How Building a Self-Care Practice Saved My Mental Health

For much of my life, I saw self-care as treating myself to something special like a massage, a fancy yoga class, or an amazing dinner out at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Real #treatyoself moments.

They made me feel amazing for the next few hours, but shortly after those warm fuzzy feelings dissipated, I didn’t feel any better. I was looking for a practice that I could employ anywhere anytime, all on my own.

In Walks the Self-Care Practice…

The truth about self-care is that it looks pretty boring from the outside. Consistency and habits? Sexy, I know. But, giving back to myself every day is extremely rewarding and empowering. Not only to be my best for me, but also to show up as my best self for everyone else too.

The imPerfect Self-Care Practice

If my Self-Care routine was perfect, I wouldn't call it a practice! It’s practice for all the moments where I struggle, where I feel anxious, or stuck. A practice is not used as a band-aid or to treat an affliction at the moment. It’s a sustainable, preventative and life long effort. It’s not about perfection, it’s about carving out time to dedicate and tune into my physical, emotional and mental health.

Making Decisions from an Authentic Place

Tuning into this authentic place is where all my self-care practices come together. All this practice allows me to drop into what I really need. What I really want when it comes to making small decisions like what to eat for dinner and more life-changing decisions like choosing a career path.

Example in Action

I’m alone at a networking event. I don’t know anyone and I’m not sure who to approach. I start to feel anxious, uncomfortable. Was it was a mistake to come? I begin contemplating my swift exit and spin up a creative excuse to leave. But first, this is my chance to employ my self-care practice and ask myself some questions.

Do I really want to be here, or am I forcing myself to stay longer because I “should.” Or, do I truly want to be here and I’m just out of my comfort zone? There’s a difference, but sometimes they feel the same. Further inquiry takes me closer to my needs:

Practices in Self-Care

There are hundreds of different techniques for self-care, and it’s up to you to pick techniques that you can consistently commit to. Here are some of the consistent self-care practices in my life:

Community — Convening with people who share my values, actions, or way of thinking feels like magic. Do you know when you feel heard and seen and understood in ways you never thought before? That’s your community. Cherish it and show up like your life depends on it.

Movement — When I feel stuck in my head, movement is a savior. Yoga, weightlifting, or dance allows me to drop fully into my body and senses. Bottoms-up processing allows me to make decisions from the real-time data from my body and sensory experience, rather than focused on Top-Down processing which focuses on contextual information. Both are necessary, but too much Top-Down processing can leave me stuck in old stories and past assumptions and unable to move forward into the present.

Lose Track of Time — On my sunset bike ride up the Hudson River, I grabbed for my phone at least 10 times in the first hour. The thing is, it wasn’t even in my pocket. I left it at home on purpose. I didn’t realize that I was THAT attached to my phone. I was building a habit of picking it up even when there were no notifications or buzzes. It was glorious and beautiful to have absolutely no idea what time it was for those 3 hours. To be completely free of my notifications. And to finally sit fully into presence. Free yourself of your phone and social media, even if it’s just for a few hours.

Escape to Nature — I live, work, and play in Manhattan (arguably) the epicenter of the world. Exciting, buzzing, and always busy, it’s hard to “shut off” the city. I need nature at least once a month. I’m not talking about Central Park ya’ll. I’m talking about an adventure to a place where everything around me is nature made, not human-made. It reminds me of my roots, growing up in a log cabin in the middle of a forest with 10 cats (yeah, I can’t make that up). It gives perspective to my bubble that is the small island of Manhattan and brings me back home.

Unbiased Reflection — I love my friends and family, but they can be biased when it comes to giving life advice. Based on their love (and fear) for me, it comes from a good place, but won’t always steer me in the direction I need. What I need is someone/something consistent and removed to hear me out and lead me out of the fog. That can show up as therapy, journaling, and creative writing or art.

Daily Meditation — My thoughts will be restless, wandering, and chaotic to some extent, but my meditation practice helps me pause. In that small fraction of a pause, I have the choice to react from my core values rather than instinctively from a place of fear or instantaneous gratification.

What does your self-care practice look like? How has it changed your relationship with yourself and those around you?

People Operations & Culture, Wellness Coach, & World Explorer.

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