Got Self-Care?

So I have to admit, when I first heard the term “Self-Care”, I didn’t know exactly what that meant.   I was intrigued, but a bit confused.  Self-Care?  Is that like the basics- food, shelter, water, and basic hygiene?  Grooming?  Health-related?  When I heard women I admired talking about Self-Care and its importance, it sounded great.  But it took some time for me to really GET what it’s all about.

In my practice working with women dealing with a variety of health challenges, I noticed some pretty obvious repeating patterns.  Women putting themselves last on the list of priorities, if they even made the list at all.  Caring for everyone else only to find themselves tired, stressed, and depleted without any time or energy to take care of themselves.  And usually, by the time they got to me, it was affecting their physical health big time.

Talking to friends and family, and even looking at my own life, I could see how hard it is for women to work Self-Care into their day-to-day.  Not only are we often feeling squeezed for time and energy as it is, but there is also this “guilt-factor”- feeling really uncomfortable doing something nice for ourselves when we feel it’s somehow unjustified or worse, undeserved.

Well, I’m here to bust that myth wide open.

When it comes to Self-Care, which I define as any activity or experience designed to nurture or promote health and well-being, what I have found is that it is not at all a luxury, but rather a REQUIREMENT.  Just as important as any other universally recognized lifestyle factor aimed at supporting healthy physiology, like healthful eating, movement, or restful sleep, Self-Care is just as vital when it comes to living a health-promoting lifestyle.  And maybe even more-so.

How could this be, you may ask?  Well, part of it is that when we are actively incorporating Self-Care strategies into our day-to-day, we feel better.  That’s right, bringing in more fun, enjoyment, and pleasure makes us feel good.  And when we feel good, we naturally gravitate towards other behaviors that promote health, like eating healthful foods or moving our bodies more.  We feel less stressed.  Happier.  Better.

In fact, stress management techniques, from deep breathing to meditation to guided relaxation, all “count” as forms of Self-Care.  So do things like healthful eating and moving our bodies, by the way.  But there are also many, many other forms of Self-Care.  Things like massage, reading for pleasure, walking or even simply being out in nature, and connecting with loved ones.  Engaging in something creative- a music or art class perhaps.  Or having a spontaneous dance party to a really good iPod mix or even something on the radio- I’m dating myself, I know☺

One of the beautiful things about Self-Care is that there is A LOT of flexibility- you can “play” with different options and see what works for you.  As long as it is something that helps you feel better, replenished, or recharged, it is fulfilling its purpose.

But the most important element with Self-Care is to begin. Today.  Even if 3 minutes is the very most you can commit to.  Take those 3 minutes and do some deep breathing as you focus on your breath, or have a spontaneous dance party, or just go into your backyard and listen to the birds, feel the breeze against your skin, feel the ground beneath your feet, and allow yourself the experience that in this moment, everything is just fine.

Remember, this is no longer a luxury, but a REQUIREMENT.  For optimal health, it is an absolute MUST to take some time out to care for ourselves, rest, relax, recharge, and replenish. And if you feel you deserve to be healthy, then by default you deserve to incorporate Self-Care daily.

It’s like that airline spiel at the start of every flight- “in the event of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first, then assist others.”  The better we take care of ourselves, the better we can take care of others, and the happier and healthier we will be.  And with that, everyone wins.

To Your Best Health!