A Guide to Practical Self-Care

These days, the word “self-care” often means “treat yourself.” It means buying that flight, ordering dessert, or binge-watching romantic comedies until the wee hours of the morning. 

But self-care is broader than that, at least for me. Now that I’m old enough, the Merriam-Webster definition — “to care for oneself” — doesn’t usually mean ice cream at 9:00 a.m. and staying up until 1:00 a.m. watching “Gossip Girl.” (Although if that works for you, do your thing!)

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Sometimes, caring for yourself can be… hard. Especially when you have to get up early and take the trash out, or do the dishes, or iron those linen pants you thought were a good investment (my least favorite activity of all time). For me, practical self-care is something that can actually make me feel better than a face mask or a dessert, once I get over the initial, “Do I really have to?”

The answer, of course, is yes! Here are seven practical ways you can take care of yourself:

The author’s weekly goals

Goal-setting

Dreaming is easy. Goal-setting is harder. I try to find time every Friday to think about the previous week and consider what I want to accomplish in the next one. I set three weekly goals representing my values of fitness, career, and mindset, (but you should choose what matters to you!) keeping a running note in my phone to hold myself accountable. 

These goals fit neatly under my goals for 2020, but when they’re broken down on a weekly basis, they make more sense. Recent examples include:

  • Icing my knee every day: I’m nursing a knee injury (the joys of running!), and though I’m recovering well, when I ice and heat each night, it hurts a lot less the following morning. 
  • Practicing doing “nothing” for five minutes each day: I like to keep busy and multi-task, being silent is really hard for me, so I’m starting small with five minutes.
  • Trying a new recipe: I’m expanding my baking skills, and new recipes bring me joy! Setting this goal helps me fit it into my busy schedule.

Staying on top of doctor’s appointments

The doctor is pretty much the last place I want to be. But now that I’m an adult, going to the doctor is an important part of self-care. For me, this looks like appointments to the gynecologist, dermatologist, dentist, physical therapist (see: knee injury), and my primary care physician. I hate calling people on the phone, so I make all of my appointments in one day to rip the metaphorical bandaid off. Then, I set reminders so I actually remember to go six months later.

Paying your bills

You can’t run from your bills. Every Friday, my husband and I go over our finances and pay any bills that are due — credit card, student loans, car loan, mortgage, healthcare. That way, we give ourselves a quick financial checkup each week. Not only do we take care of important business — and our credit score — but we can really see the progress we’re making toward our goals (dream kitchen, here we come!).

Cleaning the house

I find cleaning to be very meditative, and I use it all the time to procrastinate. I have a roster of weekly cleaning and upkeep for our house, which includes sweeping, cleaning the bathrooms, dusting, vacuuming, and mopping, but if I’m having a tough day, I swear there’s nothing better than organizing a drawer or deep-cleaning the oven. If you hate doing it, start small, like organizing one shelf of your closet, or just going through your makeup. I can get lost in a tangible task and when I’m done, I can rest in the satisfaction that the house is back to a home and a more relaxing space.

Gardening

Research shows that adding plants to your space can boost your mental health — so taking care of your plants is really taking care of yourself! I’m lucky enough to have a garden, and I get a lot of stress-relief from hacking away at pesky weeds, clearing out beds, and harvesting our very own veggies for dinner.

Exercise

I love to joke that I’m a washed-up college athlete, but even if you’re not, finding a way to move each day is one of the best ways to take care of your body. I laugh until I’m out of breath dancing along to Ryan Heffington’s live classes on Instagram, and I recently tried Pilates for the first time.

Meditation and prayer

Finally, a form of self-care I love is meditation and prayer. I’ll light a candle, set myself up in a comfortable seated position, and reconnect with myself for 10 or 20 minutes. I use the app Headspace to meditate, and often journal my prayers right afterwards, when my mind is clear and I am focused. I usually check in with my goals throughout the week and add gratitude into my prayers for any that I’ve completed, or for the opportunity and challenge.

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