It seems that every year when December is just around the corner and the holiday frenzy is underway, the subject of self-care shows up. Recently, during a conversation with a friend, I gently suggested that she might feel better if she focused a little more on herself and her own needs rather than on everyone else’s. She looked at me and said “But I think that’s being selfish.” This is such a common reaction and in my opinion downright dangerous.
First of all, it’s always easier to work on others rather than ourselves, isn’t it? It takes a lot of soul-searchiing and honesty to get to know ourselves–the good and the bad. And secondly, what’s wrong with loving ME? It’s not about being selfish or uncaring towards others. In fact, I guarantee that when we invest the time in loving up ourselves, it will naturally spill out and affect those around us. It’s absolutely contagious!
So here’s my annual self-care list which I wrote a few years ago and still find relevant. I hope some of the suggestions help you breeze through this month with less stress and anxiety. My friend, Vivi, pictured below, with her joie de vivre, is living proof that they work!
A Season For Giving (to Yourself)
The holiday season is all about giving, but we often forget to give to ourselves. Self-care is critical for our own health and well-being and also a critical component of our ability to care for others. So in the spirit of giving, here are some well deserved gifts from you to you. Try a new one every day, until they become a habit.
1. Forgive yourself. Guilt, shame, remorse – these are some of the most toxic emotions to our health. Negative memories may never disappear, but we often try to bury them. Chronically ignoring what scares or pains us will eventually make us sick and tired. Journaling is a great way to process emotions and work towards self-forgiveness. Just writing down the painful thoughts and memories as they come up (even in the middle of the night) is sometimes enough to shed some of the pain. Shredding what you’ve written can be liberating.
2. Feed your body whole foods. This time of year makes people cranky and many are anxious about gaining weight from all of the holiday extras. Maintaining your ideal weight is actually fairly simplistic. The human body was designed to eat whole foods. That means food that has not been processed. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, many over eaters are chronically malnourished. Even if you eat a lot, if the food is not nutritionally sound, you will still be hungry because your body cannot get the energy it needs from the poor quality, over-processed “food” that is so common in our culture. No matter what your weight, it is important to eat plenty of real, whole foods rich in nutrients to remain healthy and satisfied.
3. Love yourself. Receiving affection from others feels good, but it is vitally important that we can also get the love we need from within. Learning to love yourself is one of the most important gifts you can ever give yourself. Spend some time with yourself, get to know yourself and give yourself a hug. And when you do this, you will find that a person who can find love within is often more able to give and receive support from those around them.
4. Be quiet. As a resident of New York City, this is one of my personal favorites. A side effect of modern living, especially in cities, is that we are often bombarded by noise. Find a quiet place outside or stay in your home, turning off all electronics, phones etc. You may even try earplugs or noise canceling headphones. Meditate or just rest, taking in the sound of silence.
5. Laugh! It really is the best medicine. No matter how bad things are, laughter is one of the most important ingredients for emotional health. Studies have shown that laughter actually boosts the immune system and triggers the release of endorphins which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. They can even help to relieve pain. Treat yourself to a funny movie or sitcom and feel your stress melt away.
6. Give freely to others. Yes, this really is a gift to yourself. Giving freely of our time, love and compassion brings out our humanity and makes us feel good. Pay attention to your body the next time you hold the door open for someone or have a conversation with the lonely elderly person in the neighborhood. Can you feel your heart open just a bit wider? The pain in your body not quite so noticeable?
7. Get physical. I can’t write this without thinking about Olivia Newton John! Whether it is the physical activity she sang about (great for the immune system, by the way!), or any other, movement will always make you feel good. Exercise does not needs to be a scheduled workout, and it should never feel like punishment. Adjust your routine to include taking the stairs, doing housework, walking instead of riding, and your body will thank you in so many ways.
8. Sleep. You would have to be living under a rock these days not to know how important this is to your health. The truth is, unless you are getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, your body is not able to repair and rejuvenate like it needs to. My friend, Mary, is blessed with unrivaled sleeping skills, and the only person I know who always gets enough sleep and the good health to show for it. Some people have to work a little harder than others to achieve optimal rest – it’s just their constitution. For better rest try sleeping in a dark room, wearing an eye mask and ear plugs, not eating past 7 pm and getting sufficient exercise during the day. Also, remember to shut down all electronics early in the evening and give yourself plenty of down time before bed. Which leads me to #9…
9. Disconnect! Cell phones, land phones, computers, televisions, video games, iPods, etc., etc., sometimes it feels like we are becoming androids. For all the convenience technology provides, this constant stimulation can have very negative effects on our health. [Adrenal fatigue](http://www.theherbanalchemist.com/blog/2011/03/effects-of-stress-on-our-health-and-adrenal-glands/) can result from over-stimulation and the dangers of talking/texting while driving and walking are now well known. Leave the multitasking in the office and practice focusing on one thing at a time.
10. Spend time in nature. Kick your shoes off (if the weather is right), hug a tree (just embrace it), sit by the water, feel the snow on your face, revel in the wonders of the sun and the moon and the ebb and flow of nature and life. If you can do this for even 5-10 minutes during your busy day, it will recharge your battery better than any prescription drug can.
11. Breathe. This is no joke, it is easy to forget to breathe well. I think I lived an entire period of my life practically holding my breath. Breathing in we take in life-sustaining oxygen and breathing out we rid the body of toxins. Remember, a proper, deep breath is when the belly goes out on the in breath and retracts on the exhale. Place your hand on your abdomen to see whether you are breathing properly. Even better is a big fat audible sigh (ahhhhh, or whoooosh) on the breath out. It’s a great stress reliever.
12. Spend time doing something you love each day. For one person, it’s reading a book; for another it’s watching an old movie. Relax your body and mind and nourish your soul by spending quality time with yourself – even if only for half an hour. If this is something that always gets pushed to the back burner for you, put a post-it on your bathroom mirror or schedule it into your daily calendar. Sounds silly, but until it becomes a habit, a gentle reminder never hurts.
13. (It’s a baker’s dozen) Give yourself a break! Nothing on this list is earth-shattering or anything that you haven’t heard before. If you fail to give yourself one of these gifts, don’t stress–just give yourself a break and start anew. That’s the beauty of life – each moment, each day affords us the opportunity to start from scratch.