It is impossible to fill from an empty cup.
If we want to be present in the lives of others and enjoy our own lives, we need to take the time to fill our own cups and that requires self-care.
Now, contrary to what you might think, self-care is not all bubble baths and high priced spa days. Many of us don’t have the time or luxury of those privileges. Some of us barely feel motivated to take a shower or comb our hair. Self-care is tough for people with depression and anxiety.
The basics of self-care are meant to make sure that we have a sort of mental check list of things that keep our lives running as smoothly and stress free as possible.
It can be very difficult for many of us busy people to keep track of our own needs. When we start to feel depleted, everything around us suffers. Productivity, health, relationships, our ability to parent, and our own mental well-being.
Types of Self-Care
There are many aspects to self-care which include both practical and necessary tasks to help you set boundaries and accomplish your goals. It’s much too easy to live day-to-day, letting the same frustrations and difficult situations mount up until we are so stressed, we feel like giving up.
You may already be at the giving up point, and that could be a good thing — if you use it to spur change. Let’s take a look at the types of self-care that you can start to practice today to make radical changes in your life.
Personal self-care is the nitty gritty that helps direct your life in the way you want it to go.
It’s the basic, yet all-important stuff like setting goals, getting your budget in order, and enjoying time alone to really get to know yourself and what you want.
This is especially important for introverts who, by definition, feel energized and refueled to face their lives from having alone time (extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by being with people).
Of course, there is a spectrum and people typically fall somewhere on either side, or even in the middle.
Other examples of personal self-care are:
- Goal setting: Setting personal goals for your life helps you discover your purpose and what you really hope to create for your future. This can be in regards to your finances, family, fitness, or happiness. (see here for more on goal setting and setting fitness goals). This post on goal setting from You Choose the Way can help you get started! This post from The Accomplished Family is a short but sweet post with great advice on achieving your goals after you set them!
- Budgeting: This is major for feeling financially free and eliminating any relationship conflict that may exist over money. I’ve just restarted getting serious about budgeting and it’s been a lifesaver as we transitioned provinces, jobs and family structure. (I recommend using software like YNAB (this link gives you one FREE month – it is life-changing!) For more on this read How Budgeting Can Banish Your Nightmares About Money from Colleen at Inspired Forward.
- Recognizing your value system: Knowing what kind of person you want to be, what values you want to portray, and why it’s important to define them will provide a backbone for goal setting (this post on Simply + Fiercely provides wonderful context).
- Pursuing your hobbies and passions: Choosing highly enjoyable, fulfilling hobbies that you can do on your own or with your partner or friends is one of the best ways to refresh and recharge. These can be things you do on your own like fun DIYs and crafty projects (take note introverts!) or join a casual or competitive sports league with other adults to have fun and break a sweat! I absolutely LOVE playing softball and try to join 1-2 teams in the Spring, Summer and Fall! I’ve also played competitive dodgeball and it is one of the most enjoyable and exciting games I’ve ever played. Plus my team was amazing (miss you guys!). I’ve since moved away but I plan on joining new teams as soon as possible. This is also a fantastic way to make friends (or meet a new partner!) as an adult.
Emotional self-care is all about confronting the emotions and arising feelings and mental patterns that are holding you back or causing you pain.
Emotions are defined as the physical responses to stimulus. In other words, emotions are hard-wired reactions that cause physical symptoms as a result of anything we experience such as fear, reward, pleasure, etc. It’s an evolutionary human experience coded into our DNA.
Feelings are the mental reactions to emotions. They are mental interpretations of what we experience physically with emotions. They can be manipulated and influenced through our experiences and biases. They are interpretative and individual.
This is good news because it means we can, to some extent, change them. We can process our emotions differently, to reinterpret them and feel differently about our circumstances.
Some other forms of emotional self-care are:
- Journaling your feelings: Ernest Hemingway gave some poignant advice when he said “write hard and clear about what hurts”. It’s also important, however to write about what you are grateful for, what makes you happy, and all of the other wonderful human feelings we experience.
- Identifying triggers: Figuring out what situations and events trigger specific emotional reactions (remember, the physical symptoms), can help you to change how you feel about them, or if necessary, avoid them. Writing these down and keeping track can help. Keep track of the situation, try to identify the general feelings you had (hopelessness, panic, anger, embarrassment, etc.) and what you believed caused it. See if you can uncover any patterns.
- Challenging negative feelings: Sometimes, we experience what we interpret as negative feelings. Usually these are ones that are the opposite of happy, joyous, thankful, etc. One of the most important things to come to terms with is that “negative” feelings are unavoidable. They are a part of life and they are highly beneficial. From these feelings, we can experience growth, get to know ourselves better, and develop deeper relationships by paying attention to where our boundaries are.
However, many negative feelings are only detrimental to our well-being. Feelings of shame, problems with self-esteem and self-image or body image and other feelings that prevent you from living your life.
