• Jacquelyn Swaoger

Self-care for the New Year

The New Year can bring with it hopes for a new start. We may identify several life areas that we would like to cultivate positive growth or even radical change in. The usual resolutions typically revolve around weight, money, or quitting an unhealthy habit and are notorious for being forgotten by mid-February. This year, why not focus on an outcome that’s immediately attainable, can influence transformation in all spheres of your daily functioning, and might be more sustainable? You can think of it as an ongoing practice or a lifestyle rather than a set of objectives to reach an end result. So what is it? It’s the habit of self-care.


You’ve most likely heard this term used recently. Self-care has gone mainstream and is often being discussed in the media, on Instagram feeds, and having whole books written about the concept, but what is it really? Simply put, self-care is the effort, time, and dedication each of us invests towards increasing and maintaining our personal wellbeing. The practice of self-care is active: we do certain acts to bring health and happiness to our lives and we limit or remove other factors that negatively affect us. Self-care encompasses all areas of life; it’s concerned with physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and sexual wellbeing. A self-care practice provides an anchor during difficult times and is a rejuvenating force for all times. The following are a few ways you can begin to add more self-care into the New Year.


Structure

When life gets hectic the consistency of doing certain tasks at certain times throughout the day can be a grounding experience. Routines can afford us a sense of stability and comfort in the midst of otherwise constant change.  If you find your daily life lacking structure you may want to consider implementing a set time to engage in wellness practices, hobbies, or other tasks that enrich your daily life and help you to care for yourself. An example of this could be implementing a morning or evening routine – or both if you’re feeling extra motivated!


A morning routine could consist of waking up at the same time each day, having your favorite hot beverage, eating a healthy breakfast while sitting down, and enjoying a refreshing shower before getting on with your day. An evening routine could be turning off all electronics at least an hour before bed, having a cup of tea, reading a book or doing some gentle stretching or a meditation practice before getting a good night’s sleep. These are just two possibilities. Your routine can be as basic or as elaborate as you desire and have time for. The point is to add structure and consistency so your mind can relax knowing that no matter what the middle of the day brings you have your self-care “bookends” to hold you up.


Mindfulness

Committing to checking in with yourself every day – to sit, think, feel, and reflect, even for 5 minute intervals – can have a dramatic effect on your mood, energy levels, mental clarity, and more when done consistently. By engaging in this practice, you learn to be aware of your body and mind’s cues that it is experiencing stress before the response progresses in intensity. To put this into practice, you can set a reminder on your phone at various intervals throughout the day so that you remember to take a few moments to check in with yourself. Make sure these are times when you know that you’ll be available. This could include in the morning right before the rest of your household wakes up, at the start of your lunch break, when you get in the car to go home from class or work, or right before bed. Alternatively, you can make your check-ins a part of your morning and evening routines. Ideally, the time you pick will afford you some privacy and a quiet space so you’re able to really tune in.

Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and notice what’s going on internally. Can you identify specific emotions? What sensations do you notice in your body – tightness, dizziness, warmth, thirst? What is the content and tone of your thoughts – calm, racing, angry, judgmental? Just bringing awareness to these phenomena may help to decrease the intensity of any stress or discomfort. Sometimes, we may find we need to stretch, get a drink of water, talk to a loved one, or do other small acts of self-care to address our needs. Other times, we may discover that bigger shifts are in order: going to bed earlier to get more sleep, carving out time to engage in therapy, setting limits on how much we give to others.  Check-ins help you to connect with the deepest parts of yourself, build insight, and gain self-knowledge so that you can better care for yourself.  


Set Boundaries

Most of us lead fairly busy lives; it’s become a societal norm and it doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. When the growing number of items on your “to do” list mean that responsibilities consume a large part of your day, your needs may quickly begin to take up space on the back burner. Boundaries are the limits we set with ourselves and others that protect us from giving too much, being taken advantage of, getting stuck in unhelpful habits or lifestyle choices, or otherwise experiencing burn out. Boundaries are an essential component of self-care. You need to have them in order to practice self-care, as well as for your self-care to have a positive impact on you.


Let’s say you don’t stick to the limit you set on screen time. You’re watching TV or scrolling on your phone at night when you suddenly realize that it’s now past the time you wanted to go to bed, you didn’t get to practice your self-care evening routine, and you’re feeling stimulated rather than sleepy. Or, maybe you find yourself not knowing how to say “no” and now your schedule is overloaded with commitments and obligations, making time for self-care seem like an unattainable fantasy. Similarly, if you’re spending the day constantly saying yes to other’s needs or allowing toxic relationships to continue, then your self-care practice turns into a means to deal with the effects of poor boundaries, rather than a boost of self-nourishment. Setting boundaries and sticking to limits will help you to achieve your self-care goals and are acts of self-care in their own right.



Support Boost

Human beings are social creatures. Regular social interactions and the benefits we gain from them, such as support and a sense of belonging, are needed for good health. Take inventory of your social network – not the virtual ones, but the day-to-day, face-to-face relationships you have. Are you getting and giving enough socially? Are your friendships, romantic pursuits, and family life positive, healthy, supportive, engaging, and enriching? Are there any gaps or deficiencies in your support system? Are you feeling isolated, alienated, or lonely? If you find that your social network could use a boost you may want to consider joining a meetup group, volunteering, or reaching out to friends and family more often.  If social anxiety or depression are getting in the way of having the social life you desire, or you’re feeling in need of professional support right now, attending therapy may be helpful, as well.

Physical Wellness

The winter season can bring some unique challenges to maintaining good physical health even if we feel especially motivated by a new year.  Shorter, darker days may mean that it’s more difficult to go out for an after-work jog. Friends, family, and colleagues may pass along cold and flu germs. We also tend to gravitate towards heavier foods during this time of year and may still have sugar-laden treats hanging around from the holidays. In order to help your immune system cope with these extra stressors, as well as to begin building healthier habits year-round, you may want to make a wellness plan that focuses on small changes to your daily lifestyle. This might mean committing to getting 8 hours of sleep most nights, finding gentle ways to stretch and move your body (e.g., walking, yoga, etc.), drinking more water, cutting out caffeine, or aiming to include as many fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible. Start with developing one small habit at a time so you don’t overwhelm yourself. You may also want to consult with your doctor or a health coach before instituting any lifestyle changes, such as exercise, dietary modifications, or supplements, to make sure you have a plan that is safe and effective.


Hopefully, this list has inspired you to care for yourself a little bit more in the New Year and beyond. Remember, self-care is the acknowledgment that you are important and deserving of attention. It’s a promise you make to yourself that no matter how hectic or busy life gets you will save some of your time and energy to develop and maintain your own wellbeing. This list isn’t exhaustive and it’s not “all-or-nothing” so feel free to take what works for you from this article, add in your own ideas, and invest in your personal wellness!

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