With self-care top of mind for so many during this wild, unexpected ride of 2020, you may be wondering why is self-care actually important?
While there are many reasons self-care is important and should be even a minor part of your life, we'll give you a quick two-word summary on why you (yes, YOU) need it: stress relief.
Defining Stress + Stress Relief
Let's start by talking about stress before we tackle the relief side of this unpleasurable noun. Stress is a state of mental strain, emotional strain or tension that results from adverse or notably demanding circumstances. Sound familiar?
If that whole mental-emotional-tension-strain thing doesn't ring a bell, consider yourself a unicorn. If it's ringing a very loud, gong-like bell directly in your ear, you're not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, over 75% of American adults reported both emotional and physical symptoms of stress in 2019 (think headaches, anxiety, fatigue, poor sleep).
So what is relief and how do we get it? Relief is a feeling. This feeling we all seek when it comes to stress is one of reassurance and relaxation. It follows a release from anxiety or distress.
People often refer to things such as work, parenting, or a relationship as “stress” however those are actually stressors causing stress. The objective with stress relief is to absolve the stress which is your reaction to a stressor.
Often times, the stressor is something that cannot easily be absolved or avoided, such as work or parenting, so the objective really becomes how do we reduce or remove stress from our life if the specific stressor(s) are not going away? This is when establishing a self-care routine comes into play.
Where to Start
While you may recognize the importance of self-care, you may also feel overwhelmed by it. Many people are overwhelmed by the concept of self-care, which in turn triggers a stress response instead of stress reduction because they are not sure where to start a new practice, routine or ritual. So, let's talk about how to avoid that, shall we?
When it comes to self-care, there is no one-size-fits-all answer as everyone responds differently to different types of self-care, so it truly becomes an experimental approach. Below are a few questions you can ask yourself to get started. We encourage you to be honest with yourself and if inspired, even write your responses down.
Questions to Start Your Self-Care Journey:
1. What has made me feel good in the past? A great place to start is to identify things you have done in the past for yourself that your body and/or mind had a positive and lasting reaction.
2. What am I interested in experiencing or achieving? Are you interested in a physical, mental or spiritual experience? Perhaps all three! Some self-care approaches can be a trifecta for an all-encompassing physical, mental and spiritual experience such as yoga or you may tackle each experience type individually depending on your personal preferences.
3. What are my goals? What do you hope to achieve from a new self-care practice? Be specific beyond general stress relief. Perhaps it is better sleep, less anxiety, weight loss or improved digestion. The range of goals are endless but possible with the right approach, commitment and tools.
4. How does my body manifest stress? Because stress can manifest in many different ways, it is also important to identify and understand how it manifests in you. Some people gain or lose weight when incredibly stressed; some have skin reactions with a breakout or rash; others could experience anxiety, depression, or fatigue.
Once you have identified how it manifests and what likely caused it, you can more easily assess what type of practice would fit into your life. If long to-do lists and a busy schedule cause stress, taking a class might not be a great place to start as it would be one more thing on your calendar every week.
5. What do I have time for? Can you do something for 30 minutes a day or one hour per week? If you feel like you have 30 minutes a day, movement, journaling or establishing a meditation practice are great places to start. If one hour a week is your maximum commitment, perhaps a yoga or cooking class with a friend is a better fit.
Final (but Important) Notes
Take the quality over quantity approach. Committing to 30 minutes of an on-demand workout or a 20 minute meditation daily might sound like an accessible place to start, but if you're hitting pause every time your phone chimes or you can't fully concentrate on the self-care task at hand because that dust bunny in the corner of your living room keeps catching your eye, switch up your approach. A 45-minute workout class twice a week could be more achievable.
Me before you approach. Self-care is not an extravagance or selfish by any means, but rather a need for both your mind and body. Personally, as a mother, it can be incredibly difficult to not only find the time, but to find the guilt-free recognition that doing something for yourself is as important as being home for every bedtime, attending every extracurricular activity or being with your child every waking minute of their day.
For many years, I put so many things ahead of my actual self, mainly my career and “making it” in New York City, but both my physical and mental health suffered greatly from this as well as my parenting and relationships.
As my husband always tells his meditation students, you have to take the airline safety approach: before helping anyone else, put your oxygen mask on first.
#worthit Taking the time to get the sleep you need, the movement you need, and the mental and emotional health you need will result in the greatest stress relief and with all of that, you are the best version of yourself, whether that be a better parent, a better partner, a better friend, a better professional and beyond. While they say time is money, time is also health, so we'll leave you with one word: invest.