Self-Care Solutions for Every Situation
You've got 99 problems—but thanks to this guide, giving yourself enough TLC ain't one.
When we say "self-care", do you think "bubble baths and film marathons under a weighted blanket"? If so, you're not wrong, but you may be missing out. "Self-care is the daily, consistent, foundational way you care for yourself, including your physical, emotional and mental health, so you can put forward the best you possible", says Theresa Melito-Conners, PhD, a self-care expert, educational consultant and author in Massachusetts.
Self-care isn't just about pampering. It can mean doing something unpleasant that's ultimately good for you (like going to the dentist) or giving yourself exactly what you need in a particular situation (say, an actual lunch break), says Ellen Bard, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and the author of This Is for You: A Creative Toolkit for Better Self-Care. Once you do, you can better replenish your cup so you're able to show up fully engaged at work, in your training and for your relationships, says Bard. And instead of wasting time and energy forcing your chill, you can give yourself the internal resources to resolve the problems you're trying not to stress over. It's like adding the missing puzzle piece versus putting a bunch of misfit pieces together and hoping they form something.
"Self-care is about connecting with ourselves more deeply and listening to what our hearts, minds and bodies need".
Associate fellow of the British Psychological Society
In order to effectively care for yourself, you need to really know yourself, says Bard. "What might nourish one person might not work for another, and what we need in one moment might not work for us in another moment", she says. "Self-care is about connecting with ourselves more deeply and listening to what our hearts, minds and bodies need".
That's why tailoring your self-care activities to your current needs is key. Try this guide, based on expert insight.
1. When You're Overwhelmed: Squeeze in a High-Energy Workout
A soothing massage might seem like the break you need from all the things. But if you end up mentally running through your to-do list as your massage therapist works your back, you'll likely feel more overwhelmed afterwards, says Melito-Conners.
Instead, try doing a workout that you know empowers you and relieves stress, says Melito-Conners. That could be a five-minute dance party, a heavy-lifting session, sprinting around your street or a fiery yoga flow. Just a few minutes of moving your body and increasing your heart rate can also boost your energy enough that you'll be ready to tackle the project or problem you're working on, says Melito-Conners. And research has shown that exercise of any kind can deliver a self-esteem boost. Energy and confidence are a powerful combo for getting sh*t done.
2. When You're Having Trouble Sleeping: Take a Bath
Stress and sleeplessness go hand in hand (ugh), but taking a nap—a classic self-care move when you're tired—can actually backfire. Sleeping in the middle of the day could throw your body clock out of whack, further disrupting your ability to fall asleep at bedtime, says Rebecca Leslie, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in Atlanta.
Your move? A warm bath. Soaking one to two hours before bedtime helps people fall asleep faster and get better-quality shut-eye, found a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews. It stimulates the body's thermoregulatory system, which can help lower your core temp, priming you to drift off more easily, says Leslie. "Lying in the bathtub can also be calming and help create a great mindset for sleep because you're being still, unwinding and disconnecting before bed".
3. When You're Feeling Anxious: Phone a Friend
Kicking back in your robe with a glass of red or watching the game usually isn't the best solution to turn off your restless mind, as your thoughts will probably just keep spinning. Calling a friend could be more uplifting and grounding.
"Anxiety is usually pointing to a future worry", says Bard. "Talking about it with a friend and getting a different perspective and asking them to help you make a plan is more likely to give you a feeling of control". It's also comforting to be reminded of your support system, she adds. Even if your friend doesn't help you solve the struggle, sometimes you just need to know people have your back.
4. When You're Straight-Up Angry: Try Meditating and/or Deep Breathing
If rage builds up, you can't just throw a face mask on it. "A short meditation—even five minutes—or some deep-breathing exercises can help calm the nervous system, promote mental clarity and restore balance", says Melito-Conners. "When possible, try to determine what triggered you to feel irritated". Doing so can help you either respond to the situation maturely and rationally or let it go and move on (often the better solution).
Too pissed off to bliss out? Been there, felt that. "If you are too 'heightened', move your body. Walk, listen to your favourite song or dance and sing to change your mood", says Melito-Conners. From there, you can begin a meditation or breathing session to calm down even more or just get on with your happier self.
5. When You're Down in the Dumps: Make a Gratitude List
"There's a lot of great research that's found that people who keep gratitude journals have higher life satisfaction and greater self-esteem", says Leslie. FWIW, journalling doesn't have to mean sitting down with a diary for hours. "Maybe you can spend a few minutes every day writing two to three things you are grateful for or keep a running inventory on a Google Doc or a note on your phone", says Melito-Conners. "When you catch yourself in those moments where you're feeling down, you can look at your list and reflect upon all you have to be grateful for".
Ultimately, all this is about finding what works for you. If these suggestions don't bring the result you need, keep experimenting until you find what makes you feel better. To make it easier, always ask yourself, "What do I really need right now?" and "What does future me need?" says Bard. Eventually, you should have no problem putting the "self" in self-care.
Words: Celia Shatzman
Illustration: Xoana Herrera