Self care is active participation in enhancing the quality of your health. Some people may think that nurturing the self is only for the fragile, the weak-willed, or the slacker–it certainly couldn’t be for strong, ambitious college men and women. However, it is a vital part of maintaining good health and a vibrant life. It’s not just an occasional manicure, “chilling out” or a six-pack. Building up a repertoire of reliable self care habits now can affect your quality of life both now and in the future.
If self care is not a manicure, then what is it? Self care is an approach to living that incorporates behaviors that refresh you, replenish your personal motivation, and help you grow as a person. It’s the equivalent of keeping your car filled with gas so that you are ready to motor any time. When adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it. Relaxation techniques provide a wonderfully calming feeling that lasts. Both your energy level and your ability to cope with the external world are renewed when you balance productive time and restorative time. Healthy sleep patterns improve retention of the material you study and enhance your overall mental and physical health. Healthy eating helps maintain a healthy body weight as well as improve energy, concentration, and academic success.
Three Components of Self Care
Self care involves moving your body, whether you play sports, exercise, dance, stretch, or walk over to the park to feed the ducks. Feed yourself something good to eat (something that doesn’t come from the drive through. Get a massage or treat yourself to a new outfit with great texture and color. Go to the doctor when you are sick.
How would you treat a good friend who needed some TLC? Treat yourself the same way. Accept yourself and forgive yourself easily. Take every 3rd “I should” out of your vocabulary and say “no” at least once a week! Set reasonable expectations for yourself, but don’t stop working hard. The point is to challenge yourself, not break yourself. Set limits if you need them–overindulgence is not nurturing either. Develop a support system of people that you can laugh with or share a pizza with, but whom you can talk to seriously when problems arise. Choose friends who respect you and don’t expect you to do all the work to maintain your relationship. Choose a variety of things you can do for fun, whether you’re with others or alone. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, remember things you enjoyed as a child. Paint, draw, or construct something.
Develop a practice that exercises your mind and soul. Whether your routine involves prayer, meditation, or attending services, these activities build up your spirit and faith and allow you to explore yourself and identify your values and priorities. Read wisdom literature and discuss it with like-minded others in order to know yourself and the universe better. Find a way to contribute to the well being of others.
Dirty Rumors About Self Care
Isn’t it selfish to put myself first?
Some others may consider self care the territory of the self-involved. However, taking care of your needs lays in a balanced, steady place on the middle of a continuum, with intense selfishness on one end, and extreme sacrificing what you need or want for others’ sake on the other end. In fact, nurturing oneself is a key factor in being able to keep up strength, resolve, motivation and inner resources to continue to give to others, whether that be your immediate partner, family and other important people in your inner circle, or the larger community around you. You might consider that doing too much for others could deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to provide their own self care.
What if I don’t have time to take care of myself?
If you audit your time, you will likely find that some of your time could be better spent recharging your own battery. Studies show that mental acuity decreases after a short period of concentrated study. You likely need more true, breaks, that you spend relaxing recreating. Many the time management and life goal experts recommend scheduling your self care just as you would a class or job shift. How many times do you have to hear, “make a commitment to yourself” before you believe it?
My self care comes on the tube at 11:30 every night accompanied by a large pepperoni. Isn’t that enough?
That may be just the ticket for some nights, but do you have enough nurturing choices for the other nights of the week? While not discounting the value of building up your knowledge of 1950’s television trivia, the consequences of making this a nightly habit might include indigestion, sleep loss, weight gain, oversleeping in the morning, a feeling of grogginess and little energy lingering the next day. Maybe you could use something alternatives? Perhaps you could use the comfort of a cozy chat with a special person, or some quiet time with your mind engaged.
Do I have to do it alone?
No, although the best balance is achieved through a combination of time shared with others, as well as some time alone. If you’re still skeptical, experiment! Try out some self-care techniques for 30 days and compare how you felt before with how you feel after.