Over the years, I’ve learned that I can’t keep up with the frenetic pace of modern life without some extreme self-care. I’m just not the sort of person that can go, go, go and let things spiral out of control. I have to slow down, smell the roses, and take care of myself or else I end up in the fetal position on the floor feeling anxious and depressed.
(I suspect a lot of us are really like this, but most of us don’t admit it. I didn’t admit it for years because I was afraid it would make me seem “weak.” I’ve since learned that it makes me pretty dang smart to admit my limits and adhere to them. It means I actually have more to give, not less.)
Anyway… During the years I was actively denying my needs, I tried all kinds of stuff to keep up. Caffeine, lack of sleep, fad diets, supplements, whatever. If it promised a fix, I tried it. Of course, nothing worked because what I really needed was far simpler than any artificially created chemical or product. It took me years, but I finally broke it down into three simple things I need each day. And none of them are that time consuming or difficult.
So what are my three things? Every day I try to do at least one activity that supports each of the following.
Every day I do at least one thing that supports my mind. You’d think that “work” would count in here, but I generally don’t count it. Work is something I do every day and, as such, has a certain amount of routine built into it. Yes, I’m working on different projects and stories all the time, but the basic skills are the same.
Brains like variety, though, so I make sure to break out and do more challenging things. This may mean reading a challenging book (like a classic), or a book about a new topic. Sometimes it’s learning languages, playing a new strategy board game, working a jigsaw puzzle, learning a new skill, or refreshing my math or science skills (which sucked in high school and still suck). Whatever it is, I make sure to stretch my brain at least once a day.
I also throw in little things like taking new routes to the store, quick memorization exercises, doing things in a different order than usual, or using my non-dominant hand for certain tasks. It all keeps the neurons firing.
My body and health are very important to me. Without a top functioning, healthy body, everything else is far more difficult (not to mention expensive thanks to the mess that is health insurance/care in the U.S). Plus, I’m only getting this one body and keeping it working for as long as possible is the goal. To that end, I do at least one thing every day to help my body. (Usually more, but at least one.)
This includes exercise, but it doesn’t have to be hardcore cardio or weight lifting, although I do that, too, sometimes. Some gentle yoga, pilates, a walk, or even cleaning the house at a brisk pace count. I do at least one “focused” exercise thing a day.
Throughout the day I try to get in as much movement as I can, as well. I stretch at my desk and get up to talk on the phone. Since I work from home, I take breaks to do a quick chore like laundry or cleaning a sink.
I also try to eat well most days of the week. Sure, there are slips, but most of the time I focus on real food. On days when I can’t exercise, I try to make my “body” thing something to do with improving my diet. I’ll learn a new recipe, for example, or work in my little garden in season.
Spirit/Soul/Inner Life Stuff
Call it what you will. If “spirit” is too religious for you, try nurturing your soul, or your inner life. Even if we’re not religious, most of us acknowledge that there’s a strange, mystical part of us that needs nurturing just as much as our physical bodies do. It’s that quiet space inside where we meet our true selves.
If you’re religious, taking care of this space may mean some prayer or Bible reading. Not being terribly religious myself, I go for meditation and journaling. The meditation calms me down and allows my mind to clear, while the journaling is a way to work through problems and discover connections I fail to see any other way.
Some people walk in Zen gardens, do Bonsai trees, walk in nature, go to therapy, read books that nurture their inner life, listen to music, volunteer/help others to gain perspective, or practice gratitude. Whatever you choose, spend some quiet time each day just with yourself.
Bonus Fourth Thing:
So, I do the three things without fail, but on most days I shoot for a fourth. I try to make time to play. Adults tend to think that play is stupid and something that only kids do. Either that, or they simply don’t have time for it. But I think play is essential to a healthy life. It’s relaxing, sometimes social, and gives you a chance to just have some fun.
I play tons of board games and work on Lego. I go outside and shoot hoops on the neighborhood goal when the kids aren’t using it. On nice days, we’ll get up a frisbee game or play cornhole. Sometimes I’ll play video games. The point is to do something for fun. Not because it’s good for you, or because it will keep you in shape, but simply because it’s fun and maybe a little bit silly.
Whenever I don’t have time or can’t to do one of my three things (because I’m traveling or sick, for example), my day suffers. I feel like something is missing. If too many days go by without the three things, I start to spiral into a bad place. But as long as I stick to the three and aim for the fourth, I can stay on an even keel (most of the time).
(Photo courtesy of Carlosgmenezo)