We may pursue our daily goals with dogged determination—the sales targets, the viewership numbers, number of clients serviced, awards won, sending children to the best schools, buying lavish gifts for our partners, traveling to exotic destinations, and checklists met. And yet, we sometimes miss the forest through the trees—we fail to take out time for ourselves, to nourish, replenish and pamper our body, mind, and soul when we take our downtime for granted. Though times seem to be changing…
Since 2015, Google searches for ‘self-care’ have more than doubled. Especially after what we have been through in these last two years of the pandemic, more of us have realized how important it is to take care of our bodies and mind in a meaningful way. We have realized we cannot fire from empty cylinders any longer. We cannot give from empty bowls.
So self-care is about recharging our soul batteries. It is an investment we make in ourselves, an investment of time and effort, so that we are rejuvenated and re-energized to take care of ourselves, work and family. In fact, blocking our diaries to ‘do nothing’ for an hour or a day is as much a part of self-care as is giving ourselves a nice long abhyanga massage, or reading a book or spending time meditating in nature.
Self-Care According to WHO
According to the World Health Organization, self-care is, “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” Self-care would also include preventive health care including regular checkups, cancer screening, mammograms, vaccination, among others. Self-care is everything you do to reduce the impact of stressors in life, for overall well-being. In this, just physical nourishment is not enough.
What is sustainable self-care?
Today, the concept of self-care has grown to accommodate the idea of holistic well-being, that is, engaging in practices that take care of your physical body, mind, soul AND environment, also called sustainable self-care. It is no good, if the fancy bubble bath you give yourself ends up putting toxic chemicals in the oceans. At the same time, the practices should ideally benefit your health in the long term, and not just for a day or two. For example, caffeine can help you feel energized for the time being and push you to get work done, but the feeling may not be sustainable. Instead, having a self-care routine focused on improving the quality of sleep can add an extra zing to your day, without having to rely on caffeine.
Why do we need self-care?
Really long working hours, leaves piling up, pushing ourselves to extraneous limits, have led to a staggering rise in the number of people showing signs of burnout and fatigue, be it in the corporate world or in high-performance jobs like sports and athletics. Let us understand this by assuming what happens if we do not engage in self-care. Imagine, your car has gone too long with its check engine lights blinking. One day, the car is bound to give in and may leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Most of us will not let it get that far. Chronic stress, tension headaches, palpitations, poor sleep cycles, lack of mental peace-these are all signs that our check engine lights are on. Our bodies and minds are far too important tools for us to work with, to achieve our dreams, to lead a happy and fulfilling life, to not take care of.
To live our best and most productive lives, to have sustainable and rewarding careers and relationships, we need to pay attention to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs, which can be met through a proper self-care routine. Attending to our nutrition, physical hygiene, de-stressing the mind, mind-body relaxation, giving them a qualitative rest, engaging the intellect, and doing things we love-they can all ensure we are putting our best foot forward in life. Only as healthy and happy individuals can we hope to contribute to our families, workplaces, and neighborhoods in a sustained and meaningful way.
Shades of Self-Care
Based on each aspect of our existence that we tend to, self-care can mean tending to our emotions, body, mind, neighborhood, intellect, soul, and professional skill sets.
For example, emotional self-care may include a nice bubble bath, playing with pets, practicing gratitude, engaging in random acts of kindness, comforting others, and going on dates, among others.
Physical self-care could include having a good sleep routine; practicing yoga, tai chi or any other mind-body practice; working out; and attending to one’s nutrition.
Mental self-care would mean clearing one’s headspace through meditation or contemplation; breathwork; journaling; and practicing silence (going on silence retreats are a big way of tending to one’s mental well-being too). Calling up friends and relatives; meeting up friends; serving in the neighborhood can all contribute towards social self-care. Watching a documentary or a good film; listening to a podcast; reading a stimulating work of fiction or non-fiction are some of the ways to take care of our intellectual faculties.
And for our spiritual self-care, we serve; listen to self-realized men for wisdom and perspective; meditate; engage in religious activities; or spend time in nature, connecting and resting in it.
