Self-care is critical for a healthy life. Because we can’t meet others’ needs if our own go unheeded. Because to lead by example for our families, for our workplaces, for our communities, we have to show what a healthy life looks like. Because self-care is not a reward, it’s the basic fuel that keeps the whole show running.
But how to put a self-care routine into action and keep it running? A certain amount of self-discipline is also required, especially in the early stages, before habits are set. Diet, exercise and sleep are the most important elements of self-care. Your body cannot meet the demands you make on it without the basic fuel and maintenance it requires. Set meal times, with nothing else going on are almost as important as what you eat. Put the food on a plate and sit at the table to eat it. Three times a day. Your digestion will work better, you will be less fatigued and you will be able to accomplish more during the hours set aside for work.
Get outside as often as possible, especially early in the morning. Morning light is a critical component of setting healthy diurnal rhythms, and keeping energy levels high. Walk when you can, and set aside time for exercise on a regular basis.
Many therapists and other health care providers claim that good sleep patterns are the most important element of health and healing. If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, place some priority on figuring out what is causing the problem and what helps to alleviate it. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your health.
The next step is to move from basic maintenance to building a life based on your true values. This is the point where the “self-care industry” steps in with a multitude of products you can buy that are supposed to help you care for yourself. Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a psychiatrist specializing in women’s health, has recently published a book: Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included). Interviewed in the New York Times, she cautions that people (not only women) may jump on the bandwagon of purchasing a new product that is supposed to reduce stress, improve concentration or whatever, and find themselves following a path of consumerism that is not improving their lives.
Reflect on your values
She suggests that before initiating a self-care program of any kind it is best to pause and consider what you really want to see in your life before trying to buy it. She describes patients who sign up for classes, maybe yoga or meditation, that are supposed to be a self-care routing, but the class itself becomes another source of stress, something you have to cross off your to-do list, or compete with other class members for mastery. “But rethinking how you take care of yourself can slowly transform your quality of life,” she says.
Self-care is not a fad, or a product. Self-care is how you orient yourself in the world, building a strong foundation on which you can become a provider, carer, or whoever you want to be. Don’t be distracted by rewards and punishments, focus on who you are and who you want to be.