The ultimate self-care guide for busy women
While self-care is an important practise for everybody, as a group, busy women are especially vulnerable to neglect their own physical and mental wellbeing.
Societal expectations of women, hustle culture, and guilt are some of the unique challenges that the modern woman faces, and which prevents her from engaging in healthy self-care. Lack of self-care can lead to a host of negative consequences and mental problems.
What is self-care?
There is a general misconception between engaging in self-care and being selfish. Self-care is the act of engaging in activities with the goal of replenishing one’s resources and improving one’s wellbeing. Being selfish, on the other hand, is the desire to take from others. Putting time aside to take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual health is not selfish, but rather necessary.
Self-care relates to anything that keeps you healthy. This could mean from your personal hygiene to your nutrition, to your emotions and relationships. Doing so much as maintaining good sleep hygiene, eating healthy, being out in nature, and engaging in a hobby you enjoy are some of the examples of self-care that can help to boost your overall wellbeing.
Why is self-care important?
Self-care ensures that you are well, healthy, and able. Able to care for yourself, for your livelihood, and for those around you. Self-care promotes healthy outcomes such as preventing future health problems, living longer (and happier), and being better equipped to handle stress.
Self-care is important for calming your mind and body, therefore acting as a protective factor against stress and limiting the chances of developing a mental illness. Self-care specifically works on helping you cope better with daily stressors, thus allowing you to keep up with the fast pace of modern life.
Being able to cope makes us feel far less overwhelmed and anxious. It allows us to carry out our daily tasks with more comfort and even efficiency.
7 Benefits of practising self-care
Many psychologists believe that many people experience significant stress in their lives. Paula Gill Lopez, a psychology professor at Fairfield University, refers to it as “an epidemic of anxiety and depression.” Practising self-care can combat mental illness and lead to a wealth of positive outcomes.
These are some of the important reasons to practice self-care. Keep them close to your heart. Routinely practising self-care can lead to increased levels of the following:
- Sense of self / identity
- Personal and professional success
Some challenges women face when practising self-care
Women face multiple unique challenges that prevent them from engaging in this greatly beneficial practice. Some of these challenges include:
Most women must work regular working hours - whether it is an 8 to 4 or a 9 to 5 - but some tend to stay way past the end of the day until they have finished all their tasks.
It is a constant hustle, working overtime to be seen as a valued employee / individual. Not only do we feel pressure to do so, but this behaviour is reinforced by rewards from “exceptional or outstanding” contribution and promotions to keep us motivated and hustling.
This constant toxic hustle is a tiring feat. Continuing down this road leads to burnout more often than not. It leaves you feeling less productive, having less interest in things you used to enjoy, and leaves you feeling anxious and depressed.
Perfectionists have high standards and expectations, for others and themselves. With high expectations comes a strong desire to achieve the best and to put all of one’s effort into making that happen.
But what happens when someone with perfectionism is told to practice self-care? The answer is: it barely happens. This is because self-care doesn’t fit the image of perfection. For one to be perfect, they must self-sacrifice; they must not need anything, function at full capacity, be low maintenance and be able to overcome all challenges. These beliefs can be a major obstacle to practising self-care and ensuring a healthy work-life balance.
Traditional values and roles from previous generations
Society often sees female roles as one where women attend to other people’s needs and play a supportive role. Traditionally, women are expected to give, give, give, and not take. We must be there for our families and our partners.
Taking time for ourselves would be seen as not playing the role of a woman. This pressure to meet traditional standards set by previous generations can add a lot on a woman’s shoulders and make us feel guilty for not meeting those standards, despite how out-dated they have become.
Guilt is one of the most influential challenges to practising self-care, especially for women. Women tend to feel extremely guilty for tending to their needs. There is a certain amount of guilt or feeling of selfishness that stems from not spending enough time achieving one’s goals and always being productive.
There is equally just as much guilt for taking time for yourself and gathering yourself together. Guilt can be taxing on one’s mental health and can push us further away from taking care of ourselves.
Common myths about self-care
There are many myths out there relating to self-care. These myths can insert themselves inside our minds and prevent us from engaging in self-care. Pay close attention to these myths and identify whether you believe them. They could be standing in the way of achieving a healthy balance in your life.
Self-care is expensive
Self-care is not a luxury. It does not need to cost your money or a vast amount of time for that matter. Self-care does not require you to take an expensive trip or go to the spa. Self-care can be as simple as doing some stretches or yoga—or even a 10-minute mindfulness meditation or mindful walk. It could mean going for a jog or painting outside in the park.
Spending money on self-care might feel great, and might be a nice treat sometimes, but it is not the only way to care for your health.
Self-care is selfish
You know how on the plane there is a part in the safety instructions about the oxygen masks where you need to make sure to attend to yourself first before attending to others? Well, the same thing applies for self-care.
You need to take care of yourself first before you can care for others. If you have run out of energy, how will you be able to help someone else? It is not selfish, but a necessity to practise self-care. If you are exhausted, how can you take care of those you love?
Self-care is lonely
While self-care can be practised alone, it need not be a must. It is about the quality of the self-care activity that matters most. Sometimes, people turn to a den of solitude and engage in drinking, watching TV, eating or playing on their phones as a form of “self-care”.
This is not self-care. Self-care is any activity or behaviour that allows one to boost their mood and mental health, while supporting their physical health and wellness. Many self-care activities can be done alone, but it is not a must. Spending time with friends or family can be a form of self-care, for example.
