“Self care” was my word of the year in 2018. It was then that I learned what self care meant to me, and how important the practice is to my own mental health and overall wellbeing.
Since practicing self care that year and experiencing its results firsthand, I’ve made self care a priority in our busy, fast-paced, and efficiency-minded world.
If, like me, you find yourself struggling to stay grounded, consider these tips for making yourself a priority.
Self Care Practice of Saying “No”
For years, I’ve struggled to say “no”—to friends, to family, to employers—which resulted in a cycle of taking on too much, getting overwhelmed, and burning out.
As a full-time faculty member, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, aunt, wife, and dog mom, there’s enough to keep me busy without taking on additional time-consuming tasks or emotional labor.
At work, I’m often asked to accept other responsibilities, such as committee work, course development, and conference attendance. While many of these may assist my own professional development, there’s a point at which all the “extra stuff” takes away from my primary jobs of serving students and caring for myself.
Spreading yourself too thin means not succeeding at any of it.
Now, to the requests that aren’t mandatory (or strongly encouraged), I respectfully decline. Not due to laziness, unwillingness, or poor work ethic, but as an act of self-preservation. Opportunities to serve will always exist, and they can be … in the future, likely with more ….
In the pursuit of self-care, also consider saying “no” to extraneous drama.
It’s easy to take on others’ pain, frustrations, or sadness. In my work environment, contention and conflict could occupy every spare moment, even the scenarios that don’t directly affect me. It’s tempting to get involved, to try and solve the problem, or to let it bother me (even after hours). However, allowing my emotions to get hijacked by these distractions isn’t conducive to my self-care.
As such, it’s helpful to draw a line. To acknowledge when the burden isn’t ours to carry. Our “brain space”—as I call it—is occupied enough without taking on everyone else’s emotional cargo.
Saying “no” when I’m at max capacity is something I’m still working on; it’s a tough habit to break. But the benefit of lightening your load is worth it.
Self Care Practice of Starting Fresh
At a low point in a previous semester, I reached out to Facebook friends for advice on handling stress. A friend named Lisa, who works in a similar environment, shared that she takes a bath each evening—not simply for relaxation or alone time, but because of the symbolic act of “washing off the day.”
She wasn’t wrong!
Hot water, Epsom salt, and essential oils can work wonders for the body and the mind. Lighting a candle, especially one scented with eucalyptus or lavender, can help facilitate a relaxing environment. Along with literally shedding toxins, this practice can help shed toxic thoughts as well.
Let go of negativity. Let it drain along with the bath water.
By washing off the day, one is able to sleep more soundly and start fresh the next morning. Clean skin and a clear mind, along with fresh bedding and a good night’s sleep, should not be underestimated.
Self Care Practice of Slowing Down
I feel guilty for sitting on the couch.
There, I said it!
We’ve been conditioned to think that “not doing anything” is a sin against productivity. However, it’s been proven time and again that rest and mindless entertainment actually increase the likelihood of accomplishing tasks and doing them well.
Your downtime is yours; how to you want to spend it?
I allow myself to binge-watch Netflix, to read a book, to do some creative writing, or to sit in silence if that’s what’s needed. If spending money is an option, I’ll indulge in a pedicure, massage, or skin care treatment.
We all have our “things”: those services or products that make us pampered or refreshed. Find yours, and do that.
Resting is doing something, something important; it’s what the mind and body actually need.
Self Care Practice of Simplifying
Clutter ramps up my anxiety, making it hard to focus on urgent work that should take precedence over tidying house.
As a result, I recently spent time cleaning out my closets: getting back to staple pieces that I know I’m going to wear—and wear more than once. Doing so results in less laundry, less frustration in the morning when I can’t find the item(s) I’m looking for, and less time putting together outfits that match. Likewise, I discard clothing items that no longer fit. On a hectic morning, it’s discouraging to try on one pair of pants after another, only to discover they’ve gotten too small!
For teaching purposes, I’m committed to wearing what feels comfortable, as long as my wardrobe meets our dress code. While heels may make the more fashionable choice, they don’t work well when it comes to standing in the classroom for long periods of time or to walking from one end of our campus to the other.
Establishing an optimal learning environment starts with me. If I’m focused, clear-headed, and comfortable, my students are more likely to mirror that behavior.
Self Care Practice of Signing Off
At the end of the day, we must advocate for our own well-being. No one else is going to do it for us.
We owe it to ourselves to re-center and recharge through the practice of self-care, whatever form that might take.
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