True self-care lives in the under-appreciated, overlooked things we do every day to preserve our mental health. The extra five minutes in the shower before waking the kids, the walk around the block when the weather is cool and the sunset is to die for — that’s where the real work of self-care happens. These are the acts that help us manage stress, process emotions and stay focused on what matters instead of getting lost in the rat race.
When it comes to real self-care, these three practices are more potent than anything money can buy.
1. Taking care of your body
As NPR succinctly puts it, “Stress is bad for your health. And bad health causes a lot of stress.” If you want to avoid the toxic cycle of stress and illness, taking care of your physical health must be a priority.
You know you need to eat a balanced diet, but are you eating one that helps your gut stay balanced? It might sound like an odd approach to the way you eat, but making healthy food choices that allow the bacteria in your belly to thrive plays a huge role in your overall wellness. Incorporate probiotic-rich foods into your meals — such as pickles, kefir, and low-fat fermented cheeses — will help you get the nutrients your body craves, restore the balance of the akkermansia, lactobacillus, and bifidobacterium that live in your gut, and restore your energy level and mood.
Another habit that tends to fall by the wayside when people let their self-care habits slip is keeping up with oral care. Brushing and flossing regularly are critical not only to giving you a beautiful smile, but also warding off major illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s. Making your mouth health a priority can even help ward off or alleviate symptoms of depression, so after chowing down on healthy meals, give your teeth and gums the attention they deserve.
Finally, in addition to eating well and making exercise part of your lifestyle, it’s vital that you get quality sleep. Without proper rest, your brain and body don’t have the energy they need to deal with challenges.
2. Finding time and space to relax
Between work, family, and technology that keeps you tethered to your to-do list, it’s hard to find opportunities to relax. But if you feel like the days are rushing by and you can barely catch your breath, relaxation is what you need. Thankfully, quality downtime doesn’t have to take long: Care.com recommends six ways to relax in just a few minutes per day, like journaling and meditating. If you have a little extra time, consider practicing yoga.
3. Setting boundaries
Telling your mother-in-law she can’t stay for an entire month or saying no when your boss asks you to work unpaid overtime might not feel good in the moment, but setting boundaries is a powerful form of self-care. Trying to please everyone else leaves you overextended and stressed out. Not to mention, racing to take care of everyone else leaves you with no time or energy to care for your own needs. By setting boundaries — that is, making clear what is and isn’t acceptable to you — you preserve your values and avoid inviting unnecessary stress into your life.
You won’t find spa days on our list of the best ways to practice self-care in your life. While pampering is a great way to treat yourself, it’s not the real meaning of self-care. Rather, self-care is about the little things you do to be kind to yourself so you can live your best life — and while those things might not be as glamorous as pedicures and facial peels, they’re a lot more effective at keeping you grounded and happy.
By Brad Krause
Image via Unsplash