Self-care is only for those struggling
There is a notion that we can only take care of ourselves if we are not able to function at 100% anymore. That we do not need to engage in positive things unless we need fixing. However, it is self-care that gives us the energy to continue. We can prevent having to even go through suffering if we practice self-care even when we are well.
Lack of self-care: the negative consequences
Over time, neglecting our needs and our mental and physical wellbeing can lead to a host of negative consequences. Some examples include:
We get burnout when we go through a lot of stress for long periods of time. We feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with life’s demands. Eventually, you begin to lose interest and motivation in things you used to enjoy.
At the extreme, you might even start to lose interest in the smallest of things like personal hygiene. If we don't take good care of ourselves, the stress can pile on and we can become extremely overwhelmed.
Doing everything and taking care of everyone but yourself can be rewarding and fulfilling, however, the responsibility can quickly sneak up on you. When you give yourself to everyone, it can become a downward spiral full of frustration. This can lead to feelings of resentment - especially if you feel like the only one who is sacrificing themselves is you.
Being so busy with hectic schedules and tasks piled up makes it easier to neglect self-care. What’s more, it makes it easier to forget socialising with others.
One of the many ways to practice self-care is to practice social self-care, where you take time to be around family, friends, and other loved ones. In addition, when we don’t practice self-care, our health goes downhill, this makes it more likely for us to distance ourselves from our loved ones.
Self-care activities can be enjoyable. It gives us a chance to take up activities that give us energy and make us feel good afterwards. As busy women, we are exposed to various pressures and can become tired after a long week - or even a long day! We become preoccupied with work. Over time, this leaves little time to feel happy in our lives and enjoy the little things.
10 ways to practise self-care
Now that we have identified the unhealthy beliefs we might hold about self-care, the challenges that are in the way, and how neglecting ourselves can lead to many negative outcomes, let's jump into how to foster a healthy and sustainable self-care practice.
There are two types of strategy for taking care of yourself: a primary and secondary self-care strategy. The former relates to those strategies that you should start with. Then, once your primary strategies have solidified, you can begin introducing the secondary ones into your daily life.
Primary self-care strategies
The primary self-care strategies are:
1.Deal with guilt
At first, you will probably find yourself feeling guilty for putting yourself and your needs first. Think of self-care as a necessity, rather than an option. Think of it as an investment on your health, rather than as a waste of time. With a little work, you will be able to push past the guilt.
2. Set boundaries
Boundaries protect you physically and emotionally. Boundaries ensure safety and strengthen your sense of self. It allows you to differentiate between you and your surroundings. Setting boundaries shows that you know what you need and are able to ask for it. Some examples of setting boundaries are saying no to working late because you are tired or putting your phone on “Do not disturb” when you are off work.
3. Acknowledge your needs
What do you need? Self-care is all about doing something for yourself. To do so, you must first identify what your needs are. Take some time to reflect on what those things might be.
4. Find what gives you joy and meaning
What do you like to do? What makes you feel good? Try a few things. Try something you have never tried before. Explore what is out there and find something that gives you joy and meaning. Whether it be volunteering at an animal shelter or going out to watch a play, do something that will help you feel fulfilled.
5.Create or boost meaningful and supportive relationships
Being perpetually busy makes us forget how important it is to foster meaningful relationships. Take time out to start a conversation with someone you lost contact with or go out and meet new people. You will feel the difference.
Secondary self-care strategies
Secondary self-care strategies are:
1. Find your energy boosters
This is a very effective way of reducing stress. Take some time to read your favourite book, do your favourite activity, talk to your favourite people, or enjoy your favourite meal. A fan favourite is to go for a walk in nature. It will help you relax and replenish your energy so you can continue with your day.
2. Designate a fixed time only for you
Whether it’s a whole day (preferable) or just five minutes, you deserve to spend some time with yourself. Use this time to healthily disconnect from the world and your responsibilities and connect, reflect, and appreciate yourself. Prior to this moment, make a list of things you would like to do and would help you unwind and put them in practice.
3. Do a social media detox
You can start small or go big! Start small by going through your phone and removing accounts or people that may be taxing to your mental health. Alternatively, take it a step further and place a timer for how many minutes you are allowed to be on social media. As a last step, stay away from social media completely for some time. Unhealthy use of social media can be harmful for our mental wellbeing and can even lead to social media burnout.
4. Try journalling
Take time at the beginning, and end of your day to jot some things down. At the end of the day, write down what good happened that day. Make sure to also write down the bad parts of your day, since sometimes those negative emotions can weigh you down. You can also write down any thoughts or feelings you had, and why you had those thoughts or feelings. Take time to also write down things you were grateful for that day. In the mornings, write down a positive affirmation you would like to carry with you for the day. You can also write down your goals / hopes for the day or anything else to keep you motivated.
5. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness allows us to tap into our self-awareness, something that is lacking when we don’t practise self-care. Take the time to check in with yourself and find out what you need. In addition, it helps to relax your body and mind and allows you to feel refreshed.
Being busy is good. Being busy keeps us active and gives us purpose and fuels our inner drive. However, if we don’t take care of ourselves while we stay busy, we can quickly go down a negative spiral of low health - both mentally and physically. The best way to keep ourselves from burnout, and to keep our energy up while we work, is to practise self-care.
So, try these tips out and find what works best for you. You might feel guilty at first but stick to it! Your health will thank you and I’m sure you will also find that you quite enjoy practising self-care.