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If you take a look at the self-help or psychology section at your local bookstore (or on Amazon), you will find a lot of books on self-care. As psychologists, we talk a lot about self-care with our clients and students. But what is self-care? And more importantly, how do we do it?

What is Self-Care?

Self-care involves doing proactive things to take care of yourself. What does it mean to take care of yourself? Taking care of yourself involves meeting your needs. We all have needs, but sometimes these needs can go unmet in the busyness of life. When we practice self-care, we press the pause button, think about our needs, and then do something proactively to meet them.

Self-Care Looks Different for Different People

Self-care looks different for different people. For example, I have a friend who loves to relax by playing video games. Relaxing and playing video games is a form of self-care for him. I don’t like video games. Sometimes when I play them, I even get sick to my stomach. So, playing video games isn’t a good self-care activity for me. Don’t feel like you have to copy the self-care activities of another person. Get in touch with your own needs and figure out how to meet them.

Even though self-care is unique depending on the person, there are some broad areas of self-care that can be helpful to consider for almost everyone. Here are 8 areas to think about:

8 Areas of Self-Care

  1. Sleep. When our lives get busy, sleep can be one of the first things to go. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. How are you doing at getting regular sleep? What is one thing you could do to prioritize this area of self-care?
  2. Healthy food. It’s important to get enough healthy food and nutrients throughout your day. If you are skipping meals, or eating McDonalds every day, you won’t be at your best. How are you doing at getting enough healthy food throughout your day? What is one thing you could do to prioritize this area of self-care?
  3. Water. Most people don’t drink enough water. Our body needs lots of water to function at a high level. Almost all of us could cut down on the coffee and Diet Coke and increase our water intake. How are you doing at drinking enough water? What is one thing you could do to prioritize this area of self-care?
  4. Exercise. We aren’t designed to sit down all day every day. Our bodies need to move. It’s a good idea to engage in vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3 times per week. How are you doing at exercise? What is one thing you could do to prioritize this area of self-care?
  5. Friends and family. For many of us, we recharge by spending time with our friends and family. Social connections are essential to self-care. How are you doing at prioritizing time with your spouse, kids, and close friends? What is one thing you could do to prioritize this area of self-care?
  6. Leisure time. What do you like to do for fun? How do you like to relax? Maybe you’re like my friend, who enjoys video games. Maybe you like reading or watching movies. Whatever you enjoy doing, make sure you carve out some time in your schedule for relaxation. How are you doing with your leisure time? What is one thing you could do to prioritize this area of self-care?
  7. Meditation. Many people swear by the benefits of meditation. Meditation allows you to relax and focus on your breath or a calming word or phrase. Meditation enables you to be more mindful of your thoughts and feelings, and not let them dominate your experience. Might you want to try out meditation and see if it is helpful for you?
  8. Journaling. I love to write and journal. It helps me get my thoughts out of my head and on to the paper. There’s something about processing my experiences on the page that helps me make sense of them. Might you want to try journaling and see if this practice is helpful for you?

How Do We Do Self-Care?

How can we prioritize time for self-care? If you’re like most of us, your life is already maxed out. It might feel impossible to squeeze in a self-care activity to an already full schedule. Here is a 3-step process for how to implement self-care into your life:

  1. Get in touch with the benefits. The first step is to decide for yourself if you really want to prioritize self-care. Is this something you want to make a priority? One way to do this is to think about what good things might happen in your life if you were to prioritize self-care (e.g., higher levels of happiness, meaning in life, connection with others). Also, what bad things might happen in your life if you fail to prioritize self-care (e.g., increased stress, irritability, stress-related illnesses).
  2. Boundaries and limits. Often the first step to implementing self-care in your life is to think about where you need to do less. Most of our lives are so packed with activities that are extraneous to our core mission and purpose. What could you cut out of your life to make more time for self-care? Are there any activities you are doing that are timewasters? For example, could you limit the time you spend watching TV or browsing social media? Could you limit email to once per day? Is there anything in your life that you should say “no” to?
  3. Start small. When it comes to implementing self-care in your life, it’s important to start small. Pick one self-care activity from the list that you think will give you the most bang for your buck. For the next week, think about what you could do to implement this one self-care activity into your life. For example, maybe the area you identified was sleep. You could make a goal to not look at social media before bed and try to set a bedtime that would give you adequate sleep. If the first self-care activity went well, you might want to add something the following week. But move slowly. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Discussion: How are you doing at self-care? What is one self-care activity that you would like to work on this week?

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