|Lovely Vase and Cup of Tea by Jamie Paterno|
Monday, March 11, 2019
By Mary Claire Schibelka
What do you think of when you hear “self-care”? Painting your nails? Getting a massage? Journaling? For a long time, I rolled my eyes at the thought of doing these things. “I’m way too busy for self-care,” I thought. Regardless of how many people told me about the importance of self-care, I never looked at it as a necessity. Instead, I actually believed that doing things to take care of myself would only take up more time in my schedule, hence making me even more stressed out.
Ironically, it wasn’t until several months into my internship at The Awakening Center—when my schedule became busier than it ever has been—that I discovered the power and importance of self-care. Part of this came from taking an honest look at myself and realizing that my current self-care plan (or lack thereof…) wasn’t working. The other part came from reassessing what self-care actually meant to me and questioning whether or not that definition was flexible. What I learned is that self-care doesn’t always have to mean going to a spa or taking a luxury vacation or doing a Pinterest-worthy art project. Those things are great, but when life gets busy, they aren’t always practical. Sometimes, self-care is more about looking ahead, asking yourself what you really need, and then setting yourself up for success.
Planning. One of the most important self-care strategies I have discovered is planning ahead. Using a planner allows you to take what seems like an overwhelming list of things to do and organize it into shorter lists of what you need to tackle on a day-by-day basis. When you take on a busy week one day at a time, it suddenly seems much more manageable. Plus, planners can be great outlets for creative energy if you’re an artistic type. Check out Target, Amazon, and even discount stores like TJ Maxx for cute stickers, markers, and other supplies.
Routines. Not a morning person? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s easy to opt for sleeping in and then rushing out the door in the morning. However, I think most would agree that this usually just ends up making us more tired. A morning routine, on the other hand, sets the tone for a positive and productive day. Your morning routine can start off small, with only one item on the list, like making the bed. By completing just that one task, you’re starting off your morning with a feeling of accomplishment, and this can be very energizing. The same is true for nighttime routines. Just like morning routines help us feel more awake, nighttime routines tell our bodies that it’s time to wind down. This leads to a more restful sleep, and again, a more energetic morning!
Sleep. Since we’re on the topic of sleep anyways, now would be a good time to talk about the importance of it. Sleep is so beneficial to our bodies. It’s restorative, it’s relaxing, and—in all honesty—it’s often a much-needed break from the business of our days. I’ve learned that sleep works best when it’s structured. Our bodies love rhythm. When we stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, our bodies start to naturally fall into the pattern, and we can then reap the benefits, such as more energy and a better mood, throughout the day. Of course, there are circumstances in which we might need more or less sleep, like when we’re sick or during finals week. Remember to listen to your body and give yourself some grace when this one gets difficult.
Preparing. Remember when we talked about planning? This is where it really starts to come in handy. When you have a layout of what your week is going to look like, it’s much easier to figure out what you need to do and when you have time to do it. For example, if you have class at 8am on Tuesdays, and you know you’re not a morning person, it might be helpful to do tasks like showering or putting supplies in your backpack the night before. Also, if it’s difficult or exhausting for you to cook throughout the week, advance meal-prepping can be a great skill. If you have a dietitian, talk to him or her about how to prepare balanced, easily stored meals that fit your meal plan.
Schedule in fun. In the past, whenever I’ve gotten exceptionally busy, the fun activities on my to-do list were always the first to go. I believed that I could do those things only when I completed all of the other requirements. The problem with that philosophy is that when you cut out time for fun, the quality of all your other work suffers. You’re more likely to feel drained, distracted, and resentful of everything else you have to do, so you don’t do it as well. However, if you intentionally schedule in things like hanging out with friends, watching your favorite TV show, doing yoga, or whatever else it is you love, you approach your other obligations with more energy and passion. Next time you find yourself feeling guilty for taking time out of your busy schedule for fun, think of it as an investment, and then notice how it impacts the rest of your tasks for the week.
Beginning a self-care plan can seem like a daunting task. It requires intention and dedication, and at times you may wonder if it is worth it. But take it from a former skeptic like me: When you invest in yourself, it becomes much easier (and more fun) to put forth energy into everything else. I encourage you to start slowly and choose just a few things you can implement today. Little by little, add more strategies to your self-care repertoire, notice the benefits, and above all, don’t forget to thank yourself.
Mary Claire is a graduate intern therapist at The Awakening Center. She will graduate from Northeastern Illinois University in August 2019 with an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and will become certified as a Licensed Professional Counselor.