In today’s society, we follow a hectic, often draining, fast paced way of living. Whether we’re working long hours, caring for loved ones, or just walking the dog, it’s easy for us to forget to take a moment for ourselves. Some days, even the thought of setting aside five minutes to breathe seems daunting, but it’s something we must learn to do. When we fail to set aside time for ourselves, it’s easy to fall into a rut or accumulate unhealthy stress levels that will eventually cause friction in all areas of our lives. While I’m guilty of allowing my self-care routine to fall to the wayside more often than not, I try my hardest to implement positive practices into my daily schedule to keep myself grounded. If you’re not sure where to start with your own self-care routine, I’d like to share some of my own to get you started.
1) Keep A Journal
Some of you might roll your eyes at the thought of journaling (I know I used to), but it’s actually a very calming process of gathering your thoughts or letting go of pent-up emotions. Essentially, a journal is your very own silent counselor. You can write down anything you want and explain exactly how you feel without fear of any negative feedback. And, while it is good practice to speak to a trusted person about what is going on in your head and in your life, it’s also good practice to spend time sorting things out with yourself. Getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper not only provides a positive outlet, but allows you to look at what might be weighing you down from a different perspective.
You don’t have to journal every day for it to be effective. I try to journal every other day for about five or ten minutes. Carrying the journal with you or placing it next to your bed provides a great reminder for you to stop and reflect on the day.
2) Exercise Regularly
I know exercise isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you don’t have to be a fitness nut for exercise to benefit your mind and body. Exercise consists of anything from yoga to dancing to walking to lifting weights. You just have to find what works best for you. Personally, I love to lift weights and to go outside for a run. There’s something calming about putting all of my worries aside to devote an hour to the comfort of lifting a steel bar or the steady rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement. Someone once told me that a strong body promotes a strong mind, and I’ve never had reason to doubt them.
If you don’t have time to go to the gym, that’s okay. I suggest walking to work when then weather is nice (granted you live within close walking distance) or trying some light yoga before bedtime. The focus really isn’t on physique or even weight loss, which is what so many associate exercise with, but on how it can bring some healthy balance to your life.
3) Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. Many of us are familiar with the act of being mindful of others, but we often forget to be mindful of ourselves. While mindfulness has become a more “mainstream” practice, with plenty of books being written on the subject, I think many of these miss the true importance of the practice. When I think of mindfulness, I think of taking a few moments throughout the day to assess how I’m feeling on the inside. During this time, I can pinpoint what has me feeling down or to pinpoint areas in which I’m not excelling in, be it work or how I treat others. By taking a clear look at all of these areas, I can make a plan on how to address each issue and to find a solution.
Mindfulness, in my opinion, is best practiced alone over a cup of coffee (though I’m biased due to my love of caffeine). Alone time is incredibly important, even if you can only get it in the shower or in the car on the way to work. You don’t need to sit and meditate for an hour or follow a ten-step breathing program. You just need a quiet place where you can take an honest look at the day or the week and evaluate how things are going. You’d be surprised how helpful it can be.
4) Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries can easily be one of the hardest things to do, as we often don’t realize our need for them. And, believe it or not, boundaries can be applied to both people and things. If you find yourself spending too much time in the company of toxic people (i.e. those that belittle you, treat your concerns as invalid, etc.), either cut them off or discuss how to bring some positive elements to the relationship. If we allow negative interactions to consume our routine, then we waste the day being stuck in a downward spiral. Once on that spiral, we risk the balance of our mental health to be compromised by picking up the bad habits of others. Instead, we should seek the company of people who are positive and encouraging. I’m aware that life isn’t always butterflies and rainbows, but having more people around who will lift you up when you’re down makes all the difference. Allowing an overflow of toxicity will, in turn, have the opposite effect.
As for things, well, that means any distraction from Facebook to our cellphones. That social media rabbit hole is easy to get sucked into, but you’d be surprised how much your mood will change after you log off for a while. The same goes for your phone. Turn it off and put it away for a while. Find something to do that engages you outside of the virtual spectrum. Read a book. Take yourself on a date. Get up and get out of your house. Make plans with a loved one. Whatever you do, make sure it gives back to your mental health in a positive way.