Our idea of self-care cannot be an exclusive one. While we take care of ourselves, our body, mind and heart, it is good to pick activities and routine that promote our health and well-being over a long period of time and does not harm the environment. Also, you will see, when we make environmentally conscious choices, we are invariably choosing our well-being as well because we are an inextricable part of this environment that we are trying to save. So here are a few sustainable ideas for self-care:
1. Walk walk walk
It clears up your head, reduces your carbon footprint, and helps you stay fit! It is also a powerful grounding exercise and helps you connect with your environment. As you walk, wave to your friends and acquaintance and observe the change in your heart space. You’ll find your heart starts to open up and you begin to feel a sense of belongingness with everything and everyone around. Walking is known to release happy hormones that put you in a happy emotional state. It can help you shed the extra holiday weight too while powering up your body’s immunity!
2. Dance Your Way Out of Stress
We like to Move it! Move It! Do you? The quickest way out of one’s stress is to put on a song you like and break the moves. Science backs us up here. Research showed, those who practiced Zumba, a dance workout that exercises their cardiovascular muscles, reported better mood, more energy, and release of stress-relieving hormones norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. It can immediately stop a chattering mind.
Yogasanas or yogic postures are time-tested tools in healing the body and mind and washing off all the stress toxins. Philosophically, it also helps you broaden your vision about life and its goings-on. You will see that when your mind is free and happy, problems seem solvable and tasks seem doable. In other words, yoga helps expand your capacity to do more in less time and without stressing out.
- Yoga increases blood flow in the body
- Oxygenates the system
- Brings hormonal balance
- Increases immunity
- Makes the body stronger to respond to mental illnesses more efficiently
A healthier body impacts the mind in a positive and profound way. It makes the mind stronger, boosts your prana or life force, which is the foundation for a positive mindset.
4. Body massage / Abhyanga
Deep oil massage with herbal oils is a popular relaxation therapy. This increases blood circulation in the body and detoxifies the body of ama or toxins that tend to accumulate as a result of our lifestyle, improper diet, or dosha imbalances, which tend to slow down metabolism and become a cause for illnesses in the future.
Specialized points or energy centers are activated in abhyanga, which releases stress and stagnant prana and relaxes the mind totally. The oils used for abhyanga are natural and environmentally safe to use. These are usually prepared at centers that preserve the knowledge of Ayurveda and so do not involve any plastic packaging or packaging that can pollute the environment. The science of Ayurveda has a deep connection with sustainability. Ayurveda does not treat individuals as separate from the environment they function in and so any practice that does not support the long-term health of the planet cannot be good for an individual either, according to this timeless system of wellness.
5. Take Care of Hair and Skin Naturally
Giving your skin and hair a nice tending loving care or TLC using natural ingredients available right in your kitchen is great for your body as well as being environmentally friendly. After all, nobody wants the carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting agents found in commercial skincare and hair products to land up in our bodies or in the oceans.
Stuff like papaya, orange and orange peels, tomato, banana, honey, potato, basil, turmeric, avocado oil, almond oil, sesame oil, cedarwood, or other essential oils are easily available for us to use.
Some skincare tips you can use:
- Tomatoes can be used for reducing skin pores and removing blackheads. For this, simply mix tomato juice with lemon juice and apply it evenly throughout your face. Wash it off with lukewarm water.
- Honey and milk can do wonders in reducing pigmentation and evening out the skin tone, while moisturizing it.
- Turmeric is a rich source of anti-oxidants, is an antiseptic and has skin brightening properties. Applying a paste of turmeric can help clear up blemishes. You can mix it up with curd and lemon for brighter, clearer skin.
- Raw potato also comes with multiple skin benefits including brightening the skin tone. It is often sued for treating eye bags and dark circles.
Tips for your hair:
- Use onion juice for cleaning the scalp. Onion juice has sulfur that supports hair volume, reduces breakage, and promotes hair growth. Onion juice also has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
- You can also use an ingredient like green tea, known to contain antioxidants that provide nourishment to the hair follicles, reduce hair loss and thinning of hair.
- Olive oil is another secret magic potion in your kitchen cabinet. It is calming, adds softness and strength to hair, and penetrates well for better absorption. The fatty acids present in it help protect the hair against aging and greying from exposure to the sun. You can mix a tablespoon of olive oil with mashed banana and blend it until there are no lumps. Apply the hair mask and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Wash it off and watch your hair shine!
