Self-care can come in so many forms—it can be spending time in silence in the morning, taking a bubble bath at the end of a long workday, or going for a walk in the woods. All of these things can nurture the mind, body, and spirit so we can be healthy, feel more grounded, and ultimately be available for ourselves and others. Like passengers on an airplane are always instructed to do, we must put on our own oxygen masks before we can help others.
We asked Thuan Nguyen, certified Yoga and Reiki teacher and Wellness Manager at Mountainside, to answer a few questions about the importance of self-care:
Why is self-care important and how can it improve someone’s overall well-being?
You can’t give away what you don’t have. One of my favorite quotes is from Jack Kornfield. He writes, “If the compassion you give to others does not include compassion for yourself, then your compassion is incomplete.” People who give and don’t receive (especially from themselves), will eventually run out of compassion and care because it becomes a one-way street. They are always giving and will eventually deplete themselves of energy. They might even hold resentment, thinking that their relationships with others are always off balance. And they are! However, a person who takes care of themselves first and then gives will be able to replenish themselves so they have more to give. It becomes a self-generating give and take system.
Self-care helps people nourish mental, physical, and spiritual health. It is crucial to maintain all of these areas because if one aspect is neglected, your life will be thrown off balance. The healthiest and most balanced people I know take time to meditate so they can become more aware of their thoughts and the feelings associated with those thoughts. Then, they challenge them if they need to. Those individuals move the body regularly through hiking, going for walks, taking yoga classes, or going to the gym. They also connect with the spirit, taking time for spiritual practices like expressing gratitude, practicing forgiveness, connecting with like-minded people, prayer, and meditation. They take time out for themselves and then connect with others.
Why should someone make time for self-care?
Self-care supports work-life balance. A healthy employee will be happier, less stressed, and in a better mood. All good things! With a healthy mind, body, and spirit, employees do the inner work necessary to ask for help when needed. They are more present for fellow staff. And they are more efficient overall at work. People should schedule self-care activities on their work calendars which can also help remind them to get out of work on time.
Life is hard and we never know what it’s going to throw at us next. Having a regular self-care program in place can help prepare us for these unexpected moments. We can fake being okay for just so long but when the big, tough moments present themselves, we’ll see what we have cultivated inside of us. Life can be triggering at times. The question is, what will our reaction be when we’re triggered? People who practice regular self-care will be able to respond skillfully to these tough moments, while others will react in fight or flight mode.
What are simple examples of self-care that can be done at home?
- First thing in the morning, avoid immediately checking work emails or logging onto social media until you finish your self-care routine. You don’t want to find yourself “doomscrolling” at seven in the morning, caught up in anxieties. The first few minutes of being awake will set the mood for the day.
- Even if it feels forced, express gratitude for waking up in the morning and for this precious life. Gratitude has been shown to rewire the brain. The neurons that work together, fire together. The more gratitude you express to the Universe, the more you’ll be grateful for things throughout the day.
- Wake up a little early each morning for some quiet time. It could be a 5-minute meditation to start the day. It could also be time set aside for a daily chore like washing the dishes in silence while focusing on the sounds of the water, your hands on the sponge, and the circular movements against plates and bowls. Just complete presence. This extra time in the morning will also eliminate the need to rush out of the door to work. Less stress, more peace.
- Incorporate some gentle stretches into your day. Your body has been asleep for, hopefully, between six and eight hours, so the energy inside is stagnant. When your energy is stagnant, you feel sluggish and lazy. Slowly moving the body will wake up your qi, the body’s internal energy current. Find some Qigong or gentle yoga videos off YouTube. It just might become more important than your morning cup of coffee.
- Do you like setting a theme for the day? Find a book that has a short reading for each day of the year. It will give you daily topics and meditations to think about throughout the day. I’ve found that when this is part of my daily routine, I often get those “Ah, yes, that was exactly what I needed to hear” moments. The Universe always gives you what you need.
- During the day, connect with at least one person that builds you up and is a positive force in your life. Connection, connection, connection. We are not in this world alone. One day, you’ll be supporting someone, and another day, they will be holding you up. Nurture these relationships in your life.
- Remember when you were a kid and certain activities you did seemed to make time and space melt away? Rediscover one of the joys in your life and start doing it again. That vibration of joy is the vibration of spirit, and you are reconnecting to that frequency.
- Before going to bed, write three things you were grateful for during the day. Again, bringing gratitude into your life will strengthen these connections in the brain.
Of course, these options are good for everyone but might be more difficult for those with children in the household, especially in the morning. My only suggestion would be to wake up before your children! This is your time to set the tone for your day. Self-care is for you so that you can, in turn, be fully present for everyone in your life.
What are the biggest misconceptions about self-care?
The biggest misconception about self-care is probably that it is selfish. Before engaging in what you believe is a self-care activity, find your “why.” Why are you doing this activity? Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Is it to connect and strengthen your mind, body, and spirit? Or is it to “just get away” and abandon responsibilities? Remember, a healthy mind, body, and spirit can help form meaningful bonds with everyone that you encounter daily. It can help you manage your own stress and anxiety so you can accomplish more and be more present.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The name of the self-care game is consistency. A three-day spiritual retreat is good to kickstart a self-care regimen but if you don’t take the tools from the retreat and implement them into your life, it’s going to become a nice memory without longstanding benefits. A little bit of something each day is always better than a three-day binge of yoga and vegan food. Finding time every day to connect with ourselves and focusing on mind, body, and spirit will help us be present for ourselves first and then ultimately, for others.