A Starter’s Guide to Self-Care

Posted 11/3/2022
male practicing yoga

Like us, maybe you’re hearing the term self-care a lot lately. But what does it mean? And is it important?

Self-care is all about considering and attending to the different aspects that contribute to wellness. Practicing it has big benefits: It keeps you healthier and happier, wards off anxiety and depression, and keeps stress and burnout at bay.

Now all you need to know is how to go about incorporating it. And that starts by breaking self-care down into different components, and identifying do-able tactics in the areas where you might need to do more.

Physical self-care. Think of this area as keeping your body running properly. It involves even more sub-areas, like nutritious foods for fuel, adequate sleep, regular physical activity, preventive care, and proper management of health conditions.

Three tactics:
  • Walk more. Each week, gradually increase your total minutes, with a goal of 150 minutes per week.
  • Track your sleep. For one week, note how much and how soundly you sleep each night. Not getting a solid seven hours most nights? Look into cutting back on caffeine, darkening your bedroom, turning off electronics earlier, and other sleep hygiene strategies.
  • Check in on checkups. Are you up to date on vaccinations? How about preventive care like colonoscopies and dental exams? Check your records and book the appointments you need.

  • couple hiking outdoors

    Mental care, spiritual, and emotional self-care. This area of self-care encompasses less tangible but still incredibly important areas: Knowing how to deal with emotions like sadness, overwhelm, and frustration. Feeling like life has meaning. And staying curious and sharp.

    Three tactics:
  • Spend more time in nature. An increasing number of studies have shown nature’s power to recharge your batteries and refresh your spirits. And time in a city park can be as healing as that in a rural meadow.
  • Add daily breathing exercises. Sound silly, but it’s a form of meditation many find easy to stick with. There are many techniques. Here’s a simple one: Sit quietly. Breathe in through your nose deeply and slowly, noting how your chest rises as your lungs fill. Pause. Slowly breathe out through your nose. (If that’s uncomfortable, try in and out through your mouth.)
  • Journal. Recording the day’s events and your reactions to them can help you make sense of what’s going in your head.

  • yoga class

    Social self-care. Sharing time and events with friends and family matters, because relationships are part of the human experience. Your definition of enough social time is likely different from your sister’s or your best friend’s. What matters is figuring out the amount that’s right for you.

    Three tactics:
  • Group yoga. In person or online, yoga classes are a great way to connect with others at any age, especially because they tick the boxes for physical and mental self-care, too. (Hint: Check out our Online Senior Chair Yoga classes, held twice a week — and free!)
  • Community service. Volunteering benefits you as well as others, adding joy and boosting fulfillment, as well as providing opportunities to interact with others.
  • Maximize small moments. Ask the library staff what they’ve read lately when you pick up a book. Ask a colleague what he or she did last weekend. Even small social interactions count, especially when you listen closely.

  • Getting started
    With so many forms of self-care, you might be wondering how to fit it all in — or where to focus. Indeed, self-care should be different from person to person, depending on what’s going on in your life.

    To determine your needs, “Ask yourself, if you had a magic wand and could change one thing, what would it be? The answer is likely to point to your biggest stressor,” says S. Tyler O’Sullivan, D.O., from the Martin’s Point Health Care Center in Scarborough. “Work with family and friends on ways to make that goal achievable — and don’t be afraid to make baby steps toward it each day, each week, each month. Finally, as important as self-care is, don’t sacrifice sleep for new things.”

    As the C.D.C. noted at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, an approach of caring for yourself “one small way each day” can go a long way.