Most of us spend our days bouncing from obligation to obligation—work, carpool, meetings, you name it—at the expense of our physical and mental health. During the holidays, with our schedules bursting at the seams, spending time on ourselves tends to fall even lower on our priority list. When things quiet down, we often only pause to recharge for a special occasion, like a spa day or a vacation. And even then, it can still be tough to unplug.
The pursuit of self-care may not always be easy, but it holds great value. It boosts mental health by decreasing anxiety and increasing resilience. By taking care of ourselves in the short-term, we’re primed to thrive in the long-term.
With the holiday season coming to a close and the new year quickly approaching, let’s resolve to prioritize our own well-being. Here are five lasting ways to put yourself first, every day:
1. Sleep Purposefully. Sleep is the foundation of well-being—as meQuilibrium data shows, it’s pivotal for stamina, health, mental focus, and emotion regulation. Take simple steps towards better sleep like setting a regular bedtime, making your bedroom a sleep-only zone (no devices), and keeping your space quiet and dark. Having trouble falling asleep due to anxiety? Create a sleep mantra, like “Things always look better in the light of day” or “None of my problems are so big that they can’t wait until tomorrow.” Try keeping a journal by your bedside to collect any thoughts that would otherwise keep you up at night.
2. Check in with your self-talk: We get mixed messages about self-care. The media tells us that we should eat healthy food, exercise, and be mindful, but also buy tons of products to better ourselves because we’re not yet good enough. No matter how much you go through the motions of self-care, if your head’s not in it, you won’t feel the full effects. That’s why it’s important to cheer yourself on—remind yourself that self-care is a work in progress, and don’t beat yourself up for not being in that “zen” state of mind yet. Any step you take today is a step in the right direction.
3. Get Active. Who can work out when there’s work to be done? The trick is to find simple ways to weave activity into your life. You don’t need to train for a marathon: Do small things everyday that keep you moving. Schedule time for an activity you enjoy. Be kind to yourself and start small. You’re more likely to keep at it if you maintain manageable goals. If you’re just starting out, aim for 30 minutes, three times a week. Finally, set a specific benchmark: Instead of something sweeping like, “I want to get fit,” focus on a precise goal, such as, “This week, I’ll take three walks before lunch.”
4. Journal: It sounds simple, or maybe tedious. Many of us ditched the diary after junior high. But there are serious health benefits to getting your thoughts down on paper. The APA found that while venting to a friend or family member can be a release, it doesn’t measure up to the benefits of writing. People who keep a journal cope better with trauma, daily stress, and even have better immune systems!
5. Advocate for Yourself: Whether it’s to your boss, to your friends, or to that inner voice in your head that’s pushing for a late-night email check instead of going to sleep, stand up for what you need and deserve. Only you have the power to know what’s best for you. Making yourself a priority means checking in with what you deserve—and making sure that you’re getting it. The more you honor that voice in your head that wants what’s best for you, the more you’ll convince yourself that you are worthy of respect and care, and the more others will start treating you as such. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Remember: Self-care is not selfish. Putting yourself “first” does not mean that everything else has to fall to the wayside. It just means that you are refueling…which will ultimately help you do a better job at taking care of everyone and everything else.
Kara Baskin is a Boston-based journalist who writes about food, health, well-being, and lifestyle for The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Women’s Health, and AARP’s Life Reimagined. She’s also the author of “Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know” (Random House). Find her on Twitter @kcbaskin