Essential Self-Care: 5 Things You Can’t Afford Not To Do

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The 8 Dimensions of Self-Care offers a simple framework to help you design and maintain a comprehensive self-care practice. But there are a few specific acts of self-care that you simply can’t afford not to do. When you invest your time and energy in these areas, suddenly life feels easier. But when you ignore them, life can feel like a struggle. Below are five essential self-care areas that are essential to the lifestyle design process.

Get Adequate, Restful Sleep

Getting enough sleep is critical for good health, but 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough of it. Sleep deficiency has been linked to chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and depression, and research also suggests that appetite-regulating hormones may be impacted by sleep shortages, which can result in unwanted weight gain.

While the amount of sleep you need changes as you get older, the CDC recommends that most adults get 7 or more hours of sleep each day.

In a culture that encourages long work hours and busyness, it can sometimes be a challenge to find time for sleep, especially if you’re also raising a family. But the truth is, you won’t perform as well when you don’t get enough rest. In fact, you may even create more work for yourself if you rely on a tired brain to complete tasks. And if you continuously push yourself beyond your capacity, not allowing your body adequate time to rest, you run the risk of becoming physically ill, which can further interfere with your sleep.

If you’re tired frequently or feel the need to pump yourself full of caffeine throughout the day, it might be time to assess your sleep patterns.

How to Get Better Sleep:

  • Replace your mattress. Despite what many retailers claim, mattresses don’t come with an expiration date. As a general rule, if your sleep quality is deteriorating, then it’s probably time to consider replacing it.
  • Replace your pillow. There are endless pillow possibilities to choose from. If you experience neck, back or shoulder pain, you may want to seek professional guidance from a healthcare provider to choose one that’s best-suited for you. 
  • Upgrade your sheets. Soft, cozy sheets can make all the difference in the world when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. (Personally, I love the sheets from Sweet Home Collection on Amazon*. And for just a little over $20 for a Queen set, it doesn’t break the bank.)
  • Stick to a schedule. According to the National Foundation on Sleep, sticking to a schedule — even on weekends — can go a long way to improving your sleep quality.

Manage Your Mindset

Managing your mindset falls under the Cognitive Dimension of Self-Care, which helps you examine your thought patterns. 

Your mindset can either be a catalyst or a roadblock to achieving your goals. A positive, solution-oriented mindset can help you overcome obstacles and build resilience, while a negative mindset can leave you feeling paralyzed.

It’s unrealistic to believe you can avoid all negative thoughts, or that you’ll never complain, but there are some essential self-care strategies you can use to course correct when you need to. 

How to Manage Your Mindset:

  • Meditate. If you’re new to meditation, it might feel a bit awkward at first. Try exploring a few guided meditations until you find one you like. 
  • Create a vision board. Having a clear picture in your mind of how you want to experience your life can help you manifest it. Why? One reason is that you’ll be able to recognize opportunities more easily. When you’re focused on what you want, rather than what you don’t want, you can recognize possible ways to make it a reality. And you’ll also be more likely to protect your boundaries, like saying ‘no’ the things that lead you away from your vision.
  • Watch your language. Pay close attention to the words you speak, and make corrections when necessary. If you frequently find yourself saying “I can’t” or “that will never happen,” you might just believe it. 

Exercise Consistently

Your body is designed to move, and many health benefits are associated with physical activity, including reducing risk factors for stroke, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes. Exercise can also help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that most adults accumulate between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week–the equivalent of 20 to 45 minutes each day. But if you’re maintaining a weight loss, you’ll likely need to aim for 300+ minutes each week.

Additionally, it’s important to include strength training exercises at least twice each week, which can help maintain lean muscle mass and bone density.

How to Get More Consistent Exercise:

  • Find an accountability partner. Having a workout buddy can dramatically increase your commitment to an exercise plan. If someone else is counting on you to show up, chances are you’ll do what needs to be done to make it happen. 
  • Become a member.  If you struggle to be consistent with your workout routine, consider joining a gym, fitness center, or yoga studio. The energy of a group can be contagious and help increase your motivation.
  • Hire a professional. Personal trainers and fitness professionals can help you create a workout that matches your goals and abilities. And if you have medical conditions or concerns, always talk with your physician before making changes in your level of physical activity. 
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Eat High-Quality, Nourishing Food

There’s no doubt about it, good nutrition is one of the most important ingredients for health. When you nourish your body with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods, it performs better. 

Because the science of nutrition is still relatively young (the first vitamin was discovered just a little over 100 years ago in 1912), we don’t yet understand how the various properties of food react and interact. Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, hormones, enzymes, and other compounds are carefully orchestrated and optimized by our bodies every day. For that reason alone, it’s important to choose a wide variety of foods to ensure your body gets the fuel it needs to serve you.

In generally, a healthy diet includes lots of plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and oils), and a small amount of animal-based foods (meat, cheese, eggs, and milk). Fortunately, there are many healthy eating styles around the globe that include a variety of combinations of plant- and animal-based foods. But one thing’s for sure: Healthy eating is an essential self-care strategy.

How to Improve Your Eating Habits:

  • Focus on real food. Real food is minimally-processed and found in nature, rather than a lab. 
  • Identify your eating style. Eating is personal. And despite the many diet books on the market today, there’s no such thing as a perfect diet. Each of us has a unique set of preferences, beliefs, medical concerns, and individual circumstances that factor into our eating style. 
  • Eat your colors. Make sure your plate is colorful whenever you sit down to a meal. Plant chemicals called phytochemicals give plants their distinct color profiles as well as some pretty impressive health benefits.

Get Real About Your Finances

The Financial Dimension of Self-Care addresses how you allocate your resources–your habits around earning, spending, saving, and giving.

This dimension is often neglected (or ignored), and that’s because it often causes a lot of stress. When scarcity creeps in — the fear that we don’t or won’t have enough — we can experience a lot of anxiety.  

When you understanding what enough looks like for you personally, you can design your lifestyle around it. Financial harmony is what gives you the freedom to actually live the life you’ve designed.

How to Improve Your Fiscal Fitness:

  • Know your numbers. If you don’t have a clear picture of your finances you can’t make good decisions about them. It’s that simple. Knowing what’s coming in and what’s going out is essential if creating financial harmony is your goal. 
  • Check your spending habits. One of the easiest ways to get started with improving your fiscal fitness is to “reality check” your spending habits. Review your bank statements to see where the money is flowing out, and cut the waste. 
  • Hire a professional. Financial advisers have specialized knowledge and can sometimes offer creative solutions to financial challenges.

These five essential self-care strategies will help you build a strong foundation for a healthy lifestyle.

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