Why Your Self-Care Practice Is Good for Me, Too
Don't skip the healthy habits that are essential for keeping you (and me) well.
Posted June 24, 2020
Fourteen years ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma. I was the mother of a 9-month-old who rarely slept, and while I was foggy with fatigue, nothing snaps your head back and focuses your attention like your own desperation to survive.
It was a clarifying moment for me because I realized then that nothing much mattered if I didn’t have a healthy body. Couldn’t love without it. Couldn’t work without it. Couldn't support my family, mother my child, help my friends, encourage others. And with this realization, I set about protecting this body more diligently.
Some of those changes stuck. I still eat healthier than I did before. Wear gallons of sunscreen. Manage my stress. Exercise regularly. Others I’ve had to curate over the years. Practice new habits until they became a lifestyle.
For many people, the novel coronavirus is providing that same kind of clarity. A survey conducted by The Harris Poll claims that 80 percent of the adults in the U.S. say they will be more attentive to practicing regular self-care when the pandemic is over. Though nearly half are having a hard time doing it now.
Here’s the thing: Now is exactly the time you need to practice self-care, and it doesn’t have to be hard.
Holistic Health Habits
The term "self-care" isn’t my favorite, though it is descriptive and clear. It feels narrow. Limiting. Even off-putting. Self-care sounds like we must drop everything else to care for ourselves alone. It feels selfish. It can also smack of martyrdom. Sigh: I will take care of the world first and then tend to my self-care.
The tone just isn’t right. Self-care is holistic. It is not one thing or the other. It’s all of it. I’ll take care of me, and we can take care of each other.
So, I’ve started thinking about the self-care-ish things I do as holistic health habits. Behaviors that help me manage and release stress, connect with others, find meaning, feel strong and healthy in my body, and experience overall well-being. It’s about fun and connection and engagement. Nourishment of the brain and body.
And it’s inclusive. When we take time to care for ourselves, we are better able to care for others. When I am strong and well and calm, I can support you in your wellness. If we give some attention to this kind of self-care, we can thread these healthy habits into everything we do, creating a circular pattern that elevates our lives and the experiences of those we encounter.
Ever dealt with a person who was stressed out, unhappy, and in physical pain at the grocery store or bank counter? They aren’t always easy to be around. And those bad feelings are contagious in the way that a virus is. As we have seen, we are at risk individually when members of our community are unwell, mentally or physically. When you take care of you, you are also helping me.
And right now, with the backdrop of stress that many of us are experiencing as a pandemic races through the global population, we must incorporate these kinds of holistic habits to stay well. Sustained stress depletes our immune system and increases our risks of viruses, chronic illness, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and just about everything thing else we don’t want to deal with.
Creating a Holistic Health Habit
No matter how you say it, holistic health habits must be comfortably integrated into our daily routine to be successful. Too often, we put these things low on our to-do list. We see fun as frivolous, or stress-management as something that will happen when we get everything else done. But, of course, we never finish everything, so it continues to get pushed away until we are sick and unhappy and depleted. Exhausted and at our most vulnerable for viruses, chronic illness, heart disease, depression.
Now is the time to build holistic health practices into the moments throughout your day. Consistency matters. Not only will you feel better, but you'll have stronger immunity and be primed for greater productivity and engagement in the world.
This means that, by taking care of yourself, you’ll also have the energy, clarity, and generosity of spirit to stay focused and productive at work and be able to help others. In return, those things will also enhance your well-being. Ready to create your own Holistic Health Habits?
Here are some ground rules:
- Add supportive behaviors, before you worry about getting rid of the bad habits.
- Identify things you can do to support your entire self, mind-body-spirit.
- Don’t make this hard. Make it doable.
- Take deliberate action every day.
Many of the things that can improve your health and mood can be easily worked into your regular routine the way you fit in an appointment or a meal. For example, I get up about 15 minutes earlier and do a gratitude exercise. While I’m drinking my first cup of coffee, I write down at least five things I’m grateful for and pause after each one to soak it up for a few seconds.
When I’m cooking dinner or doing another household chore, I listen to my favorite podcasts. Good for my mental health and growth. A walk in the sunshine is good for body and spirit. And I always schedule in some quiet time. Time where I sit alone, outside or in my office, to do a quiet mindful practice for a few minutes a couple of times a day. This reminds me to take some deep breaths, become present, and stop freaking out about everything. Of all the brief habits I build into my day, this is the most powerful for me.
Create your own customized plan. If you like walking, go for one every day. Write it into your calendar. Playing the piano? Add it in after lunch. I schedule these things—particularly my exercise—like I do medical appointments or job assignments. It’s easier to make them happen that way.
Here are a few other tips that have helped me create more holistic health habits in my day:
Do something fun. Do you like to paint? Pull out the watercolors for a few minutes each day. Love to visit with friends? Schedule a Zoom date. Enjoy cooking? Try a new recipe.
Fun and play are the things we do simply for the enjoyment of it. That’s not a small thing, because play eases our stress and helps us become more creative and resilient.
Get outdoors. I’m writing this on my laptop on the back deck, and the squirrel hanging from the bird feeder is a better distraction than Facebook. Greenspace and the natural environment lower our stress and increase well-being. Take your lunch break outside, go out on the front porch for a minute, mow the lawn, go for a morning walk at the nature park nearby.
Take time out. Our brains need time to restore from the barrage of stimulus coming our way all day long. When I don’t get at least a few minutes of quiet in my day, I am more distracted, irritable, impatient.
Without time to restore, we are prone to burnout and trauma and more susceptible to sickness. But a few minutes of quiet scattered throughout the day is a holistic health habit that will help your mind-body-spirit reset. Turn off the phone. Sit outside, or head to a back bedroom.
Somedays, you can even find me hiding in a closet (not kidding) or parked in some scenic spot alone in the minivan. I've got to get my quiet time. I'm healthier for it. And I'm easier to live with.
Other things to try: A mindfulness practice for a few minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Meditation. Sharing your feelings with a supportive friend. Physical exercise. A good night's sleep. Sleep is vital to how our brains restore and manage stress. Journaling. Gardening. A drive in the country.
Do a few of these things every day. Shape them in ways you enjoy. Sure, your activities may change from day to day, but you’ll be healthier, more relaxed, and more resilient when you build in time for some of these holistic health habits. And when one of us is healthier and happier, we all benefit, because good moods are contagious too.