Self Care: A Biological Necessity
Self care is an idea that is foreign to so many. Most people have this underlying idea that we are selfish if we take time for ourselves. Parents especially feel this way, since our kids need us to take care of them. However, even people who are not parents feel guilty when it comes to taking time for themselves, because we all seem to have an internal dialogue with ourselves that we should always be doing more. We feel we should be doing more in our jobs, doing more for our family and friends, doing more in our homes, and doing more in our communities. If we constantly feel that we are not doing enough for others, how can we possibly feel okay about spending time on ourselves?
You have probably heard before that we have to take care of ourselves so that we are able to give to others. This is not an empty platitude; it is actually backed by science! There are multitudes of studies in brain research showing that our brains NEED downtime to productively accomplish tasks at other times. Our brains basically get “full” of incoming messages and need time to process the continuous in-flow of information that we are receiving. Much like our digestive systems have limits on how much food can be processed at a time, our brains need both sleep and “idleness” while we are awake to effectively sort through the crazy overload of input that we experience daily.
Brain scientists have demonstrated that people actually become much LESS productive when they try to constantly accomplish tasks during all waking hours of a day. As a teacher and tutor, I have known for years that educational research states that children need “brain breaks” incorporated into their day so that they can effectively learn new material. Adults need these breaks for their brains just as much! In addition, incorporating relaxing activities into our lives reduces the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Reducing stress, of course, has lasting benefits for our hearts as well as our minds!
So now that you know that having some downtime in your life is actually a biological necessity for being productive and healthy, how can you incorporate this into your life? If you work crazy hours because your job demands it, or have children or other family members requiring your care, how on earth are you supposed to make time for yourself?
I have learned several practical ways to do this since I joined a healthy community and became a health coach myself. The program I coach promotes healthy habits for overall well- being, and these are some great guidelines to follow:
1. Make a list of activities that will “recharge your batteries.” First, let’s identify activities that will bring you joy and relaxation. This is going to involve you thinking about what activities you can do that you will look forward to, and will “fill” your mental energy tank. This should not be another task on your to do list. For me, I love taking walks and reading fiction. One of my clients decided she wanted to make time to play the piano. Another decided to play more tennis. Whatever it is, it needs to be something you know you will truly enjoy so that you can experience a relaxed state of mind.
2. Set realistic weekly self care goals. At the beginning of each week, set one or two self care goals. Obviously, you need to create goals that are realistic and that you believe will help “recharge your batteries.” Sure, a spa weekend would be incredible, but if you have three kids under the age of five with you being their primary caregiver, that may not be realistic at this moment. However, maybe you could squeeze in time for a manicure, facial, or massage while your kids are at school. Maybe you could trade off babysitting time with a friend so that you each can take an hour or two for yourselves. Aim for at least two relaxing activities that you will do for yourself at some time during the week.
3. Be intentional about your downtime by scheduling it on your calendar. There is a reason that so much time is wasted these days scrolling on social media. Our brains need the downtime, but we aren’t being intentional about honoring this need. Therefore, we look for things to distract us from the constant pressures of life. When we aren’t intentional about our self care, our brains will get downtime any way it can…usually with whatever is the most accessible method at that moment. (That’s often the reason we open Facebook “just to check” and realize an hour later that we have been mindlessly scrolling.) If we are intentional and schedule our downtime, we are much more likely to have meaningful, quality experiences that we will truly enjoy. Evaluate your week honestly, and make appointments with yourself for these relaxing activities. Again, be realistic. If you are a mom of a toddler and you love painting, schedule time to paint during your child’s nap or after his/her bedtime. If you only have 30 minutes for lunch at work, don’t try to schedule a pedicure during that time. The more realistic your appointment with yourself is, the more likely you are to keep it!
Taking care of you is NOT selfish. In fact, it helps in keeping yourself mentally healthy, which is the best thing you can do for all those who rely on you! In my next post, we will explore how to select self care activities that will be most beneficial to you.Melissa Jordan has been a teacher and tutor of both children and adults for over 23 years. After a health transformation of her own, she is now coaching others, helping clients reach their health and weight loss goals. Contact Melissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.