A pedicure?! Yoga class by myself?! A bathroom break by myself?! I must be joking right?
Hear me out, ladies. I am about to let you in on a little thing we like to call “me time.” Yes, I know it sounds like a foreign concept to most of us, seeing as half the time we’re walking through this life not knowing if we are coming or going. We are creatures of habit and routine—and there is barely any wiggle room in that daily grind allowing us to stop and smell the roses.
All of this, at what cost?
Consequently, sacrificing ourselves leads to breakdowns in our relationships, careers and health. In fact, when our autonomic nervous system is repeatedly triggered (our fight-or-flight response), the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline remain high and can negatively impact our immune and digestive systems. Put quite simply: stress makes us sick. It is my hope that after you have finished reading this article, you will be well on your way to penciling yourself in a little me time. As a mental health professional, I often see the guilt my patients endure for the feelings they have:
“I’m a bad mom/wife/employee because I can’t be what they need me to be.”
This is a common negative thinking theme and one that is easy to fall victim to. The first question I will ask these patients is, “How are you taking care of yourself?”
This is usually followed by a deer-in-the-headlights stare. Taking care of ourselves has become lost in translation for most of us, but it is a fairly simple concept to re-adopt. To incorporate self-care, I don’t expect that you are going to start taking a daily two-hour siesta or monthly vacation. Simple “time-outs” can make a big difference. Unlike the latest fad diet, the act of self-care should not be treated as trend. Like most things that are “good for us,” the concept of self-care is a lifestyle modification; taking care of our emotional being is not a reward—it’s a requirement.
Adapting the concept of self-care is a journey, not a race. You are more likely to stick to a good habit that is adopted over time, versus one that is forced upon quickly. I will often encourage my patients to start with just five minutes a day of dedicated time to themselves. The goal is to work up to around 20 minutes of self-care daily, or two and a half total hours weekly. So, what should this dedicated self-care time look like? It can be anything you wish, but I do have a few suggestions:
Sweating it out is not only beneficial for our physical health, but can be extremely beneficial for our mental health as well. It is the only way to induce the endorphin effect which provides superior mood elevation and anti-anxiety benefits. Exercise technically counts as a two-for-one in this instance, as it too should not be considered a reward, but a requirement for good health.
Meditation and Mindfullness
Meditating is the ultimate way to relax our minds. This is easier said than done, especially when our minds run on overdrive most days. I will usually recommend using a resource like mindful.org or an app like Calm or Headspace—all of which take the guess work out for you.
This is an excellent way to start some self-care at just five minutes a day. Set yourself a timer for five minutes, pick up a spiral bound notebook and put pencil to paper. This doesn’t have to be your middle school diary; you can write about anything … Just try to avoid rewriting your to-do list.
I usually cringe when people ask me my hobbies or favorite past times. The word “hobby” always conjures up ideas about favorite athletic or crafting activities, none of which I would say I am passionate enough about to call a hobby. Therefore, I give you permission to reinvent the word. My favorite pastimes include coffee with friends, pedicures and a little retail therapy (shopping).
Learning Something New
This can be anything from taking a cooking class to learning the art of Tai Chi. Ease your way in by simply reading about something you might have an interest in. Bonus points if you can include a family member or friend to learn with you!
Appoint a Self-Care Manager
Understand that self-care will always be one of the first things we let go of when life does what life does … Gets busy. So, appoint a good friend or family member (this won’t work for a partner … That dynamic is a different article) to be your self-care manager.
This person will make appointments for you for your self-care. Consider giving them access to your calendar so they can put the appointment in black and white for you! I know I am much more likely to show up for my self-care if it’s in my calendar! Meditation: this Thursday from 12:00 p.m. – 12:20 p.m., meet “manager” at book store for some coffee and reading time next Friday from 7:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. See where I’m going with this? Also, go ahead and pay it forward and offer to be someone else’s self-care manager, too.
Embarking on the quest of self-care can seem like adding another daunting task to our never-ending to-do lists. Let this be our reminder that we only have this one life and this one body, so let’s accept that we are worthy of the same time and attention we likely give to those around us. My hope is that you can find value in investing in your emotional well-being; we can’t continue to pour from an empty cup. When we decide that we are our most valuable asset, it shows and our ability to take care of others grows.
Erin Walker, PA-C, MSM is a psychiatric physician assistant at Grand Rapids OB/GYN with a specialty in gynecology and women's sexual health. Erin has been practicing in the Grand Rapids area since 2012 and worked in both primary care and psychiatry prior to entering women’s health. Erin also has a special certification in perinatal mood disorders.