An Introduction to Self Care
Life is tough. No matter your circumstances (for example how much money you have or how much you love your partner), stress will always be a factor in your life. Scary stuff. Juggling a job, kids, their extra curricular activities, and an attempt at your own social life is seemingly impossible if you ever intend to sleep. And I know that as you read this, the hairs on the back of your neck are starting to stick up. But there are some really simple things you can do to improve your self care.
What do I care about self care? Well, my dear, I photograph people. I’d compare being in front of the camera to standing on stage in front of hundreds of people. It can be terrifying, and my clients often preface our session with, “I’m so nervous!! You have your work cut out for you.” A big part of my job turns out being to help my clients chill out and feel comfortable being themselves while I stand back and observe. And of course, the more at peace and comfortable my clients are with themselves, the more confident they appear in front of the camera. Good self care will absolutely help you feel that confidence and peace in front of the camera.
What I’m talking about are all those things that you can do on a regular basis to reduce stress and enhance your well-being. Truthfully, self care is an essential life skill. Developing strong practices in your daily life is simple (I swear), and will help you connect more with what makes you ridiculously happy. How?? By committing to improving your physical and mental well being you’ll strengthen your body and mind for when it matters (for example, when you have the flu and should be sleeping but your kids think now, of all times, is the right time to hit baseballs towards the house in the middle of winter).
Exercise and Healthy Eating
Regular exercise will help keep your body fit for life-duty, and eating healthy will help improve your immune system. It might go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. A healthy body and immune system will significantly improve your ability to function when you’re sick and also fight off the germs that might get you sick. And the sooner you get healthy, the sooner you can get back to kicking butt in life.
Exercising and eating well will also help energize you. The more energy you have, the more time you’ll have to spend doing the things you love, and the less time you’ll spend grunting and groaning when bending over to pick up your children. (Or in my case, to pick up my cat.)
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Go for a walk. One of my absolute favourite ways to get a little physical activity is to go for a hike (or in the winter, go snowshoeing). Getting a bit of time away from the 70 billion screens at home, getting some fresh air, and getting some light exercise can really refresh my mood. I go for a walk for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- Prepare your meals in advance. Especially when you’re not hungry. If you’re like me, then waiting until you’re hungry to choose a meal or make food ultimately results in me eating junk and then also eating the entire meal I prepared while eating the junk food. So instead, every Sunday I prepare a few things so that I can either grab-’em-and-go or pop them in the microwave. No thinking involved.
- Make one small change to your diet for the week. Drink a big glass of water first thing in the morning or order a side salad instead of fries the next time you eat out. If you’re nervous about cutting the unhealthy food out of your diet, trie adding good food instead. It can be as simple as adding one big serving of vegetables to your routine each day.
Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I just don’t have enough time!” Well I have a painful truth for you. There is always more time! Time is one of those things that we literally never run out of. And yet, so many complain about not having enough of it.
Now, I’m not saying you don’t have a lot going on, but so many of us spend time doing things we don’t want to do at the expense of doing things we do need to do. Some of these things are unavoidable (like laundry or washing the dishes), but others can be dropped completely from our routine in favour of spending more time reading or taking a relaxing bath.
Try these three things to help prioritize and schedule your time, set goals, and quit procrastinating:
- Pay complete attention to something you usually do on autopilot. Perhaps brushing your teeth, folding laundry, eating, or performing your morning routine. Get a clearer understanding of how long it takes and why. You might find that you’re spending more time on a task than you need to.
- Cut the time wasters. These could be activities or people which do not bring anything positive to your life. If you’re not getting anything out of it, quit doing it.
- Ask for help! Yes, there is always more time, but there is only 24 hours in a day. If your day is going to take you 25 hours, ask someone for help. A partner, a parent, or a friend might be so willing to lend a hand. This goes for work as well. If you are finding it difficult to get everything done that you need to it might be time to talk with your employer or delegate a task or two.
