Establishing a self-care practice
Life is always getting busy and it is easy to overlook prioritising things that nurture and support us as we scramble to keep up with the things to do list. Too often those self-care practices that are essential for keeping us performing at our best slip to the bottom of the list. Or worse, they fall off the list altogether as guilt at doing things for ourselves takes the driver’s seat in our brains.
The more this happens the more run down we become. Every time we pour from our own jug without taking time to refill it, the less we have to give and soon the jug is empty. Paradoxically, pouring from an overflowing jug allows us to offer more to those around us.
Eleanor Brownn summed it up perfectly when she said “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
There are many benefits that come from building a sustainable self-care practice. From preventing burnout, increasing productivity to boosting our self-confidence and fighting off illness, there are lots of reasons to introduce more nurturing activities into your life.
Five self-care practices
Not sure where to start? Here are five examples of self-care practices to try.
1. Keep a journal
“A pen coupled with paper can serve as a powerful life tool.” Maud Purcell, The Health benefits of Journaling.
Journaling has a long history and is by no means a modern invention. There is evidence of journals being kept are far back as the 10th century in Japan.
All you need to get started is a pen or pencil, and some paper…or if you prefer a smartphone and your fingers!
Keeping a regular journal can help us process our feelings and thoughts, and make sense of the world around us. It can also improve our immunity and ability to fight off disease. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas has conducted research that suggests journaling can strengthen immune cells called T-lymphocytes. He believes that journaling helps us process stressful events, helping us to manage our stress levels better and in turn reducing the impact on our bodies and internal stress responders.
2. Create a gratitude practice
Cultivating a gratitude practice helps you come into the here and now. We can be grateful for all sorts of things like the air we breathe, the water that washes our skin and hair, the coffee that smells so good and wakes us up in the morning to the cacao that allows us to connect deeper and deeper to our heart chakra.
I like to start and end the day by thinking of three things I am grateful for. Before I even open my eyes in the morning I consider what I am grateful for as I look to begin my day. At night as I snuggle back under the doona I focus on thinking about three things that occurred during the day that I made me thankful. I find the trick to making it meaningful and to avoid it getting repetitive is to make an effort to think of different things each time (though I’ll be honest and admit my dogs feature heavily on the list in some form or other!)
I don’t write them down. I just do it in my mind. Of course you can jot your thoughts down if you prefer. Many people like to keep a gratitude list. You also might like to keep a gratitude journal like the one here.
Many studies have shown that a regular gratitude practice can increase our happiness but did you know that it can also help decrease inflammation in our bodies?
In a white paper titled, “The Science of Gratitude” (2018) The Greater Good Science Centre found that individuals reported greater satisfaction with life, enjoyed better sleep and had lower levels of cellular inflammation. They also found individuals demonstrated greater resilience and better overall physical health.
3. Have a one person dance party
Love dancing but have no-where to go or no-one to go with? No problem. Pop on a favourite tune and spend a few minutes dancing around your lounge or bedroom.
Dancing is shown to have many benefits, both to our body and our mind. When you dance to music it is scientifically proven to increase those benefits.
As Beverly Mez says in the Harvard Medical School blog “…by incorporating music, dance may have benefits beyond those of exercise alone. Music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits.”
4. Volunteer at a local charity or not for profit
Studies show that volunteering can help you feel more socially connected, helping to reduce loneliness and depression.
However, it is not just your mental health that benefits from volunteering. A published study by Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop high blood pressure amongst other benefits.
Volunteering and helping those less fortunate than ourselves is also a good way to regain perspective and remind ourselves what we have to be grateful for in our lives.
5. Smudge your home or work space
For centuries people have been smudging to purify and cleanse both people and places of negative energy. It isn’t just a load of woo woo either; there’s now science to back it up.
Back in the 1930s Dr Clarence Hansell studied the effects of negative ions. He noticed that the mood of his colleagues was markedly happier when near machinery creating negative ions and more sullen when they were close to machinery emitting positive ions. His findings have been validated in later studies, and additional benefits identified, including a decreased incidence of headaches.
So what has this to do with smudging? Smudging has been shown to change the charge in the air from positive to negative ions, which based on Dr Hansell’s studies will promote feeling of joy, and reduce negative emotions, along with promoting other health benefits.
Smudging has also been shown to clear the air of 94% of harmful bacteria for up to 24 hours, and in some cases eradicate certain types of bacteria for even longer! The authors of research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2007 reported that a very large list of pathogenic bacteria was shown to be absent in an open room 30 days following treatment.
Herbalists have also long sung smudge’s praises, promoting its ability to increase alertness, improved memory and calmness. These claims have been backed up by researchers in UK, who evaluated Spanish sage. Their research confirmed consistent improvements in cognitive performance and enhanced mood.
How to build in more self-care
Start small. One of the most common reasons we fail to make sustainable change is trying to achieve too much, too quickly. Pick one or two small things to try and focus on weaving them into your life over a period of time.
It could be incorporating some breathing exercises into your day, or setting aside an evening where you run yourself a warm bath and take some time to soak while you read a book (or kindle!). Perhaps you will aim to walk around the block three lunchtimes a week or cook a new healthy recipe each weekend.
Whatever it is, it needs to be something that makes you feel good, works with your lifestyle and resonates with you. We are all different, living unique lives, so what works for one person won’t necessary work for someone else. And that’s ok.
Reflect on what you need in your life. Be honest and take a hard look at what does not serve you and what would you need to feel more balanced, happier and healthier. What can you do to make the changes? What practices will help you on your way?
You might find recruiting a friend for some of your self-care practices helps you stick to your practice. Perhaps you have a local friend or work colleague whose company you enjoy that can accompany you on your lunchtime walks around the block, or a family member who likes to practice yoga with you on a Saturday morning.
Having a partner in crime (or self-care!) can be a good way of motivating you to sticking to prioritising your self-care. By making a commitment to someone else you are often more likely to see it through and not cancel it out of your diary.
That leads me to another tip for creating a sustainable self-care practice. Try scheduling time in your diary, just like you would a work meeting, a doctor’s appointment or a soccer practice for the kids. By mindfully considering when you will build in some time for yourself there is a greater chance it will happen. The trick, of course, is not to let it get booked over and honouring the time you have carved out.
When you are trying new things remember to give them some time. When I first tried to meditate it was a train wreck. I finished up feeling more stressed and frustrated. However over time I found it easier, little by little, and even after a meditating for a few minutes a few times a week I soon found I could feel the benefits.
I hope by reading this blog I inspire you to prioritise time to nurture yourself and look at weaving in more time for self-care practices into your life. With so many physical, mental and emotional benefits to practising self-care you don’t ever need to feel guilty for making time for it. After all, a healthier, happier you is not only good for you but those around you too!