therapy with heart self-care

Self-Care and Why It’s Important

I feel like I’ve been focusing a lot on self-care for my clients lately. It seems that we live in a world that never stops and taking care of ourselves is coming in as a last priority. I’m guilty of this! I tend to put everyone’s needs before my own; my kids, my family, my clients, my friends.

I always ask clients what they do to take care of themselves and most of the time, clients have a difficult time identifying what they do for self-care. This seems to be a hard question to answer because of the fast-paced world we live in and all of its demands. It seems like there’s not enough time to take care of ourselves. Between work or school, home chores, family obligations, etc. there seems to be limited time to practice self-care.

Why is Self-Care Important?

Self-care is a way that we can manage stress. We experience stress everyday and without an outlet, this stress can impact our mental capacity, emotional capacity, and physical health.

Stress can lead to stomach aches, digestive problems, increased blood pressure, and can decrease immune system. Stress can lead to increased agitation, depression, and decreased motivation and energy. Stress can also lead to forgetfulness and increased distractibility.  The risks of these negative impacts increase the longer the stress occurs.

Self-care is a way to self-soothe and release some of the stress. When self-care is practiced, it allows us to have increased mental and emotional capacity to respond to others and situations in a healthy way.

{This} is a good playlist from Ted Talks that describe the importance of self-care.

What is Self-Care?

Knowing what self-care looks like is important and is different for everyone. I often have clients that are uncertain of what they can do for self-care due to time constraints, financial constraints, various responsibilities and personal preferences.

Self-care can be anything that’s a safe activity and leads to feeling happy, calm, relaxed, purposeful. Sometimes, self-care is assumed to be yoga, meditation, a fancy vacation, getting a massage, or some other grand activity. It definitely can be any of those, but it can also be something that’s simple and free.

Ideas for Self-Care

  1. Sleep (my personal favorite) – Getting enough sleep is important for overall functioning. Lacking sleep in addition to stressors can lead to increased stress and poorer functioning. This can be sleeping in, taking a nap, or going to be early. Listen to your body when it is tired!
  2. Reading a book – Pick up a favorite book or a book you’ve wanted to read and start reading. Brene Brown is a great author to read and focuses on shame, vulnerability, and being authentic.
  3. Drawing – Even if you don’t have any artistic skills, this can be a good distraction technique to focus on something other than your stress. I can’t draw a stick figure but I will doodle or trace other work.
  4. Listening to music – Turn up that music that makes you feel good! Music has a calming effect because it lowers cortisol (stress hormone). Other information can be found {here}.
  5. Exercising – {This} shows a description of different exercises and how they impact separate sections of the brain. Not only does exercise increase serotonin and dopamine (all those happy chemicals in our brain), but it also increases blood flow to the brain, allowing it to receive more oxygen and hormones.
  6. Cooking or baking – Again, this can be a distraction technique that engages your eyes, taste, touch, and smell.
  7. Spending time with friends – This can be any activity with friends or a phone call with friends. Interacting with friends brings support, laughs, and new positive memories.
  8. Deep breathing and/or relaxation techniques- I encourage clients to practice taking 6 – 10 deep breaths focusing on breathing in through the nose for 5 seconds, holding it in their chest/stomach for 5 seconds, and then breathing out through the nose for 5 seconds. This is a technique that can be done anywhere and physiologically slows the body down by increasing the oxygen getting carried in the blood stream. (Kids and adults can also do some mindful breathing by blowing bubbles). The Mayo Clinic has documented other relaxation techniques recommended to lower stress, including progressive muscle relaxation, positive visualization, art therapy and music therapy.
  9. Cuddling with a pet or loved one – Cuddling with a loved one (including pets) increases the oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is a calming chemical and increases bonding in humans and animals.
  10. Shopping (another favorite of mine) – While too much “retail therapy” can be dangerous, sometimes splurging a little bit feels good and is distracting.
  11. Take a bath or shower – Taking a longer bath or shower is a good way to relax and physically “wash away” the stress. Clients have reported getting stress relieving bath bombs or shower gels to aid with the relaxation.
  12. Watch your favorite movie or TV show – Watching a favorite show or movie is a good way to reminisce about fond memories and experiences. It may also allow you to mentally escape from current stressors by focusing on the show.
  13. Watch YouTube Vidoes or Ted Talks – I recommend Jimmy Fallon clips if you want to laugh. You can also search for topics that are interesting or humorous specific to your preferences.
  14. Eat – Food is a good way to nourish your body. Too much comfort eating can be unhealthy but making sure you’re getting enough nourishment, and having a dessert every once in awhile, is healthy. I, for one, get angry when I get too hungry. (We call it “HANGRY”) so I have to make sure I’m keeping myself from getting to that point.
  15. Go for a walk – Changing your scenery can be a good break from the daily norm. If you’re at work, you can take a quiet walk on a break. If you’re a student, you can make a bathroom trip and take your time walking on campus. At home, you can explore the neighborhood. Fresh air and/or Vitamin D from the sun can be soothing and healing.
  16. Plan a getaway, even if it’s a daytrip to change up the scenery – If you can plan a vacation, do it! If you can’t due to other responsibilities, try planning a day trip in your state. When we can’t take time off to go to the beach (my happy place) we may do a day trip to Sedona and just explore. If you can’t travel that far, try doing a trip to a local museum or park. Most city Libraries have “cultural passes” that can be checked out for free admission to local attractions and museums.
  17. Write a letter to a family member – Reconnecting with a family member or friend can be a good way to focus on someone else and send them a surprise. I think it’s fun to receive actual mail in an envelope but email would work too.
  18. Journal – Journaling for 10 – 30 minutes daily is a good way to get your thoughts and feelings out and onto paper. Journaling can be a release, a way to get clarity, and a way to track stressors and progress. If you’re not sure where to start, I encourage clients to just write freely, about anything that comes to mind.
  19. Think about what you’re grateful for – Gratitude is a good way to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going well in your life. Thinking about what you’re thankful for can also help with analyzing the severity of the stressor(s).
  20. Plan a quiet night in – Sometimes it’s nice to not have to do ANYTHING. There are days I want to stay in yoga pants and a comfy t-shirt all day, doing absolutely nothing. I don’t get to do this often because of schedule conflicts but it’s nice when it occurs.  Doing this can allow you to rest, recharge, and have motivation for the next day.
  21. Ask for help – Reach out to friends or family members for support. They can offer validation, suggestions, and humor. Sharing your worries and concerns and being validated is a great way to get relief.
  22. Look at photos from favorite memories – Reminiscing is good for bringing up positive emotions while thinking back to past experiences, funny memories, favorite trips. It’s also a good idea to save some favorite pictures on your phone, computer or tablet so that you can look at them daily. I have a favorite beach picture as my lock screen on my phone and a fun picture of my kids as my phone wall paper.
  23. Color in a coloring book – Despite what you may think, coloring isn’t just for kids. Coloring is an activity that can be calming for all ages. Focusing on coloring, and the motion of coloring can be very relaxing.
  24. Watch the sunrise or sunset – I have clients that like to get up early and watch the sunrise. They describe this as being their “me time” and that it feels “private” or “sacred” because it seems like the world is asleep.  This can be a good time to focus on its beauty and start a new day. If you’re not a morning person, watching a sunset can be beneficial. It’s the close of day with a new day ahead tomorrow.
  25. Reach out to a therapist – If you’re doing self-care and still struggling with negative emotions and stressors, reach out to a therapist.

*Other ideas can be found here — it has a list of 101 self-care ideas that has been useful.

This post was written by Minon Maier – LMFT