So many people pride themselves on helping others, but I’ve found that so many of these people help others at the expense of their own well being. Ask yourself, how can you take care of others if you cannot take care of yourself?
Learning to assert yourself is a tremendously important skill. If you ask my family and friends they would probably tell you that I already have this quality on lock-down. But actually I, too, find it difficult to say no sometimes. When people reach out to us for help, the human in us instinctively wants to help. But you cannot help others if you cannot first help yourself. So if you don’t have the time, if you don’t have the patience, or you just don’t want to do whatever it is, summon your inner assertive self and say no.
Reduce Unnecessary Stress
As I’ve already said, stress is a constant part of our lives and that will never change. Thankfully. But sometimes stress can get the better of us and turn us into a cranky, emotional mess. So it is so important that we learn how to relax and develop anti-stress techniques.
Here are a few easy and, might I say, enjoyable options.
- Pat your pet. If you don’t have one, go to the park and find one. (Ask first!) It can be so soothing to pet an animal.
- Go outside. You’re probably expecting me to say, “And go for a walk,” but just a few minutes of sun can help relax you. (Use sunscreen if appropriate.)
- Take a quick nap. Ten to twenty minutes is perfect. If you’re the type to nap for 2 to 3 hours, you might want to set an alarm to keep from feeling like absolute garbage afterward.
If you know me really well, you’ve probably witnessed me go on a rant about something-or-other that’s been frustrating me. (If you don’t know me really well, just ask my mother.) I blame my red hair and literally thin skin for my propensity to show off my temper. (Coincidentally, I can also blame my red hair on my mother…)
When we get feeling like this (stressed and overburdened), we can start living on autopilot. We go through the motions, completing the same tasks over and over again without recognizing the joy around us and how much time we could get back.
I’ve adopted a few techniques recently to bring me back to living in the moment. Here they are:
- Start a gratitude list. Document all the great things you are thankful for. Write them down first thing in the morning and/or right before you go to bed at night.
- Recognize the journey and not just your current position in it. What I mean is, recognize that you are in the process of achieving your goals and that you will get there eventually. Don’t just dwell on the fact that you haven’t reached them yet. For example, instead of saying, “I’m trying to lose weight,” say, “I am losing weight.”
- Find balance. A friend recently told me about an exercise he used to do in hockey. You are in the middle of a hockey rink with your teammates in 4 corners. Each of those teammates is a life priority. When you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, chances are that those 4 priorities are out of balance. Try drawing it out and naming your 4 priorities. The next time you’re feeling stressed, look back at that piece of paper and examine what you might be focussing on too much, and what part of your life you’ve been neglecting.
Get Good Sleep
As a human being you have any number of daily tasks to complete. But I have a secret for you, you cannot complete those tasks without getting a good night’s sleep. And I don’t mean a long sleep. 8 hours means nothing if you’re tossing and turning for 4 of those hours. It’s important that you get a good, solid, deep sleep, which could be interrupted by any number of things.
Here’s a few ideas for how to improve your sleep routine and get more of the good stuff:
- Create a deliberate habit. For example, as the sun goes down turn off all the bright lights in your home. By dimming lights your body will start to recognize that sleep is coming and start winding down, and when it’s actually time to sleep, you’ll be ready.
- Unplug for an hour. I actually plug-in an hour before bed. And by that I mean I put my phone on the charger in my office, far away from my bed. Getting this screen-free time is essential in for me to get a good solid sleep. If I don’t, I feel like I’m dragging myself when I wake up the next morning.
- Practice a little self-soothing. I do this by moisturizing, and especially paying close attention to my feet. Right before I tuck myself in at night I get a handful of moisturizer, lay down, in the dark, and massage my feet and ankles.
Yes, life is tough, but you’re tougher. And with great self care strategies in your back pocket you might be quite near invincible. Consistent exercise and a good diet will help keep you healthy. Realistic time management will keep you sane. Stress reduction techniques will help keep you calm. And good sleep will help you tackle tomorrow.