How many times have you felt overwhelmed by the stress and pressure of the modern world? From increasingly busy work days to tragic world events to television and media filled with bad news, our lives can reach a point where the things we are experiencing become a toxic brew of stress and tension. When this happens, our stomachs fill with acid, our heads pound, and we snap at the people we love. Before we get to this point, it’s time to practice self-care.

So what is self-care? First, it’s best to know what it is not. Most people associate self-care with pampering: long baths, gourmet chocolates, pedicures, and massages. While those are nice and can certainly be a part of the ways we relax, self-care is much deeper than that. Self-care is taking action that promotes your deep well-being and balance and can be divided into two categories: physical and mental/emotional.

Physical self-care

Physical self-care is the most basic place to start and the easiest place to make changes–this includes exercise, diet, and sleep. Getting plenty of exercise that you enjoy has multiple benefits that stay with you even if you only have 30 minutes a day to spare. Exercise lowers blood pressure, helps you achieve or maintain a healthy weight, increases stamina, balances mood, and improves the next facet of physical self-care: sleep.

Most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep a night but log only six hours of shut-eye on average. This “sleep debt” causes a loss of productivity at a minimum and has far more serious implications for early death and other illness (see this study from the Sleep Foundation for details on how much is enough and the effects of too little).

Finally, food is an important part of physical self-care. Eating a healthy diet filled with whole foods that include fruits, vegetables, and protein increases energy, boosts metabolism, and keeps blood sugar steady to help manage stress. Drinking plenty of water daily can also help flush toxins out of the body, and seeing a doctor regularly for preventative care can also help cultivate a sense of well-being.

Mental/emotional self-care

Mental and emotional self-care can be more complex, as not everyone responds to the same techniques. Journaling daily or maintaining lists (e.g., gratitude lists) works for some to process events and appreciate even small victories throughout the week. Meditation can also help to focus and calm the mind and promote emotional balance.

Other ways to practice mental and emotional self-care are:

  • Tune out the digital word. Turn off your phone and step away from the computer.
  • Say no. Overcommitting to things can make you feel bitter and resentful. Say yes to what really matters to you, and no to everything else.
  • Get outside. Spend some time in nature in all seasons to really connect with the world.
  • Make time for leisure, sports, or hobbies. Even if it’s just a few hours a week, make time to have fun.
  • Cultivate relationships. Make a date night with a partner or meet a friend for coffee. People with wide social networks, the real-life kind, benefit tremendously.

Even small steps yield big benefits—how will you start to practice self-care?

Image by Brew Books via Flickr


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