As the new year gets underway, what better time to do an inventory on what your self-care priorities should be for 2018.
Let’s chunk your self-care priorities down to three areas of need: mental, physical and spiritual.
Mental Health Needs
Nurturing your mental health is pretty important BUT is one of the areas a lot of us don’t pay attention to until it’s too late.
Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, and 260 million suffer from anxiety disorders – many whom live with both conditions.
And while the statistics might seem discouraging, by prioritising our mental health needs and making it a part of our day-to-day life, we can start to make some slow and steady changes.
Here’s some simple questions to ask yourself to get started:
Q1 – How have you felt over the last 2 weeks?
Have you felt happy or sad? Energetic or tired? Bubbly or irritable? What has been the overarching ‘mood’ of the last fortnight?
If you’re feeling down, fatigued and stressed, why not start the new year by talking to someone about it? This could be a trusted confidant, a stranger on a helpline, or a professional.
As part of my self-care arsenal, I regularly see a psychologist to talk through what is happening in my life, any stressors, as well as ways I can structure my life to compliment my mental health needs.
In 2017, this made a dramatic difference after I spent the first six months of the year struggling with anxiety, panic attacks and a resurgence in my depression. Once I recognised the signs, I got myself back on a mental health plan via my GP, I was referred to an awesome psych, and together we started work on myself. I will continue to work with her in 2018 as I realise this is something I need to prioritise.
Q2 – Do you need time off to gain mental clarity?
This could be in the form of a ‘mental health day’ to get you away from the daily grind – even if that means sitting on the couch or sleeping. You could also escape for a weekend getaway with close friends – lots of wine, deep and meaningfuls, tears, laughs and cuddles. And when was the last time you took a holiday – even if it was a week spent at home spent decluttering your home or chilling with Netflix?
In August 2017, I finally had time to pay attention to my physical needs after a year of working 3 jobs, running a business, and dealing with life.
As you can imagine, things weren’t good. In my battle to ‘just get through’, I’d abandoned any semblance of self-care and developed candida, my acne and eczema had come back with a vengeance, my sleep was erratic broken by panic attacks, I’d put on a dress size and a half in weight, and was drinking on average 3 glasses of wine a night.
I knew I needed to prioritise my physical self-care needs. Being time poor, busy, and with a husband in and out of work, I had to make some big changes wisely. These included approaching my employer to work part-time from home to decrease travel time, seeing my GP and getting some tests and diagnosis, focussing on my gut microbiome (as it was shit, sometimes literally!), changing my eating habits, incorporating more movement into my days, and cutting out coffee and alcohol. Long story short, 6 months later, I’ve dropped a dress size, my acne has vanished, I’ve broken my reliance on booze and caffeine, and I have more energy to entertain the thought of some mild EXERCISE eek!
The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer, MD was a particularly enlightening read for me in 2017, helping me to realise the extent stress had had on my physical health:
We have all experienced the connection between our mind and our gut—the decision we made because it “felt right”; the butterflies in our stomach before a big meeting; the anxious stomach rumbling when we’re stressed out. While the dialogue between the gut and the brain has been recognized by ancient healing traditions, including Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, Western medicine has failed to appreciate the complexity of how the brain, gut, and more recently, the microbiome—the microorganisms that live inside us—communicate with one another. In The Mind-Gut Connection, Dr. Emeran Mayer, executive director of the UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress, offers a revolutionary look at this developing science, teaching us how to harness the power of the mind-gut connection to take charge of our health.
Q1 – Take a minute to tune into your body. What would self-care priorities do you need to set to help you feel better, physically, at the moment?
And I’m not talking about a detox or a diet! Seriously, anything with the word DIE in it needs to be chucked out the window! And detox, well, here’s my views on all things detox.
No, I’m talking about having a conversation with your body and asking it what it truly needs.
If it’s less alcohol and sugary treats, go with it – just don’t call it a detox! Call it ‘giving your body what it needs, which is some love and sustenance’.
If you are feeling tired maybe you need some good quality sleep or a nap? I called myself the Queen of Naps over the Christmas period, because I just went with what my body was telling me – which was it needed time to ret and rejuvenate.
Perhaps you’re achy in your joints and muscles, or after a long and busy year, feel really sedentary?
How does a gentle 10-minute yoga session in the comfort of your lounge room sound? As often is the case, you may not feel up to leaving the house (I certainly don’t!), so hit up You Tube for some gentle instructional videos. I love Yoga with Adriene, and have recently committed to TRUE – a 30 day Yoga Journey. It runs for the whole of January and is totally free, on You Tube, and available to you in the comfort of your own home at any time. And if you are up for leaving the house, a slow walk along the beach, breathing in the fresh air and letting it blow the cobwebs from your brain is highly recommended. If you are nowhere near a beach, than a park will do just fine.
Intimacy / sex is another physical need that, for those of us in a long-term relationship, often falls to the wayside. I’ll put my hand up to that. When I’m busy and stressed sex is the last thing on my mind, but I at least make sure to kiss my man every day before we leave and get home from work, and snuggle up to him on the couch for a hug every night before bed. And sex, well, as my stress levels decrease … enough said!
As a Highly Sensitive Person and introvert who has anxiety, I sometimes feel spiritually sucked dry – kinda like a shrivelled prune!
As you can imagine, acknowledging my self-care priorities is super important, thus I schedule in regular me-time, downtime – especially after busy days full of meetings and networking, and remind myself regularly of my priorities. This includes what I want to do, what I don’t want to do, who I want to be around, and my overarching values (my guiding principles). When I’m living aligned to my values, am doing what I love, surround myself with positive people, and am living authentic, I am clear-headed, in-tune and happy.
Q1 – What are your spiritual needs?
I recommend setting reminders or scheduling time to meditate and be mindful.
I listen to Podcasts that help me put things into perspective and remind me about nurturing my spiritual self. I love podcasts by Tara Brach, which are a mix of down-to-earth talks and guided meditations. Tara has a soft, soothing voice, and I find her very easy to listen to.
To nurture mindfulness, I scatter post-it notes around the house (‘wash the dishes to wash the dishes’ rather than ‘wash the dishes to analyse your life, worry about what so and so said, and to plan world domination’). As a side note they are also good for my hubby … once he realises what they are for.
Keeping a gratitude journal is incredibly nurturing for your spirit, and is something I have focussed on over the last few years. Expressing gratitude has helped me identify my self-care priorities and change my thinking from ‘glass half empty’ to ‘glass is half full’ and helped me tune in to the small things in life and the positive.
What will your self-care priorities be in 2018?
And lastly, thank you for reading.
Here’s some further reading and actionable ideas to help you set your self-care priorities:
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