Self Care is Not Selfish
I can tell you with all honesty that self care was not at the top of my list just a few years ago. I focused on work and paying the bills and could care less about nutrition or exercise. I ate when I was hungry and was not thinking about how terrible those Wendy’s sandwiches and fries were for me. Nor would I block out some time during my day to workout at home or hit the gym.
In the last two years, I have started taking note of my health and wellbeing. Working two jobs for over 6 years now has taken its toll on my physical and mental health. I think back to when I first moved to Rapid City and was working 60-65 hours a week and think, “How the hell did I get through it?”. I honestly cannot tell you other than I was 22 years old, recently divorced, and worked my butt off to avoid dealing with my emotions.
Reading about the high obesity rate in the U.S., as well as hearing about friends and family going through heart issues or heart surgery, I decided to start focusing on me, myself, and I. Heart health is a concern in my family so I knew I was already at risk. I also knew if I kept going the way I did, I would have serious health issues in my future that would affect my family and friends. Not to mention as well as sky-high medical bills that my wallet would not favor.
Think about self care this way: without your health, you cannot live...period. Not getting enough sleep increases your stress, causes weight gain, and limits your mental faculties. Eating greasy fast food all the time can affect your brain function and gut health, throwing your whole body out of whack. If you eat like crap, you feel like crap. If your health starts to decline, your ability to work can be affected and even relationships with friends and loved ones.
If someone tells you that self care is selfish, you have my blessing to stick your tongue out at them, or better yet, give them the middle finger. Your health is everything! It is not selfish to put yourself first when it comes to physical and mental health. It is you take control of your life and well being.
If I do not take care of myself, I cannot take care of my home, my pets, my family, my coworkers, my career...anything! I need to be healthy in order to work so I can pay bills and take that annual vacation. I need my mental health at top notch to keep my anxiety in check and fight off the “Depression Reaper”.
I am going to give you some homework that is so easy I will even give you the answers. Carve out 30-60 per day to focus on self care….that’s it. Take your Google Calendar or iCal app and block out some time each day for you. Below are some ideas to get you started.
Move Your Body
A great way to relieve stress it to shake that thang! Schedule time in your day for at least 30-45 minutes of physical activity, be it a walk, hitting the gym, swimming, or dancing. Find something you enjoy and are willing to add to your daily routine.
One Task At A Time
Avoid multitasking by writing a to-do list (bonus points for doing this the night before) and prioritize each task based on importance. I would suggest focusing on three tasks per day. Get the hardest task done first to set yourself up for a successful day. Too many tasks can lead to burnout, which does affect heart health over time.
Water, Water, Water
Make sure to keep a water bottle close to you while at work. Take a sip every 15 minutes. The human body is made up of about 60% water and needs at least a half a gallon, or eight 8-ounces of water per day. Buy a bottle that holds one liter of water and drink one full bottle in the morning, one in the afternoon.
Meditation and Journaling
I myself am new to meditation but I have noticed that taking 5-10 minutes of sitting in silence allows me to scan my body and organize my messy brain after a long day at work. I can bring myself back to the present and let my mind relax. I have been journaling since I was at least 5-years-old. Obviously my style has changed since that age but today it allows me to organize my thoughts and release any emotions I have on paper.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of their life indoors: 87% of their life is indoors, then another 6% of their life in cars. That’s only 7% of your entire life outdoors...yikes! My suggestion is to take 10 minutes of your lunch break and stroll around your office building. Brown bag it for a day or two and go to the park. If the weather is blistering cold, sit by a window and enjoy that natural light. You will be amazed at how quickly your attitude can shift after enjoying nature.
Take a Life Break
Whether you get up early or take time before going to bed, spend 30-60 minutes reading, drawing, writing, playing an instrument...anything that will bring you joy. Bring yourself back to the present moment. Sipping coffee while watching your dog play outside is just as good. Just chill.
Studies show that pet owners have less stress and are more physically active than non-pet owners. If you cannot have a pet, volunteer at your local animal shelter for a few hours a week. You could even volunteer to pet sit or walk your neighbor’s dog. Unconditional love from a pet is all you need.
7 Hours in Heaven
By the time you are 18, you should be getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep means you cannot give your best effort the next day and can lead to weight gain, stress and burnout. Make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day to keep your body’s internal clock functioning properly. As my mom once put it, “Sleeping is an art”. Laugh
Even if you do not take away anything from my list here, do one thing each day for me...laugh. Go home, put on your favorite stand up comedian or pull the funniest movie from you DVD (yes, I still have mine)/streaming collection and laugh. Laughter decreases stress hormones while increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals. So obviously, laughter is healthy for you so do it as much as you can!
I could go on with a few more ideas but I feel the list above hits a lot of areas of mental and physical health. You may not be able to control some aspects of your life, but you can take control of your health and well being. Taking time for yourself to regenerate, exercise and mediate allows you to be there for your friends, your family, your job, and most importantly, your dreams. Limiting self care only limits yourself.