Looking After Yourself: A new take on self-care

Dec 11, 2023

I recently ordered a beverage at my favourite coffee shop. When the barista asked me how my week was going, I paused and said it was a strange one. I’m not a proponent of saying “fabulous” unless that’s the truth.

She laughed and said her’s was “off.” That was the perfect word for my week, too.

What does a happiness maven do when she’s feeling low or off her game? She sinks into some self-care by writing in a beloved environment. There’s something about the energy of a coffee shop that soothes my soul.

What one person considers nourishing for their body and soul varies widely. It might be a day at the spa, a challenging hike or time with a book. It’s important to not only know what helps when you need an energy reset, but to commit to doing it. Creating a plan, or plans, for self-care in advance of needing them is important, but like me, you may limit yourself to activities you enjoy. It turns out that there are some vital, yet often ignored, aspects of self-care that don’t get as much airtime as things like exercise, eating healthily and a good night’s sleep.

If you don’t know how to care for yourself in times of need, create a plan. If you’re already a self-care guru, consider adding some or all of the following into your regime.

Get help when you need it—Asking for help is often interpreted as a sign of weakness. It isn’t. It also doesn’t have to mean therapy. It could mean hiring someone to clean your house, finding someone to look after your kids for a few hours, or using a delivery service for your groceries.If you’re asking a friend or family member for help, make sure you know exactly what you need and then be specific about your request. Remember, although you have the right to ask for help, the other person has just as much right to refuse. If that happens, try not to take it personally. Their reasons for declining quite likely have nothing to do with you. Don’t let rejection stop you from asking someone else.

Set boundaries—There’s nothing wrong with saying no. That is the flip side of asking for help. If the request doesn’t fit into what’s happening in your world, or it doesn’t feel right, it’s OK to refuse. If a friend asks you for a favour that’s going to cause you stress, be OK saying no. And don’t feel you have to justify your decision or explain your refusal. If it seems appropriate, you can offer an alternative way of helping your friend. Look for a win-win, not a win-lose solution. Helping someone is about believing it’s the right thing to do, not obligation. The more you create healthy boundaries, the easier it gets.

Avoid avoidance—If you have something hanging over your head, demanding your attention, you’ll find it difficult to feel truly free. The closer you get to a deadline, the heavier the task is likely to feel. If you love to put things off, do one thing to get started on the task at hand. You don’t have to get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. Break the project into small steps and give yourself a pat on the back every time you complete even a tiny bit of the task.

Release perfection—Sometimes a good enough attitude serves you more than a perfectionist one. Stop overthinking stuff that really doesn’t matter. Ask yourself if you’ll care about how well it was done in a week, month, or year. It’s taken me more time than I care to admit to accept that people come to visit me, not to see how clean and tidy my house is.

Mind your money—While money can’t buy happiness, it can provide you with peace of mind. Creating a budget and sticking to it may be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself. If necessary, ask for help to educate yourself about your finances.

Declutter—Getting rid of “stuff” has been proven to reduce stress, increase productivity, aid decision-making and increase brainpower. It minimizes distractions and allows you to focus on what’s really important. You don’t have to do your entire home at once. Start with your workspace or bedroom and when that’s done, choose the next area you want to tackle. If a whole room seems too daunting, begin with a single drawer or cupboard. If this is an area you feel particularly challenged with, reach out to a decluttering specialist. Remember, asking for help is just another type of self-care.

Put free time or “me time” on your calendar—It’s important to schedule “you time.” Don’t wait for it to magically appear because that rarely happens. Set boundaries around it and refuse to sacrifice it for anything less than an emergency. Your energy requires regular maintenance even when your life seems to be going well. Don’t wait for things to be “off” before you take steps to rejuvenate yourself. Research shows ignoring your personal needs contributes to exhaustion, career setbacks, burnout, lower self-esteem, less money and shaky mental health. If you aren’t sure where to begin, look at your daily routine and ask yourself, “What’s one small thing I can do every day that will make me feel happier, healthier,or more at peace?” Schedule it into your life and make it a priority.

As well as having a regular self-care practice, it’s good to have a list of possible actions you can lean into when challenges present themselves. Know how to help yourself when the need arises.

When I finished my column and my coffee, I felt more grounded, at peace and ready to tackle the rest of my week. But before I did, I had another cup of coffee.

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