Lean In to Self-Care
Self-care is different for everyone. Here are five self-care exercises to help you make yourself a top priority in 2021. Choose one or try them all.
Give the best hours of your day to yourself: Dr. Groppel often advises clients to map out a typical day, from dawn until bedtime. You probably spend about eight hours sleeping — but how do you spend the other 16 hours? Write down the time you spend preparing meals, doing your job, shopping, watching television, doing laundry, helping children with homework, caring for an aging parent, catching up on emails
Next, Dr. Groppel asks: What one- or two-hour period in each day do you feel your best? Your most energetic? Your most productive? Now look at your list, he says. Who gets those hours? Try giving that time to yourself instead.
Giving yourself the best part of your day doesn’t mean taking a two-hour break from life. It means focusing on your priorities, rather than someone else’s. You can use that hour or two for anything you want — it might be for a hobby, a work project that you feel passionate about, time with your children or even to volunteer and help others. Giving yourself time every day to focus on your personal goals and values is the ultimate form of self-care.
Pick a word of the year: Choose a single word that describes the goals, values or mood you want to set for 2021. Last year, Dr. McGonigal chose the word “vitality.” “I had no idea how relevant it was going to be,” she said. This year she’s thinking about choosing the word dance, “because of all the meanings that dance has for me personally, in terms of celebration and community and courage.” Your word can be anything that matters to you: community, family, exercise, love, health, energy. Use your word as a mini mantra throughout the year to remind yourself to make self-care a priority.
Create a respite plan: If you are a caregiver to an aging parent, ill spouse or disabled child, self-care probably feels impossible. Finding time for exercise, spiritual support or just having some fun is more easily said than done. If you leave it to chance, self-care won’t happen. That’s why it’s important to design a family respite plan that identifies your needs and wishes, as well as the types of help other people can provide. Call a family meeting or call your friends. Tell everyone what you need — don’t expect them to automatically know how to help. The advocacy group AARP has a guide for designing a respite care plan.
Help someone else: Our bodies and minds benefit in a variety of ways when we help others. Studies show that having a strong sense of purpose protects us from stress in the short term and predicts long-term better health. If the traditional forms of self-care feel too self-focused to you, think about how helping others can be good for you. “It’s also the sense of having a responsibility to make a difference if you can,” said Dr. McGonigal. “Did I stand up for something this year in a way that might have made a difference? Did I allow myself to participate in that bigger-than-self process?”