Top 10 – Self-Care Ideas
As social workers, the idea of self-care is taught and brought up over and over in formal education, and often discussed in the work environment as well. But I believe most of us still struggle with this concept on a daily basis. We believe we have to be the martyr, that by taking time for ourselves we are being selfish, that others have it harder than us so who are we to need something for ourselves. Over the years, my understanding of self-care has evolved greatly and although sometimes I can still feel guilty about taking time for me, I know the importance of it and how doing it makes me much more likely to do a good job. If I don’t take the time to take care of myself, then how in the world am I going to do a good job of being truly present (and helpful) to others. Here is my top 10 list of self-care ideas, including links to learn more about each individual self-care idea.
This one has truly been a game-changer in my life. Without anything actually changing, except my perspective, I view my life totally different. Practicing gratitude can be done in so many ways—for some, it’s a daily conversation at dinner time about a few things you are grateful for from the day, for others it’s journaling, or it could be just a mental note here and there. I’ve also found that expressing gratitude to others is one of the simplest ways to have a positive impact on the world around you (and hence make your own heart happy too!).
Some good websites/articles about the science of gratitude:
Per studies out there, mindfulness is one of the keys to a happy, healthy, and productive life. I was skeptical as I’ve never been someone who enjoys meditation and the idea of spending time being mindful sounded like a bit of a waste of time to me. But, I had heard about it enough that I felt I needed to give it a try. So for the past 2 months, I’ve remained pretty committed to doing a 5-minute mindfulness meditation at the beginning of each work day. Taking the time to do this brief meditation has impacted other parts of my day as well—I do actually find myself being able to be more fully present in the various conversations I engage in during the day. I also am able to acknowledge when I’m overwhelmed, stop myself, take the necessary time to breath and prioritize. I think that for me this has been the key takeaway of mindfulness—without it I’d likely just continue and be relatively ineffective in many of the tasks/interactions I would have as my mind would not be fully present. In practicing mindfulness I’m able to more fully participate in my life—all aspects, the crummy ones, but also the inspiring and awesome ones. Moments I might otherwise miss.
Here are my few go-to 5-minute mindfulness meditations:
http://www.yogajournal.com/category/meditation/meditation-classes/meditation-length/under-5-min-meditation/ (this website gives you several links to meditations that are under 5 minutes!)
I think this one is likely to get some eye-rolls. We all know about the importance of exercise for our health, yet it’s so easy to put it at the bottom of the priority list. Yet, if we treat exercise as a choice, as an important choice you are making each day you do it, it can be so uplifting. The research is vast on the impact of exercise on health—mental health and physical health, clearly huge aspects of self-care. I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with exercise for years, however it’s clear to me, that when I do make the choice to exercise (which is generally just a half an hour of a walking dvd—nothing fancy or requiring too much of a time commitment), I feel good.
Another potential eye roller…but again, one that you just can’t ignore the research on. We are what we eat…and when we eat food that actually positively fuels our body with nutrients we are practicing self-care. There are several websites out there about healthy eating—below are a few I find helpful. I’m also not a believer in all or nothing—we need to enjoy life and self-deprivation (especially if it’s viewed that way), is not going to make you feel good. As I’ve moved towards more whole foods, I’ve found more of a mindful relationship with food—acknowledging that certain foods might make me happy in the moment (that donut sitting out in the lunch room—yes, please!!), but do not sustain me or my body throughout the day. There is also a lot of research out there about the impact on food on hormones and mental health. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get to remain my best self, and healthy whole grains, vegetables, and fruits appears to actually make a difference. And if I do decide to splurge on something, I enjoy it so much more (#wineandchocolate)!
https://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201504/how-food-affects-mood (this site links you to several articles regarding how food affects your mood…and overall health)
This one hasn’t been an easy one for me. I tend to have a history of not being the initiator in my friendships and this idea is really about taking the reins and identifying who in your life makes you better—and prioritizing time with those individuals. You know the friends I’m talking about—the ones that you might be feeling horrible about your life/annoyed/frustrated, etc…but you spend some time with them, maybe doing some venting, but probably more importantly do some laughing and perspective-shifting, and you leave feeling like the burden of what you felt before is gone. Those are the people to prioritize. They may change, they may come and go, but you have the ability to be the one making sure you spend time with those that fill your cup; instead of ones that may empty it.
This one is a me-thing, but guessing you also have your own you-thing (maybe your faith community, yoga, knitting, playing an instrument, singing). Something that always brings you to a good place. For me, it’s spending time in nature. It fills me up SO much. So whatever it is in your life that you know fills you up—do it! Find ways to incorporate it into your day to day. For me, that means making it part of my family life. You better believe my boys are becoming great nature hikers! Mama needs that time in nature and although I’d love to do a solo walk, family time is also important so I’ve found a way to make my thing into a family thing.
Another one supported by research. This could be combined with any of the other ones mentioned here (or whatever fills your cup in your life)– the key to this one is making it into a ritual, ensuring it’s done on a consistent basis. So, my 5-minute mindfulness meditation I’ve committed to has now become a ritual—something I am doing daily and is on its way to becoming an integrated part of my life.
Another simple mood-booster. Getting some sunshine is key to my own personal self-care. Some days this just isn’t possible, especially during the winter months, but even then I try to be creative. Can I visit the part of the office with windows mid-day while the sun is shining? Even just consciously soaking it in on my drive to work makes my outlook on the day better.
- Plan-fully using PTO
Most social work jobs recognize how stressful the work is, and therefore often offer fairly generous (in comparison to other fields) paid time off. The key though is using it! And making it part of your own self-care plan. One of my favorite ways to use my PTO is a random day off in which I just get to do things on my own. As a mom of young kids, that simple act of being alone is so good for me—I might be doing something I don’t normally find rewarding like cleaning the house, but getting to do it without interruption, playing my favorite music, and maybe even singing out loud to the songs, makes me feel good. And that equates self-care 🙂 But if we can pull off a family vacation here and there, that’s even better!
I first read about this idea while reading, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky (more on her work and book can be found at http://traumastewardship.com/). And it spoke to me strongly. My Plan B (and C and D) has continued to evolve. It’s mostly allowed me to embrace my creative side again and develop hobbies that I love (photography and blogging would be the top ones). AND, it has the impact of knowing that I continue to choose social work, not because I’m trapped in it, but because I still love it. AND if I ever really truly lost my passion or lost my job, I’ve got a few new ideas on what else might make me happy!
How do you practice self-care? Have you tried any of the above? What works for you?
*Social Work Community is a participant in the Amazon Service LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.