May is Mental Health Awareness month! This month, we focus special attention on raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental health. That includes promoting self-care that creates healthy minds and hearts. But what is self-care, really?
Raise your hand if you’ve ever flopped down in front of the TV, binged on Netflix for six hours straight, and called it #selfcare?
Ok, so if you’ve never counted couch time as taking care of yourself, you probably don’t really need this article. But if you’re a Netflix “self-care” aficionado, let’s talk about what self-care really looks like.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is, literally, taking care of yourself. You do it every day by feeding and clothing your body, going to bed at night, and wearing your seatbelt in a moving vehicle. You also do it by attending to your mental, emotional, and social needs.
Self-care is how we restore the energy we spend managing life. Ideally, it is part of our daily life rather than a backburner item we only remember when we’re approaching total burnout. Caring for our Self is an ongoing, proactive process that helps us be our best.
What does Self-Care do?
Self-care should be active, restorative, and enjoyable. It should be something you enjoy and look forward to. And it should be what feels that way for you – not just what works for your mom, your best friend, or your neighbor three doors down. If you’re unsure where to start, here are a few guidelines to focus your self-care energy. I even made you an acrostic just for fun! (You’re welcome)
Have you ever felt like you lost touch with yourself? Like it’s been so long since you did something you were passionate about, that a piece of you went off in a corner somewhere and died? If you’ve felt this way, you’re not alone. Unless we make a conscious effort otherwise, it is easy to lose sight of our own hearts in the hustle and bustle of the day.
Self-care is an act of connection. That connection does not have to be with other people, but self-care should connect you to yourself. That’s why passively binging on reality TV is not really caring for yourself – it’s dissociating from the world. What makes you feel connected to your deepest Self?
Why is it, after 8 hours of sitting on our butts at school or work, we so often flop down on the couch as soon as we get home? We equate mental exhaustion with physical exhaustion, and tend to respond to both by sitting. While rest is important and necessary, sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by making a beeline for the couch when we get home.
Self-care is an active process. Actual, physical activity is often a great way to incorporate self-care into your day. You don’t have to run a marathon, but getting into your body can be a great way to shake off mental fatigue and recharge your batteries. What do you enjoy doing that gets your body moving?
Have you ever felt like you were about one socialization away from losing your mind and going bananas on the next person to breathe in your direction? Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed, we just want to withdraw from the world and ignore everyone. And for introverts, some alone time is super important to replenish the energy that socializing demands from them. But holing up in your room is not the only way to regain that lost energy.
Self-care refreshes and replenishes you. Whether you prefer to replenish your energy alone or in a group, choose activities and social opportunities that fill your fuel tanks rather than further depleting them. Take a walk in a beautiful park, either by yourself or with friends. Stop and actually smell the flowers, and notice how it feels when your blood flows more quickly and your breath deepens. What makes you feel rejuvenated?
How do you feel when you learn more about something that excites you? When you deepen your understanding of a topic you love, or learn a new skill in your favorite hobby? On the other side, have you ever felt stagnant in something that used to excite you?
Self-care is expansive. It deepens, expands, and grows you. Taking care of yourself may look like taking a class on a topic that interests you, attending a professional training, or going on a mindfulness retreat to focus deeply on your inner world. What makes you feel expansive?
As you go forward into Mental Health Awareness month, how will you care for yourself? I’d love to hear about what works for you!