Why self-care isn't an extravagance
Self-care is a term that's become associated with candle-lit baths, massages, yoga retreats and meditation. And while all of those things can certainly form part of looking after yourself, for a lot of people they can seem alienating, indulgent or unrealistic.
And this is one of the reasons why we can dismiss self-care as a luxury or an extravagance that we don't have time for, don't need or can't afford. But looking after yourself - whatever name you give it - is essential to being able to function at your best.
That instruction on the airplane safety cards to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others isn't just relevant for emergency situations. The principle is the same for everyday life - whether it's prioritising getting an early night so you've got the energy to parent in the way you want to the next day, or going for a run to clear your head so you don’t vent about your stressful day at your friend's birthday dinner. To be able to give to others, you need to first tend to yourself.
I know from personal experience that when life is busy and demanding, it's easy to sacrifice looking after myself in favour of getting an extra half hour of work done, or cramming in some extra laundry or cleaning up before bed. But when I allow that to happen, I inevitably feel the effects: I'm more snappy, less productive, more anxious. This doesn't benefit me or the people I care about.
We all have busy lives, and lack of time is a recurrent challenge I hear from clients when it comes to self care. It can be an uncomfortable shift in mindset to prioritise an early night, or time to read a novel when you have a deadline looming. But doing something that makes you feel connected with your body, or that helps to switch off your busy mind will maximise your productivity, happiness and sense of wellbeing in the long run.
Now that I have a young child and nights in are the norm, it's easy for me to bring my bedtime forward by an hour so I can get up earlier to have some precious time to myself before the rest of the house wakes up. The only thing this requires me to do is spend less time scrolling on Instagram in the evening, which is probably a good thing in itself.
My newly gained morning hour gives me time to do some yoga (usually about 20 minutes, just enough to make me feel stretched out and energised), have a cup of hot water and lemon (which I always struggle to drink when juggling making breakfast with getting ready) and write my goals for the day, which sets me up for feeling productive.
I've started to look forward to this time every night before bed - it's the part of the day that's just for me, where I can wake myself up with something that makes me feel good. It's surprised me how much of a difference its made. And believe me, I never thought I'd hear myself say I look forward to a 6am start. Since I've started prioritising this time and practice, I've been more focused, more positive and more productive throughout the day.
The key to making self-care a reality in your life is finding ways of looking after yourself that resonate with your personality, fit in with your lifestyle, and are realistic for your budget. So ditch the 'self-care' label if it doesn't work for you and get rid of any negative associations. Maybe doodling is more your thing than meditation, or you prefer dancing around your living room to yoga - whatever it is, do what makes you feel good and do it every day. You will feel the difference.