What do you do when a tough day at work, or a tight deadline, or a conflict with someone you care about leaves you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or emotionally exhausted? Most of us have favorite self-care strategies that we turn to out of preference or simply habit when our regular lives have got us down. But are these forms of self-care helping us or hurting us in the long run?
There's a difference between good self-care and bad self-care, and a thoughtful Medium post by Katie Fustich can help you figure out which is which. It's well worth checking out the whole post. Here are a few of her strategies for choosing the types of self-care that will actually make you feel better:
1. Ask yourself how you'll feel tomorrow.
Good self-care will send us back to our regular lives feeling both relaxed and refreshed, so before you choose a self-care approach, be honest with yourself about how it will make you feel later on. Lying on the sofa with a bottle of wine and a large bag of potato chips while binge-watching your favorite Netflix series may feel good while you do it but it's unlikely to have a lasting beneficial effect.
Does that mean you should never do these things? Of course not. We all need to give in to our unhealthy impulses now and then. But as Fustich points out, there's a big difference between self-indulgence and self-care.
2. Don't pick something just because you're supposed to.
On the other hand, some people take care of themselves by engaging in activities they know are good for them but bring them no pleasure. Half an hour on an elliptical machine or a large glass of green juice is a great thing to do for your body, and you should absolutely do both but unless these activities make you feel good while you're doing them they don't qualify as self-care. It's great if self-care supports your physical health, but to support your mental health, it should also be something you enjoy. Maybe a hike in the woods as opposed to a session on exercise equipment. Maybe snacking on fresh fruit at a farmer's market as opposed to guzzling down green juice.
3. Think: simple, quick, repeatable, affordable.
A weekend at a spa is a wonderful thing to do for your body and your soul. But the most effective forms of self-care are those that you can do frequently, not just once in a while. As Fustich advises: Think small. A five-minute meditation session in the middle of a stressful day. A half-hour of writing in your journal. Even stopping to drink a tall glass of water when you're feeling overwhelmed. All these things qualify as self-care, and they're easy to do whenever you need them.
4. Have some company.
Many of us react to stress and exhaustion by pushing the world away. We curl up in front of the TV, or with social media on our smartphones, and seek to relax by getting away on our own. Now, many people, including me, need some time alone on a regular basis and it's important to honor that need. It's also important to honor the concept of self-care by choosing people to spend time with who genuinely make you feel happy and fulfilled and good about yourself.
That said, finding the time to spend with people who nourish your soul is extremely important for your physical and mental well-being. As Fustich notes, we're in the middle of a loneliness epidemic in the U.S., and it's literally killing us. So an important part of your self-care routine should be time with a friend or loved one, doing something as simple as taking a walk or having a cup of coffee.
That's the kind of self-care that can make a real difference. It's the kind that will leave you feeling happy and fulfilled--and ready to take on the rest of your life.