The other day, I sat down to interview my college mentor, the assistant director at UCLA’s CARE Office and a well-known yoga teacher.
Z is the whole package: Incredibly smart, compassionate, beautiful, successful, passionate, charismatic, honest.
If I didn’t absolutely and completely adore her, I’d probably hate her, due to an overwhelming jealousy to want to be her. Within minutes of our conversation, the floodgates broke loose, and out tumbled every insecurity and big life question I’ve ever pondered.
How do you balance work and love and yoga? Do you ever sleep? How can I be less stressed? More focused? Less concerned with doing it all and more productive in my personal projects? How do you have a job and a passion project?
She’s a patient woman, that Z of mine.
Two hours quickly turned into us repeating how proud we were of each other. And upon heading our separate ways, she left me with these little words of wisdom: Self-care isn’t just one action at the end of the day, it’s how you live your life.
With one year in New York City under my belt and a growing self-pressure to “do more,” I frequently find myself in a state of exhaustion.
On the daily, self-care translates into a rushed yoga class or overbooked weekends.
My bucket list items slowly sink to the bottom of my planner as the reasons, “it makes me happy,” and “just for fun,” don’t seem good enough to drop a feature article or forgo a workout.
I personally blame college.
Back in the day, the more sleep deprived and stressed you were, the more respect you received from your peers.
A simple conversation often turned into a spitting match with, “I’ve only slept three hours” being topped by, “well, I’ve only slept 45 minutes AND went running today AND have four finals tomorrow.”
We still don’t drink the same way we did in college, so why do we insist on maintaining our poor self-care habits?
I propose this: Leave it in 2015. Toxic relationships and overpacked routines, you’re out.
I often think of this when I feel stuck: When my obituary gets published will it reflect my overflowing bucket list — climb Mount Whitney, yoga teacher training, travel the world, dance all the time — or will it simply say, “she worked a lot and made a lot of lists.”
Making time for what you love isn’t selfish.
But it does take practice. By setting boundaries and sticking to them, you are holding yourself accountable and setting an example for others to do the same.
The more we prioritize ourselves, the more energy and focus we’ll have for our relationships and passion projects.
Living self-care doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact it should be small and easy.
Pick three self-care items and write them down.
Every night, I take five minutes to set three tiny goals for the next day and write them down. (Passion planner, HOLLA!)
Take a 30 minute walk, call Grandma, enjoy a yoga class, get an iced tea at a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, write a letter to a friend or stand in the sun for five minutes.
Developing a self-care habit is like working out a muscle; the more I consciously do it, the stronger it becomes, and writing it down holds me to it.
Set an alarm on your phone.
After two hours of work (or less if that’s what the mind needs), I take a break, read an article from start to finish, stretch my legs.
By placing reminders on my phone, I’m less likely to ignore my self-care activity or push it off with the excuse of “just one more email.”
I also set timers to remind myself to take a “breathing” break throughout the day.
For one minute at noon, I’ll close my eyes, lean back in my chair and take a handful of deep, intentional breaths.
The extra oxygen lowers my blood pressure and clears my mind to better focus on the remaining work day.
I’ve also had friends recommend using the Stop, Breathe and Think app, which creates a personalized, quick meditation activity based on your three current moods.
Check in with yourself.
What do I need right now? When was the last time I ate? Drank water? What is causing stress in this exact moment and how can I fix it or rethink it?
On days like today when I swear my head is going to explode, I take a moment to figure out what is causing this overwhelming feeling and where I go from here.
Often, it’s just re-prioritizing deadlines and coming up with a game plan to best ascend my work mountain. But like any air plane safety routine, if I’m not healthy and taken care of, I can’t take care of anyone else or effectively get things done.
Mindless social media is not self-care.
Scrolling through Instagram can be entertaining but it is not self-care.
I’ve repeatedly thought of Instagram as my decompressing time, and come out the other end feeling like I just wasted five minutes.
Instead, do something for yourself that leaves you refreshed.
Take five deep breaths before answering an irritating email, get a manicure on your lunch break, take a walk, call your best friend.
Play with your kittens at the end of a long day, do stretches for even two minutes. Hold a dance party for one. Read a book.
As Shia LaBeouf says, just do it.
Repeat as necessary.
Scientists say it takes 21 days to form a new habit, so just like anything, living self-care will take time and effort, but it’s worth it.
More time to play with my cats? Uh, yes please!
And who knows? Come 2017, your new healthy habits could make you the Z of someone else’s eye.
Now go forth and self-care!
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