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Self-care is one of the most important and often misunderstood concepts as people endeavor toward better mental health and well-being.
Simply put, self-care is a practice intended to proactively maintain a positive state of being. Last month I talked about mindfulness. While mindfulness refers to dedicated moments of judgement-free focus, self-care is about discovering that which replenishes our energy on a day-to-day basis. It would be impossible to be mindful, or fully present and aware, every moment of the day, but it is possible to practice self-care by implementing things in our daily routines that help to improve our individual experience.
However, proper self-care does not come without challenges, both personally and systemically. In the melting pot that is American culture, there is a long-standing notion that hard work is not just a respectable practice, but is an indicative characteristic that reflects the value of one human compared to the next. In other words, we place such a premium on hard work that we admire and praise some individuals based solely on their daily tangible input and output. Simply put, we glorify the grind.
This is where the notion of self-care has splintered. Too often self-care becomes another item on the checklist that must be done in our constant pursuit of improvement. But self-improvement and self-care are not one in the same. Where self-improvement is focused on the idea of working to fix defects and transform flaws, self-care is about nurturing that which we are now. It is about infusing elements into our daily routines that can help cultivate a positive state of well-being. This is not to discount the value of self-improvement, but rather to highlight the importance of caring for ourselves as we are.
To start, begin by recognizing the different areas of your life that can be cared for. While there are several potential areas, it may be easiest to pick two or three to focus on first, such as physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or social.
The next step is to consider your current state and identify manageable things that can be included into your regular routines. While you may think running five miles every day would help care for your physical self, it may be more manageable to add a 10-minute walk to the end of your lunch each day. Similarly, you might build in a weekly phone call to family members, join a book club, or set aside time to pray each night. Even things like establishing clear boundaries for yourself at work or being willing to say no to protect your valuable personal time can be helpful.
It also may be valuable to consider specific moments throughout your typical day. For example, your day might be broken down into your wake-up routine, the work or school day, lunch, after work, evening and bedtime. By considering these moments you might find additional opportunities for self-care elements, such as reading the newspaper each morning with breakfast, spending an uninterrupted hour with family after work, or ensuring your surroundings are organized at the end of the day. The key is to add elements to your routine that help sustain and restore your mind, body and soul.
While any one of these elements might at first seem inconsequential, blending a variety of self-care techniques that work for you into your daily routines may make a world of difference, or at least offer progress, in your mental health journey. And as always, the encouragement remains to seek professional guidance when appropriate and we can collectively continue on our path to greater well-being.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also helps lead the Iowa Ideas Conference, Leadership Development Program, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and digital strategy at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.