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My self-care checklist

December 22, 2019

In my last post, I talked about what self-care really means and some common misconceptions. Now, I will go a little more in-depth on what I believe to be the five most important aspects of self-care. I frequently refer to this “checklist” when I need guidance on how to prioritize my life or inspiration for new ideas to add to my self-care routine.

1. Healing

This is number one on my list because if you’re already sick or injured, your main focus should be on resting and recovering. Many self-care activities simply won’t have the same benefits if you do them while you’re not feeling well and may even cause more harm than good. For example, exercise is an important part of self-care, but you definitely don’t want to push yourself to go to the gym if you’re suffering from a cold. Even eating normally healthy foods may not benefit you as much if you’re under the weather. For instance, if you have an upset stomach, you’ll want to eat light, easily digestible foods to give your stomach a rest so that it can then go back to digesting those healthy, nutrient-packed foods more effectively.

Sleep is another aspect of healing that is often overlooked. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard that sleep is when your body repairs itself from the normal wear and tear of the day, allowing you to regain strength and energy for the next day. Too often though, we forget to incorporate it into our self-care routine, as it is seemingly not as productive as something like going to the gym or meal-prepping. However, similar to when you are sick, you won’t benefit as much from your other self-care activities if your body is exhausted from lack of sleep.

Lastly, there is healing of the mind. This is so important that I have made mental health its own checklist item, which I’ll get to shortly.

2. Nourishment

Nourishment is giving your body the food it needs to not just function properly, but to feel good physically and mentally. This typically means eating wholesome, nutritious foods and taking any necessary supplements. This isn’t about following the latest diet or food trends, but rather, tailoring your diet to what your body needs. There are endless factors, including your health, age, and lifestyle, that determine what types of food you should eat, so I won’t go into particular foods here. Instead, I’ll share some ways I have been able to better incorporate healthy eating into my life and most importantly, stick to it.

Like any self-care activity, healthy eating starts with setting aside time from your routine to plan your meals, go grocery shopping, and prepare your meals. How much time you set aside depends on your lifestyle and what your competing priorities are, but the key is that you make time to focus on that task without getting distracted by other things that need to get done. One thing I’ve started to do is to make a list (or several lists) of different foods I want to eat more of. For example, I have a list of iron-rich foods, including dark leafy greens, red meat, and nuts, and another list for foods to improve digestion. I post these lists of my fridge to refer to when I’m planning out my meals for the week.

Meal prepping has become a popular trend recently. While it can definitely help keep your eating on track and save time during the week, I personally find it difficult to commit several hours every Sunday to meal prepping, as that is usually when I want to unwind and prepare mentally for the week ahead. Instead, I opt for a more “hybrid” approach, where I might prepare one or two dishes (usually meats that require longer cooking times) ahead of time. Then on a weeknight, I’ll cook something simple (usually vegetables) and eat it with the premade stuff.

Bringing your own lunch to work can also be a big help to make sure you’re eating the right foods. I’ve found that it especially helps me eat more vegetables, as they are easy to prep and bring along. I’ve recently begun experimenting with making Japanese bento box lunches, inspired by YouTubers like this one, who incorporates a mix of simple recipes and premade dishes.

3. Mental health

One aspect of self-care that is often overlooked is mental health and emotional well-being. It is common to experience stress due to the various pressures in our daily lives, but it is important to be aware of your stress levels and whether they are becoming too overbearing. Everyone has different approaches to dealing with stress. The key is to remember to set aside time to do the things that allow you to relax and unwind.

Meditation has become popular in recent years, with new, user-friendly apps making it more approachable to the masses, rather than something limited to only the very spiritual. I have tried meditation on and off throughout the years and have found that five minutes of simply counting breaths, the most basic version of meditation, is often the most effective in helping me to calm down and reset my mind.

Recently, I’ve also begun to appreciate just how much a clean space can boost my mood, and I’ve been incorporating cleaning as a regular part of my self-care routine, not just a chore that needs to get done. I’ll put on some relaxing music (usually classical piano) or even watch some Youtube videos as I sweep, dust, and wipe. Cleaning allows me to turn off my mind temporary while I focus on repetitive, physical actions. I find that I am much happier, more relaxed, and more focused afterwards. There is no better feeling than walking into a room that I’ve just cleaned and organized.

4. Exercise

This one is probably the most self-explanatory out of all. It goes without saying that we need to keep active in order to keep our bodies healthy and in shape. Just like diet, the amount and type of exercise you do will vary depending on your circumstances, so I won’t go into details on any particular type of exercise routine. Instead, I’ll talk about some mindset changes I’ve made (or have been working on making), which have helped keep me motivated.

One thing that I always keep in the back of my mind is why I want to exercise and what I’m trying to achieve. For some people, losing weight may be the end goal. For others, it may be training for a marathon or building muscle. For me, exercise is about getting stronger all around, feeling good, and achieving mental clarity.

With exercise, it’s important to remember that some is better than none. I’ve seen a lot of elaborate workout routines that involve hour-long drives, endless time spent on preparing pre- and post-workout meals, and fancy gym equipment. While I admire those who have the discipline and perseverance to follow routines like those, I feel this may lead to a misconception that you have to do all those things in order to exercise properly. In reality, exercise can be quick and simple. For example, I am personally not a fan of going to the gym and would much rather exercise outdoors, where I can breathe in fresh, clean air instead of the smell of other people’s sweat. For a quick cardio workout, I’ll throw on some sweats and go for a run or brisk walk around the block. I also keep a yoga mat, a few dumbbells, and resistance bands on hand, which allows me to work on my strength training at home whenever I find convenient.

5. Beauty

You may be wondering why beauty has made it to this checklist, when in fact it doesn’t seem directly related to health. In my opinion, though, doing the little things that make you look better is a good indicator that you are making time for yourself. It is a sign that you have established a good self-care routine and are taking control of your health and well-being, not just doing the minimal you need to survive and function.

I’m not much of a beauty or fashion guru, but one thing that I’ve been trying to pay more attention to is my skin. Often, that is an indicator of your overall health condition. For example, if my skin is oily or breaking out, it often means I am particularly stressed out or not eating well enough. No matter how busy I am, I try to follow at least a simple skincare routine that involves more than just rinsing my face with water in the morning. If my skin is particularly dry or if I just want to decompress, I’ll use a moisturizing face mask.

Something else that I tend to do when I’m especially busy or overwhelmed is to start wearing the same type of outfit, minimally put together, every day, without bothering to experiment or put on any accessories. As part of my self-care routine, I’ll occasionally go into my closet and try to mix and match pieces that I normally don’t wear together or bring out a piece that I usually don’t wear at all. I’ll then make an effort to wear a new outfit one day during that week. Although it is a small thing, doing so gives me a renewed sense of confidence and control over my life.

I hope this has given you some ideas on what kind of things to focus on when coming up with your own self-care routine. Although I’ve listed them out as separate categories, they are in fact, very much interconnected. For example, nourishment and exercise can help with healing and mental health, and taking care of your mental health can also help heal your body. A good self-care routine should have a balance of activities from each category that are tailored to your own unique needs.