Self-Care Comes in Many Forms
And it doesn't have to take a lot of time or money
I was thinking about all the talk around self-care and how many people may not have learned about it in therapy like I did, and may have the perception that you have to buy something in order to take care of yourself, like a face mask or a massage. Another perception may be that you have to take a whole day for self-care on Sunday because you definitely don't have time for that during the week. I am here to demonstrate how important self-care is during any day of the week, how it can be simple and fun, and how things that you may see as chores are actually self-care in action.
Chores don't sound fun at all, I hear that. Some might even describe them as drudgery. And sometimes that is true. But mostly, it isn't if you think about them in a different way. Imagine that you are a little kid with a special guardian. You need food, shelter, water, and love. Your special guardian provides the roof, makes you drink water over soda, and fixes you a green vegetable with dinner so that you grow strong and healthy. After your guardian does all that, they do something fun with you, like let you play with your favorite toys during your bath or tell you a story at bedtime that is both so entertaining and so soothing that you have never heard the end of it because you have fallen asleep. When thinking about self-care, you must think of yourself as both the child and the special guardian.
According to the American Psychological Association, self-care is basically providing for your physical and psychological well-being, and it is absolutely imperative. You are probably already taking care of most of your physical needs, but the chores thing. That might need a little paradigm shift. The key is to treat every task/chore as an opportunity for mindfulness meditation and as a vital tool in your self-care toolbelt.
In order to mindfully meditate, all you really need to do is think about what you are doing, from breathing to the action of scrubbing a dish. In The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh (short and lovely to read), he describes opportunities for mindfulness as simple tasks like straightening your bookshelf, cooking, or laundry, but moving slowly, fully focusing on the action of what you are doing. If/when you start thinking about something else, just begin "following your breath" to bring yourself back to the action at hand. Following your breath means to focus on breathing in, holding very briefly, and breathing out, consciously thinking about each breath. "I am inhaling, one. I am exhaling, one." and so on.
While you are mindfully meditating and doing laundry, for example, your thought process may look like this: "I am putting these clothes in the washer, this is my favorite blue shirt, I will add these pants, I wonder what Tim was talking about in the meeting the other day when he said--I am inhaling one, I am exhaling one. I am inhaling two, I am exhaling two. I am placing my hands on the last handful of clothes to add them to the washer. I am moving slowly and breathing deeply. I am pouring the laundry detergent. It smells fresh." And voila, you have just mindfully meditated through doing laundry and not worried about what Tim keeps bringing up in those meetings.
The beauty of mindfulness meditation is that it can help you to be present while doing all of the things that take care of you, like making sure you have clean clothes to wear, clean dishes to eat off of, and a clean body that has been lovingly washed. You can use mindfulness when you are interacting with the people you love, when listening to your favorite song, or when reading a book. Those are things that you can do on any day of the week, at any time. Here are more simple things that you can do to act as your special guardian and make sure you are taken care of in a fun, loving, less task-focused way:
1. Do something new or different to you. Wear mismatched socks. Paint only your right pinkie and your left thumb. Go home a different route. Do a cartwheel.
2. Write down at least five things that are positive about you, from your cute earlobes to your helpful spirit, and tape it somewhere you will always see it.
3. End each night with three things you are grateful for, and follow your breath as you fall asleep.
4. Pick three of your favorite songs and blast them loudly, earphones on or off, and thrash, dance, or sing along with them.
4. Watch something funny or cute, whether show, movie, YouTube video, Reel, TikTok, etc. Whatever you have time for.
5. Bake or cook something that you've always wanted to try.
6. Get your favorite snack or candy and eat it with joy and gusto.
7. Jump on your bed, then make your bed. Can also do vice versa.
8. Take a nap or go to bed an hour early.
9. Get dressed up and Zoom call a friend, or go out with friends. Try a MeetUp group for an activity you've always wanted to try.
10. Take five minutes and walk around your block, your yard, your neighborhood--wherever you feel safe. Stand among trees or other greenery and soak it all in. Studies show even looking at images of nature can relieve stress and anxiety, and lower blood pressure. In Japan, they "forest bathe" by going to a wooded area and strolling mindfully, making note of the beauty of their surroundings. Not only does this relieve stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure, it also boosts the immune system and increases killer T cells (cells responsible for fighting infections).
I hope this list of simple, fun, free or almost free self-care activities finds its way into your daily schedule, and helps jog your creativity for more opportunities to take care of yourself in the small moments of your life. Self-care doesn't have to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming, and just thinking about your necessary-for-physical-and-emotional-well-being efforts in a different way can change your life. Being mindful and open to the beauty and joy of the little things, as well as how worthwhile those things are for your overall health is crucial. If self-care still seems out of reach, may "How can I have a little fun today?" be your guiding question. We are all just children at heart, only slightly wiser, and a simple pleasure does wonders for that inner child, inside and out.