6. Journal writing
This is the art of pouring your mind into the pages of your notebook without any judgment. Journaling helps to clear your mind and heart, draw priorities, or unleash your creative potential. When you sit down to write a journal, let the thoughts flow freely. There is no good or bad journaling. When done sincerely, it helps you reflect on your day, things you could have done better, things you did, your dreams or fears, or your short-term and long-term goals. There are no set rules for what should go into your journal. It can be a habit tracker or it can well be your doodle diary. It can be your poem keeper or logbook for memories or it can be your way to talk to yourself.
The joys of reading are endless, as my editor will tell you, whose book recommendations I love! It is not just an introvert’s paradise but also a great way to lose oneself in the magic of words strewn into sentences that transport you into another world and for those brief minutes, all seems well. It relaxes your mind (unless you are reading a nail-biting thriller), channels your imagination, and educates you. Health-wise, it helps you sleep better, promotes empathy, reduces depression symptoms, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, fights cognitive decline, and reduces stress! Reading can also be a great bonding activity with your friends, partner, or work colleagues.
Interested in coding or making a website? Do you like architecture? Want to learn a new language? Take a course on Udemy or any other free learning platforms to learn or upgrade your existing skill sets, or learn something completely new. We include it in self-care because it helps you become your best version. The idea is, even upskilling should be a fun venture and should not add to your daily stress triggers. Studies suggest it can help boost your self-esteem and expand your capacity to deal with stress. It does not have to be related to your professional calling either. You can simply learn a foreign language on Duolingo for fun, or amp up your skillset in the kitchen with a cooking class. These exercises will keep your grey cells engaged and challenge your cognitive function. Learning something new triggers the brain’s reward center and reduces the release of stress hormones such as cortisol.
There’s nothing here that Marie Kondo hasn’t already told you about the rewards of de-cluttering your living space and bedroom. It is said that one’s surroundings can have an impact on one’s mind space. De-cluttering one’s physical space can produce feelings of happiness and satisfaction, and bring clarity to one’s mind. It is said to bring about positive energy around the space you are in. Eliminating the excess stuff can also be an important lesson in minimalism, something that we need for the planet to survive. A creative challenge in de-cluttering can be to see how we can recycle and reuse instead of throwing away toxic and non-biodegradable material. Can you make art out of it or can it be used for building purposes? You can also check if the items can be donated or shared. Rachel Jones of Nourishing Minimalism gives us all the whys and hows of the joys of living minimally. And there many more YouTubers with helpful information if you’re ready to take the dive.
10. Pranayama or Breathwork
Breath is healing, energizing, nourishing, and purifying. Pranayama, the process of controlling the breath to channelize energy is an excellent self-care tool. Here’s how you can do it.
- It de-stresses the body and mind
- Increases flow of energy
- Enhances focus
- Releases negative emotions
- Deepens the meditation practice.
A few minutes of pranayama or the SKY practice can enhance the quality of life and will make you fall in love with yourself all over again.
Meditation can be practiced anywhere in our homes or outdoors. Few minutes of meditation every day can give us enormous inner strength, clarity of thought and reinvigorate us to take the day head-on. It is a must-do for emptying our mind’s bowls of the stress, anxiety, and useless thoughts of worry or regret or thoughts of insufficiency. It is so important to clear out one’s mind every day and start on a blank slate because we know the nature of our work is unlikely to change. But with meditation, we can empower and energize ourselves to do more with limited time. Meditation also improves our present-moment awareness, which translates to a more focused and better quality of work. Here’s everything you need to know about meditation.
Sleep is an essential item in any self-care routine worth its salt. You can do everything else right—you could be eating well, meditating twice, running, serving, or writing—but if your sleep cycle is out of order, it will show up in the quality of your life. It will lower your energy levels, hinder work, affect your moods. Our body needs a specific number of hours of uninterrupted sleep for all the wear and tear required for overall health. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to a host of lifestyle diseases including diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, and other cardiac problems. There is a strong link between lack of sufficient sleep and release of the stress hormone cortisol.
To sleep better,
- Have a regular wake time, including on weekends. This will train your mind to sleep on time.
- Relaxation activities like a warm bath or reading or listening to soft music can also help you sleep better.
- Darken the room completely by pulling the curtain down.
- One hour before hitting the sack, put away all the electronic devices.