage in activities to enhance our wellbeing. But, although well intentioned, are these messages becoming yet another item on our long “to do” lists, making us feel guilty and stressed? And why is it so important to find time for self-care in our already stretched lives?
Research shows that integrating self-compassion into your life will increase your productivity, improve resistance to disease, enhance self-esteem and increase your self-knowledge (Hurst, 2018).
In order to prevent burnout, it is essential to be able to identify and pay attention to your individual warning signs. These indicate you’re running low on energy. Due to demanding work and family responsibilities, we frequently neglect looking after ourselves.
Many view self-care practices as self-indulgent behaviour. But, we can build up our resilience to cope with the daily pressures of life, through being kind to ourselves and listening to what our bodies and minds tell us we need. The added benefit is the development of compassion for others.
"If you don't make your own wellbeing and happiness a priority in your life, who will?" Terri Orbuch, Psychotherapist
Introduce new routines to fit around your lifestyle.
1. Identify and record what your values are and what activities you thoroughly enjoy. Self-care is highly personal and what one person finds restorative and energizing might mean the opposite to another. Think about activities you enjoyed doing as a child, or a hobby you always wanted to try out. Consider your personal preferences; e.g. do you thrive on socializing, spending time with family or friends, or do you need more quiet alone time to reflect?
2. Find a balanced mix of activities.
Consider what your greatest needs are in tackling pressure. Find activities supporting you through increasing your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. A combination of spending quality time with family, friends, exercise, meditation or other quiet activity such as walking, reading, creates harmony. According to Baratta (2018), it is important to decompress throughout the day, allowing the brain to have a pause.
3. Schedule it into your calendar.
Creating habits is key in sustaining your desired new routine. Once it’s in the diary, it removes part of the resistance in engaging with the activity. Other hacks to establish a routine are to; prepare and freeze nutritious meals/snacks at the weekend, to facilitate healthy week time eating, setting up the breakfast table before going to bed, putting out the sports clothes/equipment the day before, etc.
4. Make room for it during your day and start small.
This can be tricky, but it is essential that you build up your new routines in tiny steps on a daily basis. The daily small adjustments will really make a difference, as you are more likely to stick with them. Start with a single thing (Pinnock, 2018), e.g. clearing out the biscuit jar or replacing all snacks for fruits/vegetables, have a five minutes meditation, lunch/evening time walk, or decrease your alcohol intake.
After following the new routine for two weeks, take a moment to assess what resonated with you. Did the activities you engaged with provide you with more energy, or were they draining you? Would rescheduling them to another time of the day be more beneficial? Identify your productivity energy peaks; use this knowledge to your advantage through focussing on work at this time. Schedule in restoring activities for non-productive moments of your day.
Small energizing activities suggestions
- if commuting by public transport, get off a stop earlier and walk to work, or alternatively if you are driving, park in a further away car park.
- Arrange walking meetings with colleagues/friends.
- Volunteer for the office coffee runs.
- Set a timer and stretch at the desk (or if self-conscious sneak into the bathroom).
- Take oversea clients out on gentle hikes. Not only will it assist in the development of deeper bonds through shared experiences, but also movement in nature generates creative ideas.
- Don’t take the lift all the way up to the office, walk a few floors (gradually increase the number of floors over time).
- Go for a massage/reflexology/acupuncture session.
- Take a lunchtime class in the local gym (yoga, kickboxing, pilates, zumba, aerobics, or whatever you fancy).
- Challenge your negative thinking.
- Stop criticizing yourself, no one is perfect.
- Create stronger personal boundaries between home and work life.
- Learn to say no without feeling guilty, it is not selfish but demonstrates self-respect.
- Meditate (5-10min) while commuting (not driving:)), for ease use an app such as Buddhify, Calm, Headspace) to increase focus, calm and productivity.
- Breathing exercises (the calm app has an excellent free one).
- Read a favourite book.
- Listen to a funny podcast while driving/commuting.
- Watch a favourite cartoon with your children or read a comic.
- Record three things you have done well each day, however small.
- Journal, write down anything that comes to your mind to offload emotional luggage.
- Schedule in fun events, e.g. movie, concert, comedy show, quality time with family to have something to look forward to.
- Replace coffee/drink with friends with trying out a new activity e.g. taking a pottery class, fishing, cooking, Tai Chi, Dragon boating, meditation, urban farming, etc.
It is essential to know when your stress coping capacity is running low. Build resistance and prevent burn out through investing in diverse reenergizing activities. Incorporating self-care into your life doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul. On the contrary, it can prove just as beneficial if not more, to drip feed small health routines into your daily life. This will improve your overall wellbeing in the long run.
Many people feel guilty for taking time for themselves. But, remember that it’s through caring for yourself that enables you to better care for others.
Baratta, M.,(2018)“Selfcare 101 – 10 ways to take better care of you” Psychology Today, May 27th.
Hurst, K. (2018) “What is self-care and why is self -care important?” Retrieved from: http://www.thelawofattraction.com/self-care-tips/
Orbuch, T. quoted in Tartakovsky M. (2016) “How Clinicians Practise Self Care and 9 Tips for Readers”, Psych Central. Retrieved on October 10th, 2018 from https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-clinicians-practice-self-care-9-tips-for-readers/
Pinnock, D. (2018), “Eat your Way to Better Health”,Dr R. Chatterjee Podcast, “Feel Better Live More” Episode: July, 4th.