You can help to change these feelings by challenging them. Ask yourself what evidence there is for their accuracy and try to think about people who love you and support you and if they would agree with your self-depreciating thoughts.
I highly recommend everyone who is overwhelmed by these feelings talk to a professional.
- Express yourself: When you bottle things up in your relationships, you do yourself and your loved ones a great disservice. Not being open and honest about your boundaries prevents deep connections from forming. You will always be hiding a part of yourself required for open and vulnerable communication, which is key for relationships to flourish.
Here are some highly recommended journals:
This one is for expressing gratitude and is feminine, sweet, and uplifting.
This one (language warning!) is more my style and may be yours as well if you are a fellow tired-ass human who would like to keep track of both the good and the bad in your life.
For help with ruminating and anxiety see this post: 9 Ways You Can Stop Ruminating and Anxiety in its Tracks
As busy adults, taking care of our social lives can sometimes end up on the back-burner. Or in my case, the icebox 😆.
Social self-care is a lot more than just getting together with the gang though. A lot of people need to set boundaries around social media and social commitments. Social media engagement can help us stay in touch with friends, family, and online communities that help us feel more connected to people and society.
We can find tribes online that make us feel more normal and sane than anyone in our “real life” can. I am very grateful for the many amazing friendships I’ve developed over the years on social media. I’ve received invaluable support from many of them.
However, studies have shown that there is such a thing as “Facebook depression“. And it’s not just Facebook that’s at fault either, the same holds true for Snapchat and Instagram. “The first experimental study examining use of multiple platforms shows a causal link between time spent on these social media and increased depression and loneliness” along with body dissatisfaction (more on that here).
Taking time out from social media or instilling some family tech-free time is definitely part of social self-care.
Other forms of social self-care
- Stop comparing: A large contributor for why we need time away from social media is the access it provides access to so many “perfect” looking people and lives. Being grateful and keeping track of the good things in our own lives will help us stop comparing ourselves to others.
Read more about body positivity and why we should embrace ourselves the way we are (completely normal!) here: 5 Body Flaws that are Actually Totally Normal.
- Remove toxic people: This is a big one and you may need a therapist to help you sort through the process. The bottom line is that you do not have to put up with toxic or abusive people in your life. When the relationship is based on any kind of abuse such as mental, physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional, it is a clear sign you need to cut ties if possible.
If a relationship gives you constant anxiety, wondering how any interaction with them will turn out or if the only contact you have with them is negative, serves to tear you down and leaves you defending yourself, then you need to love yourself enough to move on and let them go.
To read more about this, I recommend the book Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person.
Everyone knows that moving your body and getting outdoors are imperative to feeling your best.
Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood to help manage and even prevent depression, anxiety and other mental health issues (more on that here). Bonus effects are felt if you take your movement outside!
Getting movement into your day can also help improve sleep patterns and prevents dysfunctional movement patterns that arise from our propensity for sitting far too much.
It effectively prevents and can even help treat many diseases as well, such as diabetes and heart disease.
We all know that adopting an exercise routine should be a part of any physical self-care routine, even if for you, that just means some yoga or walking the dog every day!
Stress and cortisol levels greatly affect your ability to lose weight as well. I’ve written a detailed post on that here: Are You Too Stressed to Lose Weight? Why You Could Be and How to Fix It.
If you need to work on setting and tracking your health goals and planning and tracking your workout habit, my free downloadable printable planner pages are perfect for you.
I use them with clients and for myself and thought you could use them too (a thank you for reading!) Find them here:
More Examples of Physical Self-Care:
- De-stressing activities: Aside from getting in quality movement, other de-stressing activities can really make a difference with managing tension and well, stress! Everyone has different ideas of what a de-stressing activity is, whether you prefer a bath, face mask, adult colouring pages, reading, or meditating. Meditation has a lot of solid evidence to back it up as one of the best things you can do to release stress, worry and tension and improve quality of life and clarity of thought. I personally began meditating after being a huge skeptic and found it pivotal in lowering my elevated cortisol levels and helping to end my insomnia.
- Nourish not punish: Battles with food are some of the most stressful, day-in-day-out issues we face as women. If we eat the things we view as “bad”, we experience guilt. If we don’t eat enough, we fail to provide our bodies with enough nutrition to feel our best. Not eating enough has very negative affects on our moods and hormonal patterns. If you are struggling with issues around food and eating, I encourage you to get help from a licensed professional. Read this article on Stress Eating, Bingeing and Restricting for more info
Re-framing how we look at food can go a long way towards relieving this guilt. Food is never bad or good and you are never bad or good based on what you eat. Choosing a mixture of foods you highly enjoy and foods that are nutrient dense is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship with food. And if you don’t like kale, I’m giving you permission to never eat it again. Trust me, you’ll be fine 😉
- Get enough sleep: Here is another one we totally know, but are typically super bad at. According to statistics researched by The Good Body, 35% of Americans do not get the recommended minimum of 7 hours sleep per night and 20% of people have a sleep disorder(!).
