Most of us spend our lives doing things for others.
If we’re parents, we spend a great deal of time doing things for our kiddos. If we’re professionals, non-professionals, or in any way employed we spend countless hours working for our employers. If married, we may spend a lot of time doing things for our spouse. It’s a great thing to spend time taking care of these other people in our lives, but as I mentioned in this article, self-care takes a hike when we are so driven to care for others.
Here are 11 things you can start doing for yourself immediately that invoke better self-care practices. When we are our best selves, we can take the best care of others.
1. Smile more
According to Psychology Today, smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. Every time you smile, your happiness is boosted by a shot of endorphins. Use a silly picture as your phone’s wallpaper (the one I have right now is of my cat at the apex of a yawn, and when I have placed my phone next to me and sat down in meetings it has sometimes caused the person next to me who can see my phone busts up laughing), read a favorite comic strip every day (you can find many of them online), keep pictures of your kids making goofy faces on your desk (or desktop). Whatever it takes, but get smiling!
2. Laugh more
Think of laughing as taking smiling up a notch. Laughter gets even more endorphins going and is helped out by often being situational, so you can reference that incident later and get another laugh out of it.
3. Go Outside
Remember Outside? It’s where all that fresh air and sunshine and flowers and bees and bike trails and walking paths are? Whether you’re in the middle of the city or in the middle of a nature preserve, getting outside is good for you. It’s therapeutic and some studies suggest can actually make you healthier. I get outside all of the time, but I live in a place where it is practically the state sport: getting outside. I do a lot of cycling and rock climbing. Both of those involve a considerable amount of concentration and give me time to meditate and really get in touch with nature.
4. Honor your feelings
“Honor your feelings, there is nothing to do” is a Native American proverb, but it speaks well to us today. Pay attention to your feelings. Give them the respect they deserve. If you need to cry or laugh or scream to honor them, do that. Once you honor your feelings, there is nothing else to do but move on with your life, as you have taken care of a very important part of your life.
5. Be grateful
If you are reading this article, you have a lot to be grateful for. You have an Internet connection or access to one, which means you probably also have food, clean water and shelter. That puts you at the top of the world population in terms of having stuff you need to survive. You don’t have to do anything to be grateful, but you can. Making a gratitude list every day is something my friends swear by, and I’ve been known to write one here and there when I am just feeling sour.
6. Prioritize self-love
Make sure you’re taking care of yourself in ways that are meaningful to you. Go get a facial, sleep in one morning, eat some high-quality chocolate…and these are only suggestions. When I really need to take care of me I put on my best kit and do a 20+ mile bike ride. I know that probably sounds miserable to many other people out there but that is my best means of taking care of me, and I love it.
7. Set boundaries and stick to them
As important as socializing and having a good time is, that’s also one of the times when it’s likely your boundaries will be crossed -someone will make an extremely offensive racist or sexist comment, you’ll get called out for something, etc. It’s really valuable to stick to your boundaries. You can let the other party know how it makes you feel, you can tell them you don’t care for their comment, you can let them know you don’t care about what they think of you, so they can jog on, or you can simply leave. Set your boundaries and stick to them.
8. Stay out of toxic situations
While most people in our life love us to death, some don’t, and when those people come together they create a toxic situation for you. If you sense a toxic squall brewing, all you have to do is walk away. Go somewhere else or find another group of people to talk to or whatever you’d like. I was at a concert with my boyfriend and another friend once and I was outside getting some air and they were inside dancing to the music and these two guys on bath salts or some crazy weird drugs AND drinking came up to me and started “flirting”. They had to go away for a minute to get another drink and I sized up the rest of the people outside -I really didn’t want to go back in yet; it was HOT in there- and found a few guys talking who looked like they were at least mostly sober (still, they were total strangers). I walked up and said, “hi can I ask you guys a favor? Can I just join your conversation and you act like you’ve known me forever? There are these two dudes who keep pursuing me.” And OF COURSE they let me into their little group and one of them escorted me back to my boyfriend on the dance floor when we all went back inside. Toxic situation avoided.
9. Stay in the present
Being present is helpful for so many reasons, they are almost impossible to list. Mostly, though, it gives you a healthy perspective and a good way to look at your life. You only have this moment, how do you choose to spend it? You only have today, how do you choose to enjoy it? “One Day At A Time” is an Alcoholics Anonymous slogan but I think it’s also pretty good advice for life.
10. Slow Down
Take some deep breaths. Take it easy. Relax. Rush hour traffic isn’t going to get any better by you balling up your fist and screaming at people. Those people are still going to do whatever they are doing that’s infuriating you, but you have a choice about how you respond. So chill out. Stop worrying about it. Just slow down and relax.
Remember how we all learned this in kindergarten, “sharing is caring”. It didn’t stop in kindergarten; in fact, it would do more adults well to remember this little rule. Share your gifts and your blessings with people you love…and people you don’t. It’s not like you get bonus points for giving your dinner leftovers to a homeless person rather than bring it home to your wife, but the homeless person probably needs it more. If what you have is time, volunteer somewhere. Help others in your community who are less fortunate.
One quick pro tip: a lot of these ideas, in fact all of them, can be helped by adding meditation to your lives. To all of you who are saying “I’m no good at it/I tried and just couldn’t keep my mind on my breath/I don’t get it”, that’s great. That’s wonderful, that means you have tried it. Now try it again. And again and again and again. Sometimes, you will think for the whole time…whether that is five minutes or an hour. Sometimes, you will spend more time focusing on breath. And I promise you, even the Dalai Lama has days when he just can’t stop thinking while he meditates. Meditation isn’t something you ever win, or accomplish something, so don’t have any expectations. It only gets better if you practice regularly…which is why it is called a practice. You can find some pointers here.