When I think about self-care, I don’t necessarily think about sinking into a bubble bath or getting a manicure. While pampering yourself is a form of self-care, there are plenty of other things that qualify, as well.
It’s taking the time to deal with things you’ve let sit for too long – the appointment you’ve been meaning to make or the cluttered junk drawer that needs to be organized. It’s giving yourself permission to leave a task undone so you can get to the grocery store to get ingredients for a healthy, home-cooked meal – instead of ordering takeout again. It’s returning an email from your college roommate or chatting on the phone with a family member.
Self-care can be a lot of things, but one thing it absolutely shouldn’t be is optional. It’s not a luxury only meant for when you have time; it’s a required part for your personal wellness!
If you’re not sure what self-care looks like, here are a few ideas:
- Go to bed early (or sleep in late)
- Work on a creative project
- Write in your journal
- Send a surprise package to a friend
- Treat yourself to your favorite guilty pleasure (chocolate, Netflix, bad 80s music, etc.)
- Unplug for the afternoon
- Take a walk
- Run an errand
- Go through your wardrobe and pick out some items to donate
- Call a friend just to chat
- Take a break from email
- Do something kind for someone else
Practice the Four M’s
As a busy professional who doesn’t always practice as much self-care as I should, I’ve taught myself to be more focused and mindful of my self-care habits (or lack thereof) by using the four M’s:
- Meaningful Engagement
My friend is a licensed mental health counselor, and she has been using these four principles to better educate and support her patients in building resilience and improving their mental outlook.
Movementis a grounding technique to help you get out of your thoughts and reconnect with the environment around you. Walking to the mailbox or around the perimeter of your yard. Getting your feet on the ground and your body in motion is the key – even in small bursts throughout the day. If you’re feeling stress and tension, exercise is a fantastic way to combat it.
Mindfulnessis about getting your mind to focus on the present and what’s happening now. Start by taking three deep breaths and exhaling them slowly. Then ask yourself what am I seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting? Some people find gratitude journaling, doodling, or writing to be a helpful strategy. There are dozens of meditation and mindfulness apps available if you want to explore a more guided approach. This is not one size fits all, so you may need to experiment with a few things to find a mindfulness strategy that is truly helpful to you.
Masteryrelates to engaging in an activity that you enjoy or want to learn. Do you have a hobby or favorite pastime? Is there something that you want to learn? I love to sew and create things. I have boxes and tubs full of fabric and sewing supplies. As I’ve been teaching my nieces and nephew how to sew, it has helped me reengage with a hobby I love and a creative outlet my mind, body, and spirit crave.
Meaningful engagementis the people component. Who are you connecting with in a meaningful way on a consistent basis? It may be a spouse or family member. It may be a friend or colleague. It may be a counselor, coach, or mentor. As professionals, this is where our personal innovation lab becomes vital. And it doesn’t have to be the same person every time. What’s important is that you have a meaningful connection with someone on a consistent basis.
In the past few months, I have tried to engage with the 4 M’s daily. Some days it’s easier than others. When I babysit my nieces and nephews, I find I can often check off movement, mastery, and meaningful engagement in the same visit. It’s great for all of us. But if I can only get one M checked off in a day, I focus on movement because it’s the one with the most immediate and long-lasting impact for me.
On the days I am able to accomplish all four, I can see a positive difference. But even if I can only get one accomplished, it’s still a self-care step in the right direction.