Want to Prioritize Self-Care? Here’s How.

Self-Care is a collection of thoughts and behaviors that allow you to discover, cherish, and better support yourself.

Not to downplay pampering, but to prioritize self-care requires more than taking extra bubble baths and drinking hot tea. At its core, self-care reflects, while also enhancing, our sense of self-worth. I used to have a narrow view of self-care, seeing it as spoiling myself or indulgence, perhaps even in ways that were counter to long term health. Culturally, self-care is often seen as linked to products and consumption, available to those with a lot of time and money. But self-care is something we all engage in to some degree, and something we could, and should, take more seriously.

Taken broadly, self-care is a collection of behaviors and habits that improve health and wellness, increase resilience, and relieve stress.

Have a Self-Care Attitude

Making time to care for yourself is evidence of a desire to develop, strengthen, support, discover, and cherish your truest self.  Knowing how to take care of yourself in each moment, and through time, depends on an awareness and acceptance of yourself as you have been, are, and could become. 

Self-care requires taking accountability for your own well-being.  In many ways, our culture celebrates self-sacrifice. Putting others’ needs above your own is a disservice, not only to yourself, but also to those you’re giving to at personal expense.

Putting self-care first is an act of generosity to yourself, and also those you care about.

Not only is self-care not selfish, it's a generous gift given to yourself and others.
Not only is self-care not selfish, it’s a generous gift given to yourself and others.

Unplug to Prioritize Self-Care

It’s easy, in our fast-paced world, to stretch yourself too thin. You can end up dry, depleted, and exhausted. At times you’ll have nothing left to give to yourself, much less others.

You may feel pulled in all directions:

  • family
  • work
  • school commitments
  • friends
  • romantic or sexual partners

The list goes on.

Technology allows us to stay constantly connected. We’re checking texts, reading emails, updating our social media status, and reading (just the headlines of) what sound like good articles. Culturally, we’ve learned to maintain relationships in, as Sherry Turkle has pointed out, “sips rather than gulps”.

Most of us rarely disconnect. When we do, it’s often because we were explicitly asked to during a meeting, or before a movie starts at the theater. Does that even count as disconnection?

Although we spend time alone, we rarely, if ever, have to just be with ourselves.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

What Would Being Kinder Toward Yourself Look Like?

Caring and kindness toward yourself can take many forms. Because you’re unique, self-care will be understood and implemented vastly differently by you than it is by others.

Self-care involves finding your inner child and your inner critic, identifying and being willing to feel all of your emotions. It invites you to forgive yourself for making mistakes, failing to achieve goals, and being a beautifully imperfect human being.  

It’s a branching out, a stretching of yourself, but it also involves letting go. You may need to rid yourself of outdated habits, ideas of who you are, who you should be, and your limiting beliefs.

To prioritize self-care, you have to be willing to prioritize "me" time.
To prioritize self-care, you have to be willing to prioritize “me” time.

“Sometimes self-care involves forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, setting boundaries in relationships, making that medical or dental appointment you’ve been putting off, saying no to a fun night out because you’re sleep deprived, or choosing to walk away from a job or relationship you have outgrown.”

Robyn L. Gobin, PhD
The Self Care Prescription: Powerful Solutions to Manage Stress, Reduce Anxiety & Increase Wellbeing

Prioritize Self-Care In Your Daily Life

In practice, self-care involves three key components:

  • cultivating skills and abilities
  • forming or breaking habits
  • engaging in, or disengaging from, activities

Cultivating Skills & Abilities

Skills and abilities that you may wish to acquire, or enhance, as a way to take better care of yourself, include:

  • assertiveness
  • emotional regulation
  • mindfulness
  • self-awareness
  • self-compassion
  • self-acceptance
  • resilience

“When loving-kindness bumps into suffering and stays loving, it becomes compassion.
Both are expressions of goodwill.”

Kristen Neff, PhD and Christopher Germer, PhD
The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive

Prioritize Self-Care by Making, and Breaking, Habits

When you’re seeing care of yourself as vital, you may:

  • assert your boundaries
  • regularly call and spend time with loved ones
  • go to bed early
  • make your bed
  • eat nutritious food
  • laugh, play
  • meditate
  • only check work emails during work hours
  • set aside “me” time
  • spend time outside, in nature
  • take bubble baths (and drink hot tea!)
  • get up to stretch, or walk, every hour or so
  • stay hydrated
  • engage in preventative health practices
Eating nutritious, delicious food is a form of self-care.
Eating nutritious, delicious food is a form of self-care.

“…sleep deprivation is an illegal torture method outlawed by the Geneva Convention and international courts, but most of us do it to ourselves.” 

Ryan Hurd
Dream Like a Boss: Sleep Better, Dream More, and Wake Up to What Matters Most

Habits that could hinder your progress, or encourage a lack of care for yourself, include:

  • catastrophizing
  • escaping through (insert vice here)
  • nail biting
  • overcommitting
  • overeating
  • self-criticism
  • sleep deprivation
  • substance use

Engaging in, or Disengaging from, Activities

Rediscovering or engaging in new healthy or introspective activities, such as:

  • biking
  • dancing
  • drawing
  • kickboxing
  • photography
  • writing
When you find something you love to do, make space for it in your life.
When you find something you love to do, make space for it in your life.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Abraham Lincoln

Disengage from unhealthy or self-depreciating activities, such as those that:

  • interfere with your health or happiness
  • are too time consuming
  • have become more obligation than enjoyment

In short, design a life that allows you to do your best, feel your best, and become the best version of yourself.

Prioritize Self-Care, While It’s Still Optional

For much of my life, I allowed self-care to ebb and flow. I focused on it when I was in pain, if my body gave out, if I became completely overwhelmed, when I was hitting a new low in some area, or when I was simply too sick to ignore my needs.

When I started to manage and seek relief from symptoms associated with IBS, I realized self-care was no longer optional. In some ways, that wakeup call was a blessing. There was a time when I could “do well” in some areas of wellness, while neglecting others. Today, if I want to feel good (which I do), I have to maintain a fairly high level of self-awareness and be more actively engaged in self-care.

I wish I had put more effort into self-care sooner. I’ve had to take a tough look at some parts of myself and my personality, accepting that they were doing more harm than good. I’ve learned a great deal sense about myself and the benefits of kindness and compassion toward myself.

You don’t need to wait until you hit a wall to create these kinds of changes. The sooner you act, the greater benefit there will be, since the rewards from investment in ourselves grow exponentially with time (as does the damage caused by a lack of self-care).

Personal vs. Professional Self-Care

In 2013, Lee and Miller conducted a study, with social workers, that emphasized the distinction between personal and professional self-care. The field had, for some time, understood the need for self-care as an antidote against rustout, burnout, emotional exhaustion, and vicarious trauma. Unfortunately, while those who worked in the profession had a firm grasp of the benefits of self-care, that understanding wasn’t translating to shifts in habits and routines. The participants were not engaging in self-care practices in a way, or to a degree, that was reflective of their beliefs and values.

Bloomquist and colleagues (2015) explored the relationship between self-care practices and professional quality of life. These authors found that while social workers valued self-care, they only engaged in self-care sparingly.

J. Jay Miller, Joann Lianekhammy, Erlene Grise-Owens
Examining Self-Care Among Individuals Employed in Social Work
Capacities: Implications for the Profession

They proposed that employers were in a position to help reduce the likelihood of staff burnout, which in turn reduced turnover.

Professional Self-Care

Companies might be fostering (or discouraging) self-care at every level of the organization. Prioritizing self-care can be embedded in their values. Policies and procedures can be written in ways that allow for, or better yet, incentivize care of self. Wellness programs could be created, employees could be encouraged to use preventative health care and to balance work with personal life.

Companies can:

  • provide height adjustable desks
  • allow for flextime
  • create remote work options
  • make it easy to use personal and sick days

Managers, who prioritize self-care in employees, allow for frequent breaks and might let employees walk while meeting.

Is your workspace set up in a way that encourages you to prioritize self-care?
Is your workspace set up in a way that encourages you to prioritize self-care?

If You Prioritize Self-Care, You’ll Reap the Rewards!

Caring for yourself will have a profound impact on your life. From being less of a people pleaser to having more inner strength, from taking the time to meditate to eating nutritious home cooked food, changing your approach to yourself is one of the best ways to increase the quality of your life and relationships.

As a result of allocating time for introspection, perhaps journaling or using affirmations, you’ll become more compassionate toward yourself. Increased self-awareness will bring to light the ways you dismiss, neglect, ignore, and limit yourself. You’ll start acting more like a best friend and less like a critic, as you see your value more clearly and begin to treat your time as exceedingly precious.

Moving Forward…

Continue introducing new ways to bring out the best in yourself, prioritize self-care habits until setting aside “me time” becomes as natural as (or more natural than) setting aside time for others.