Struggling With Incorporating Self-Care? First Define It For Yourself, Then Try These Mindset Shifts

The conversation around self-care is changing, but it can still feel like an abstract concept rather than something you put into practice. If you are also in a chapter of life categorized by child-rearing, career-building, and busy schedules, taking care of yourself while staying afloat to take care of others can seem like an over-indulgence. Thanks to what is portrayed on social media, there might even be confusion around what self-care even entails. Therefore, it is important you define self-care for yourself; what looks like self-care for someone else might not directly translate to what brings you back to balance. Essentially, I define self-care as an action, habit, or behavior that makes me feel good, either physically, mentally, or emotionally (or a combination of all three!). Ask yourself not only what makes you feel well, but also what is realistic for your lifestyle. Then once you get clear on what makes you feel happy and healthy, try these mindset shifts to start incorporating self-care on a more regular basis. 

Prioritize it without guilt. Mothers – and women in general – are innate nurturers, so it is easy to put others’ needs ahead of their own. In order to practice self-care on a daily basis, I know that I need to prioritize it, and I need to do so without feeling guilty about it. Here is a good mindset shift to release any feelings of guilt that may go alongside: consider any act of self-care a selfless one. While yes, you are doing something to take care of yourself, but you do it in order to show up as a better version of yourself for those around you. Your family will feel grateful for a less stressed, more balanced, and energized wife/mother/daughter/sister, rather than one that would otherwise show up with a shorter fuse. Do yourself and your family a favor by putting your needs on an even playing field as those around you. 

Sprinkle small moments of self-care throughout the day. Despite what social media portrays, self-care doesn’t have to entail custom facials, red light sauna sits, or long meditations (although it certainly can!). Think of self-care as an act that makes you feel balanced, grounded, and more present, no matter how short and sweet these moments may be. Some of my favorite ways to practice self-care throughout the day take very little time: stepping outside with my cup of coffee while I let the dog out to get natural light in my eyes; taking a big breath before I eat to send the signal to my body to start digesting food; writing down what I am grateful for and excited about that day. Small steps lead to big results, and over time, these moments add up. 

Keep what works, let go of what doesn’t. I have meditated on and off over the years. At certain points, my meditation practice was more formal, sitting on a cushion for five, ten, or even twenty minutes at a time. I still believe in the power of meditation, but with the morning rush of getting a toddler ready for preschool, I realized I am in a chapter of life where meditation isn’t as feasible. Therefore, I recently gave myself permission to drop this practice, and majorly paired down my morning routine. The act of allowing myself to drop something that ultimately was becoming just another box to check was self-care in that moment. Once a self-care practice becomes something stressful, well, it’s defeating the point. No matter what practices you picked up along the way, even if they worked in a previous season of life, allow yourself to let go of something that no longer serves its intended purpose. 

Count colors (not calories) while balancing your blood sugar. Eating well is one of my self-care non-negotiables, but with the abundance of nutritional information out there, it often creates confusion. While I think it is important to stay curious and evolve as you take in new information, you want to avoid bouncing between dietary trends. It can be challenging to tune out the nutritional noise, so I try to stay grounded in the two cornerstones that comprise my nutritional philosophy: making sure I fill my plate with colorful fruits and vegetables (counting colors, not calories), while managing my blood sugar with a balance of high quality protein, healthy fat, and fiber. This uncomplicated approach is foundational for feeling my best. 

Make movement a part of your identity as a human being. As humans we are meant to move. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to an hour-long HIIT class in the morning and then sitting for the next eight hours. Even with regular exercise, excessive sitting has been linked to metabolic issues and cardiovascular risk. Studies are showing that the more you can “crowd out” sedentary time with light movement (i.e. walking), this behavior change provides important health benefits. Enjoy short exercise snacks throughout the day, or “habit stack” a ten minute walk after each meal to better manage your blood sugar. I don’t always have an hour to allot to formal exercise, but if I am walking the dog, doing house chores, and chasing after my toddler, it counts. 

Schedule self-care appointments and practices in your calendar as you would a meeting. When you get the opportunity to “treat yourself” with a special self-care ritual, schedule it in your calendar as you would a meeting with a colleague or friend. Try not to cancel on yourself. I know not everyone has the ability to get frequent body-care treatments, but even if it is a massage or pedicure once a quarter, it will give you something to look forward to. You can even apply this to those less formal self-care activities such as your weekly walks or watching your favorite show.

Think of self-care as an investment in your future self. Time is one of the most valuable – yet finite – resources we have. Unfortunately, when we think of “spending” time on ourselves, it can make it feel like a cost and we have therefore lost it. Changing the language from “spending” time to “investing” time helps flip the script. We engage in an activity to benefit our future self, and this can make a big difference in how we perceive self-care. 

Give yourself permission to rest. When we aren’t too careful, our wellness routines can become over-crowded and cluttered. Sometimes rest is the best thing you can do to take care of yourself. And scrolling through social media on the couch doesn’t really count. This might mean canceling your boot camp class to read a book, fixing a beautiful meal at home instead of going out with your girlfriends, or powering down your laptop and turning in early for a good nights’ sleep. These days, it’s so easy to feel as if we need to be doing more, but sometimes less is more and rest is best.