Even more frightening is the sleep deprivation that students incur from their increasingly busy schedules.
According to studies from Reuters and The Sleep Health Journal, the lack of sleep they suffer from can be equal to binge drinking or drug use.
If you are a student or someone who loves one, have them check out these statistics from The Sleep Advisor. This website is an excellent resource on sleep and they have curated the best research in a post regarding college students and sleep deprivation.
Treating yourself right by making sleep a priority is integral to physical self-care. Try to initiate a bedtime routine that calms you and helps turn off your busy brain. Start by avoiding screens an hour before bed! This is one major change that really helped me fix my insomnia.
If you have trouble, like I often do, with turning off your brain at bedtime, this post from The Inspiration Lady can help you fix this with some quick tips.
Now, if mornings are just not your thing, and getting up and getting going is the roadblock to you setting up a consistent sleep schedule, then check out this post from A Cup of Tea with Kelsey and don’t miss this post What Will Your Miracle Morning Look Like? details the book The Miracle Morning which I absolutely plan on picking up. Check it out!
(Related article: How to Get Better Sleep with Exercise)
I think this is one of the most overlooked areas of self-care. People have heard of creating a work-life balance (or as someone recently recommended it be called, life-work balance –life being much more important!). However, how many of us have actually instilled professional self-care practices or even know what these would be?
Professional self-care practices
- Work-life balance: Knowing when to slow down, take some time off, and put yourself first helps you be more productive in your job overall. Sometimes, this is learned the hard way, like in this funny story from With Love, Becca. If you want to learn how to create a better work-life balance with a planer, check out this post from I’m Busy Being Awesome.
- Know your value: Knowing your value as an employee or to your field is vital for ensuring you are treated properly, paid appropriately, and not taken for granted. A workplace that proves they value you will: pay you well, make you feel listened to, mentor you, challenge you, involve you in decision making, and promote you when you deserve it.
- Set boundaries: Examples of healthy work boundaries include: not working overtime if you’ve committed to spending more time with your family; communicating clearly when you will and will not be available for phone calls or emails from work and sticking to it; addressing any boundary violations straight away; creating structure by setting an agenda for meetings such as start and end times, topics to be addressed, time for open discussion or questions clearly laid out will prevent abuse of your time.
- Continued development: In order to really thrive and grow in your career, it is important to continue reaching for your goals by developing skills and furthering your education. Becoming stagnant will not help you feel like you are achieving your dreams, no matter how much you love your job.
Mental self-care is similar to personal self-care but more specifically focused on your mental health. Figuring out what helps you personally feel mentally well is so important but there are some studied and proven ways in which we can all practice self-care to improve our mental wellness.
Types of Mental Self-Care
- Phone free time: Sometimes, the best thing for your mental health is an all out digital detox. Check out this excellent article on why here (7 Reasons Why A Digital Detox Will Give You Peace of Mind) and if you want to know how to unplug, this post from Paula at I’m Busy Being Awesome will guide you!
- Reading: Can increase your knowledge, stimulate your brain, and provide a method of self-help. Reading has also been shown to be a valid method of preventing burnout and improving mental health on par with yoga and meditation.
- Spending time outdoors: I touched on this earlier, but spending time outdoors, even if you are just relaxing, has been shown to have a significant effect on mood and stress levels.
- Meditation: Also mentioned earlier, meditation is one of the most researched and proven methods for improving aspects of mental health such as within emotionality and relationship issues and psychological well-being. For a body-centered meditation practice, check out this post on Body Blessing Meditation from Running On Balance.
- Learning new skills: Can help improve confidence and self-efficacy. Not only can your new skills help you develop rewarding hobbies and potential side hustles, just the act of learning is a highly motivating and rewarding experience.
- Completing projects: Don’t you feel fantastic when you finish that DIY project or home improvement? Even organizing a closet or adding some shelving to your room can work wonders on your mental well-being. Knowing that you have accomplished something and being able to reap the rewards is a fantastic feeling. Once you’ve completed a project, you will want to do more to keep that feeling going. Continually acquiring new skills and getting better at your hobbies at the same time! It’s addictive.
More Fantastic Resources for Self-Care
I hope this extensive post has give you an idea of the many types of self-care and how you can begin to implement them into your life. There is no need to try and adopt many at once. Start with one or two areas of your life you know you need to improve on the self-care front. Even if they are the most simple and easy things on the list. Once you begin to see that you are worth the effort and carve a space for yourself, the rest will fall into place.
Specific Self-Care Resources
Self-care for busy moms, particularly those with special needs children: 10 Realistic Stress Busters for Busy Moms
My friend Yolanda has a great blog with lots of info on self-care and happiness. Here are some of my favourites: