Do you prioritise yourself? Do you remember that you have to take care of yourself? Have you ever thought about this?
I know. You are busy, the days are too short, the workload too heavy, the kids too demanding. Finding the time and space to take care of yourself can be challenging. Sometimes it can even feel impossible, especially if you have to do it alone. But for your own sake, as well as those around you, you need to make it a priority. If you do not, you cannot be surprised by burnout, exhaustion, foul moods, anxiety, and trying to exist, all in a mental fog.
Society puts so much pressure on us to succeed. Add to that obsessive, competitive personalities and additional pressure to be the best mother/daughter/ /businesswoman/friend/etc. and you have a recipe for disaster. For single mamas, the pressure is even more intense – we have the special edition mom-guilt that keeps us going even long after we should have stopped to rest. So often we don’t even notice that we are running at full steam, without ever taking a break to recharge. From the outside, it looks as if we have it all together – a thriving career, obedient well-rounded kids (who we most probably are homeschooling), a clean house. But on the inside, we are slowly dying of exhaustion. Of course, most of the goals that we are killing ourselves to meet were set by us ourselves, and only we will know if we do not reach them. But still, we allow the pressure to steal our time. The time that is also meant to be enough to take care of ourselves.
I have now officially been a single mom for 5 months. 5 long months. Not only have I had to deal with severe separation anxiety (my kids’, not mine) as well as grief, I have also had to weather the Corona storm. So we have been on this up-and-down rollercoaster of emotions, locked in our home, where we now have to learn and play and clean and live. Just us.
During this time, I have realised again that if I allow myself to slide, if I stop prioritising myself, my kids are the first to pay. I become short-tempered, irrational, and just plain mean. When I allow myself to refuel and find the joy in taking care of myself, I am a much better mom – a much better human being. And that is what my kids deserve. So self-care has now become a huge priority, and almost first on the weekly to-do list.
What is self-care?
Self-care is knowing who you are, and what you need to ensure your own tank is full. That tank includes your emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual and social sides. All of these aspects must be balanced and fed, often, to ensure that you live instead of merely exist, that you thrive instead of just survive.
I found this beautiful definition when I did the research for this post. I cannot remember where it was from, so if you recognize it or it is your own, please let me know so that I can reference you! The author said something along the lines of:
Do you want to be at your best – emotionally, physically, and mentally? I would dare to guess that your answer will be “of course”. Then focus on yourself for a bit. Self-care doesn’t have to take time, it can be small things that you do on a daily basis, which fits in in your busy schedule. And it also doesn’t have to cost a thing.
Self-care rests on 5 pillars:
Do something that supports and feeds each of these pillars as part of your self-care routine and you’ll nourish every aspect of your life.
If the promise of a better you were too vague to convince you, here are 5 benefits of practicing self-care that might make you see this differently:
1. Looking after yourself can actually improve your productivity
Saying “no” to things that would otherwise over-extend you simplifies your life in a wonderful way. When you do not have these mindless activities filling up your day you actually have time to spend on things that matter, allowing you to spend your energy on worthwhile activities.
2. It can increase your resistance to disease (boosts your immune system)
When you take care of yourself you activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), allowing your body to rest, rejuvenate, and recharge. This feeds your system, giving it the energy and strength to fight off those nasties that would otherwise make you sick.
3. Self-care improves your self-esteem
Knowing that you are worth looking after immediately makes you value yourself more. Being good to yourself decreases negative self-talk, making you a more positive person in the long run. And positivity has many benefits!
4. It gives you the space to get to know yourself
When last did you take the time to figure out what you love, what you hate, what you don’t mind, and what you wish? Practicing self-care requires thinking about what you really love to do. The exercise of figuring out what makes you feel passionate and inspired can help you understand yourself a lot better.
5. If your own tank is full, you have more to give others
Self-care gives you the resources you need to be compassionate to others. Giving compassion is a bit like filling a bucket from another, bigger bucket; you can’t fill someone else’s bucket if you don’t have enough in your own bucket!
Little and often wins the day
Here are tiny ways to exercise self-care and take better care of yourself. I have grouped them together according to the 5 pillars of self-care. Pick one exercise or activity from each group and incorporate it into your life somewhere during the week.
Tiny self-care ideas for the mind (intellect)
1. Read a book on something that interests you. Not a magazine, an actual book.
2. Look at your to-do list. Scratch of the things that are not necessary, as well as those items that are transferred from list to list. If you are never going to do it, take it off the list.
3. Go cloud-watching. Lie on your back, relax, and watch the sky. Use your imagination to see shapes and scenes.
4. Change a routine in your life. Take another route to work, order a different coffee, or change your ringtone. Mixing up your routine in small ways creates new neural pathways in the brain, helping to keep it healthy.
5. Enjoy a big belly laugh. Find something that gives you joy, and that is absurdly funny. Enjoy!
6. Learn something new that challenges you, but that is fun at the same time, e.g. take a dance class, learn how to knit, do a crossword.
7. Be selfish. Do one thing today just because it makes you happy.
8. Do a mini-declutter.
9. Recycle three things from your wardrobe that you don’t love or regularly wear.
11. Edit your social media feeds, and delete or unfollow any negative people.
Tiny self-care ideas for the body (physical)
1. Run, jog or walk for a few minutes. Exercise of any kind is a great mood booster and de-stressor.
2. Make one small positive change to your diet for the week. Drink an extra glass of water each day, or have an extra portion of vegetables with each meal. This can also include eliminating something from your diet for the week – no chocolate, no milk, no coffee. Just remember this is not to punish yourself, rather reward yourself with better, healthier habits.
3. Be still. Sit somewhere outside, preferably in the sun, and be quiet for a few minutes. This is a stepping stone to meditation.
4. Use essential oils in a diffuser, to calm you, give you focus, energise, etc. Try peppermint to suppress food cravings and boost mood and motivation.
5. Listen to music. Explore different genres and new artists.
6. Do yoga. Even if you’ve never tried it. Doing a mindful practice has many more benefits than just giving you a good stretch.
7. Nap when you need to. Just 20 minutes can make you feel mentally and physically refreshed.
8. Say “no” to invitations when you’re simply too tired to enjoy them, or if the gathering will just drain you mentally.
9. Take a long bath, with bath salts and oil, candles, and soft music. Read or just lie there and dream.
10. Commit to enough hours of sleep per night, barring exceptional circumstances (figure out how much sleep you need to function optimally)
Tiny self-care ideas for the soul (spiritual)
1. Read the Bible, and be still with God.
2. Choose who you spend your time with today. This includes social media. Cut out people who only drain you.
3. Stroke a pet. If you don’t have one, go to the park and find one. (Ask first!)
4. Make a small connection. Have a few sentences of conversation with someone in customer services such as a sales assistant or barista.
5. Have a self-date. Spend an hour alone doing something that nourishes you (reading, your hobby, visiting a museum or gallery, etc.)
6. Identify one of your strengths. Think about what you’re good at, and find an opportunity to use it.
7. Ask for help—big or small, just reach out and allow someone else to be there for you.
8. Go to church.
9. Be creative, whether through art, music, writing, or something else entirely.
10. Go on a trip with the sole purpose of photographing things that inspire you.
Tiny self-care activities for your moods (emotional)
1. Keep a daily journal, and be totally honest about your feelings. Start a gratitude practice
2. Write a list of “feeling words” to expand your emotional vocabulary.
3. Make time to be with a friend or family member who understands you.
4. Let yourself cry when you need to. Allow yourself to experience your emotions.
5. Sing along to happy music.
6. Cuddle up under a soft blanket. It is ok to allow yourself to feel comforted and comfortable.
7. Watch the flames of a candle or a fire.
8. Have crazy good chocolate. Or a glass of wine.
9. Walk barefoot on the grass.
10. Volunteer to help a cause that means something to you.
Tiny self-care activities for your social life (social)
1. Make a date to have lunch or dinner with a good friend.
2. Write an email to someone who lives far away, but whom you miss.
3. Reach out to someone you like but haven’t seen in a while.
4. Consider joining a group of people who share your interests.
5. Stop socializing with those who undermine or disempower you.
6. Strike up a conversation with someone interesting.
7. Sign up for a class to learn something and meet new people at the same time.
8. Spend time with a parent or mentor—someone who makes you feel protected and inspired.
9. Look into local retreats where you can meet like-minded people and escape from society.
10. Hug someone you love (friend, family member, or your child) for 12-15 seconds—studies show this boost immune system function and prompt the release of calming hormones. Just make sure it is someone you know and like, 12 seconds can be very long!
I am convinced that you should be able to find at least one activity in the above lists that speaks to you, and that is easily added to your weekly routine (tip: if you don’t have a weekly routine, start your self-care journey by working out a weekly routine). Once you can comfortably get to that one thing, add another. Continue until you are satisfied. And while you are busy, teach your kids the importance of self-care – let us all do our part in raising a generation who knows how to value themselves.