This is the first of several self care blog posts. This one focuses on general aspects of self care that apply to everyone. You might have been told that you need to take better care of yourself, but advice like that can seem pretty useless if you have no clue how to take care of yourself. The problems that we face in taking care of ourselves can sometimes be quite fundamental.
Shift work can cause problems with self care…
For example, many people work shifts. The shift work can lead to poor sleeping patterns, which leads to fatigue. The next thing you know, that person does not feel like exercising or preparing nutritious meals. They start skipping workouts and eating fast food. That’s when more problems start to creep in. Resistance to stress breaks down. We tend to become ill more easily. And, if we are prone to mental illness, we suffer in that way also.
Society won’t slow down: take responsibility for your own self-care
The solution is deceptively simple: take care of yourself. This is hard to do in today’s increasingly fast-paced 24×7 society. However, the pace of society is unlikely to slow down and, until it becomes profitable somehow, employers are unlikely to make workplaces more conducive to self-care.
Putting our own needs on the back burner has become such a bad habit with so many people that it is practically “normal”. The problem with this is that people tend to do what they see others do — if no one else is eating nutritiously or working out regularly, why should I? If my friends are getting lunch at a fast food place, why shouldn’t I?
However, if you want to get healthy, both mentally and physically, and stay healthy, you have to put yourself first and you have to be a little bit selfish. I am not talking about the bad kind of selfish. There are certain things you need even if you might not realize you need them. Your body needs oxygen — is it selfish to breathe?
Take care of yourself
- Leave work at work. Find a way to make it happen. I know there are some jobs that, by necessity, follow you home like if you are a doctor and you are on call, but unless that is the case for you, imagine that you cross a magic threshold when you leave your workplace and all your work troubles are left behind.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. This can be hard if you work shifts, etc. However, if you do work shifts, at least taking a long nap prior to your night shift can help. If you have a sleeping disorder, get it diagnosed and treated. For example, many people have untreated sleep apnea, and this makes it hard and even sometimes impossible to reach REM (or dream) sleep.
- Nutrition. Take the time to purchase healthy food and then prepare and eat it. Good things take time. Preparing dinner might take 20 – 30 minutes and another 30 minutes to cook. Preparing your lunch in advance the night before might take another 30 minutes. Try to find a way to fit this into your life. For example, if you have children, is there a way that you can involve them in the food preparation process to make it a fun, family time? If your kids are older, such as in their teens, you could have a rotation in the household where each person is responsible for making lunches and dinners on certain nights of the week.
- Regular exercise. Find an exercise that you enjoy doing whether it is yoga, swimming, dancing, aquafit, aerobics, zumba, running, biking, etc. and then do it regularly according to a schedule. Make exercise time non-negotiable. It is excellent if you can find a friend to exercise with because that will make exercise more fun and also give you some probably much-needed socializing time.
- Drink plenty of water. This one is quite easy. Carry a water bottle. Drink from it. Personally, I like to put a slice of lemon in my water bottle in the morning because I like the taste of lemony water.
- Make time to socialize. Without the kids!
- Learn to meditate. Take a few minutes each day to simply clear your mind and relax. Does this seem like a waste of time? It is important to do this just like it is important to shower and put clothes on. Most people wouldn’t skip getting dressed…
- Express yourself. Whether it is singing, dancing, writing, journaling, drawing, painting, pottery, knitting, coloring, etc., find a creative outlet, and create! This also may be something you can combine with socializing or family time, depending on your means of self-expression.
Taking care of yourself is serious business. These things all seem simple and obvious, but they are actually critical to your long-term wellbeing. Not taking care of these “trivial” things can lead to stress, which can lead to illness including mental illness.
Not only that, but getting a handle on these things can improve health problems. I had a close friend with very serious rheumatoid arthritis who went to Italy for two months. During that time, her stress level was very low. She had the opportunity to relax a lot. She ate healthy foods. And, “miraculously,” her rheumatoid arthritis stopped bothering her. Sadly, when she came back to her stressful job and her North American lifestyle, her problems came back.
The bottom line is that only you can decide that you are important enough to take care of. I hope you do. Tune in soon for more self care blog posts.