Self-Care: A Guide to Tending to Yourself

Many people spend their days tending to the needs of others. While admirable, this type of selfless dedication can leave a person feeling both physically and mentally exhausted. When we set aside time to care for ourselves, we become better equipped to meet the needs of friends and loved ones. If you've been disregarding your self-care, the following five strategies can help you reach a higher state of overall well-being.

 

Meditate

Meditation has long been used to reduce stress and anxiety. According to recent studies, however, it may do a lot more than that. Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation can make tangible changes in brain regions associated with memory, stress, empathy and sense of self. In fact, researchers were able to identify increased gray-matter density in each subject's hippocampus, known to be critical for memory and learning. They also noted changes in other brain regions associated with compassion, self-awareness and introspection.

 

Make diet part of you self-care

It's difficult to take care of others when you’re feeling tired and run-down. Improve your energy levels by eating low-glycemic foods that are rich in fiber and protein. Eat more nuts, vegetables and whole grains, which take much longer to digest. Avoid sugary foods that create insulin spikes and energy-draining crashes. Most importantly, avoid skipping meals no matter how busy your schedule gets.

 

Improve sleep hygiene

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of U.S. adults fail to get adequate sleep. This is especially disturbing, since insufficient sleep has been linked to chronic conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and frequent mental distress. To improve your sleep quality, make sure to go to bed and get up at the same times every day. You should also avoid known sleep disruptors at least two hours before bedtime. These include alcohol, caffeine and blue light from tablets, smartphones and television, which have been shown to disrupt circadian rhythms.

 

Practice mindfulness

Studies have shown that mindfulness can bring a variety positive psychological effects, including reduced emotional reactivity, increased subjective well-being and improved behavioral regulation. In your self-care, try to focus your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without making any judgments. If you find yourself lost in thoughts, calmly notice and reengage in the present moment. As you spend less time on "auto-pilot," your psychological state will begin improving.

 

Get moving

A mountain of research has shown that regular exercise can boost energy, improve sleep and ward off a number of deadly diseases. At the same time, studies have also shown exercise has the ability to decrease symptoms of depression and promote more positive moods. You can increase your benefits by working out with a friend, which can add a mood-boosting social element to your fitness routine.

 

Avoid guilt

Some people feel guilty when they spend time or money on themselves. This can stem from past influences such as family origin issues related to harsh parenting. If you harbor these types of feelings, try to remember that you are just as important as the people for whom you care. You can also alleviate unnecessary feelings of guilt by mentally framing your activities as ways to improve your physical and mental strength, so you can be more available to the people who need you.