Self-care may seem like a pretty straightforward thing – just throw in some face masks and you’re good to go – but a few years ago I have come to understand that practicing true self-care is a skill I didn’t quite master. Most of the time I have gone from one extreme to the next, oscillating between bullying myself into doing an hour of yoga every single day and watching Gilmore Girls all day long, but true self-care should be nurturing above else. Don’t get me wrong, I love binge-eating ice cream as much as the next person (yay vegan Magnums!), but ultimately feeding myself a mono-diet of deep frozen, chocolate-flavoured almond milk is not going to make me feel any better. Nor is forcing myself to do a full-week juice cleanse a good idea. It’s all about balance, baby. So here are some of my favourite ways to take care of myself:
Checking in with myself
Over the past year, I have learned that self-care starts with asking yourself one very important question: “What kind of self-care do I need right now?” Are you feeling low because you’ve been hibernating all winter? Spend some time with your favourite people. Are you exhausted from a hectic week at work? Dedicate some time to getting back to yourself. Have you been surviving on take-out and ready-made meals? Make a hearty home-made meal. Do you feel like you’ve been restricting yourself? Treat yo self. There is simply no one-size-fits-all solution to taking care of your self, and whatever the next step is all depends on context. By asking yourself this very important question firs, you are not only looking at the present situation (instead of what you think you should do), but you’re also taking yourself and your needs seriously. Ultimately, that is what self-care is all about.
Make a big batch of kichari
There’s something incredibly satisfying about making one-pot dishes. But more than being a convenient comfort food, kichari is – according to ayurveda – one of the best things to eat whenever you feel the slightest imbalance in your system, whether it’s physical, mental or both. This warming dish of split yellow mung beans, basmati rice and spices is suitable for all doshas and is sure to reset your system. I use a recipe from my ayurveda practitioner, but there are plenty of recipes online and there is some room for variation. I personally like to add kale and avocado to my bowl of kichari, and then top it off with cilantro and a dash of sesame oil.
I have noticed that whenever I feel shit, it’s usually not the situation itself (although it can of course be pretty terrible) that makes me feel bad, but rather the way that I talk to myself about it. Example time: say I decided to skip a yoga class that I planned, because I checked-in with myself and came to the conclusion that I need to do something else with my time. Seems fine, right? Unfortunately, I have an overactive self-critic inside of my head, who judges everything I do (or don’t do) with inspirational words like: “You’re lazy. You don’t try hard enough. You’re weak. You’re failing in life. You should be better.” I’ve spend much of life listening to this lovely voice and, unsurprisingly, it hasn’t made me happy. Now, I’ve learned to identify the voice when it speaks to me, say thanks and practice self-compassionate talk instead. I’ve learned a lot from The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook by Tim Desmond, but I’ve also heard great stuff about the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff.
Drink herbal tea
There’s a tea for every occasion. I’ve been making my own herbal tea blend for during my menstruation, for example, and I also have my go-to teas whenever I need to calm down. I like to drink chamomile tea before bed, and haven’t found any tea I like better than this Vata tea by Maharishi Ayurveda. But even if you’re not the biggest fan of tea, drinking lukewarm or hot water (as opposed to cool water) is still a great idea to help your digestion, improve your blood circulation, and flush out any toxins. You can also add some fresh lemon juice, ginger root, or a teaspoon of honey to flavour your hot water. Basically, whenever I feel like I need to take extra care of myself, my instinct – which is very much influenced by ayurveda – is to take in lots of hot water or tea throughout the day.
Take a magnesium foot bath
This one’s for all the people out there who don’t have the luxury of having a bathtub in their home. I feel your pain. Luckily, I have found that taking a foot bath with epsom salts (magnesium) is a great alternative. It saves a lot of time, water and hassle, while still giving the same benefits that a regular bath gives. I would even argue that isolating your feet helps is less exhausting and helps you to ground more, because soaking your feet in warm water draws all the energy down from your head to your feet. You can add pretty much anything you want to your foot bath, but what I like about magnesium is that it helps relax your muscles and nerves, so it’s no wonder that many people claim that taking a magnesium foot bath helps relieve anxiety as well. If you want to relax even more, you can add a few drops (up to 10) of lavender essential oil to your water.
Get a massage
Over the past few months, I’ve been getting frequent ayurvedic massages to help with my hormonal imbalances and anxiety. Although these massages had specific therapeutic goals, I have also come to experience that getting a massage in itself is relaxing and helps to release stress. Because it can get quite expensive to get a professional massage every month, I’m currently also looking into possibilities to do a self-massage. There are different ways to navigate self-massage, and which one works best for you all depends on personal preference. You could try massaging your trigger points, giving yourself a foot massage, or learning how to perform abhyanga – ayurvedic self-massage. What I like about the last one is the use of warm oil, which is an extremely soothing way to give your body some love.
Do a (yin) yoga class
Yoga has been extremely helpful for me in the past months. Although I’ve always been a big fan of dynamic hatha or vinyasa-influenced practices, I’ve come to appreciate the more calming varieties of yoga, such as yin and restorative yoga. More than with a flow-based practice, yin yoga helps me to really focus on deepening my breath and that in turn calms down my nervous system. In addition, I love that using props like bolsters and blankets is a must in yin yoga. It makes you feel like you’re really allowed to relax. On moments that I’m tired and really don’t feel like doing anything, a yin practice doesn’t feel like a chore and it never fails to make me feel better.
Drawing or colouring
Some time ago one of my friends gave me a mandala colouring book and I have been loving it ever since. I didn’t really understand the hype when every adult around me was into colouring – probably because I was too busy pushing myself to do ‘important’ stuff, ahem. But now that I’m continuously looking for new ways to relax my highly sensitive nervous system, colouring and drawing have found their way into my self-care routine. There’s something soothing about the sound of pencils on paper, and it has really helped to calm me down. Especially when I find that I’m overloading myself with social media and other stimuli, it really helps to tune out and to do some drawing or colouring. The mandala colouring book has been awesome so far, but I think I will also get a nature-inspired colouring book in the future, which brings me to the next point…
Spend some time outside
This may actually be one of the best ways to feel better, for me at least. When I was having frequent panic attacks, going for a walk outside instantly calmed me down. And the cycling holiday I did with my partner last year felt better than any meditation retreat would have been. I think it’s the combination of moderate exercise, which helps regulate your breath without straining your body, being in a calm environment (assuming that you have access to a park or other more peaceful and natural areas) and feeling the elements on your skin. Whether I’m feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, or cool air blowing in my face, feeling the elements around me helps me to feel more centred. In addition, going for a little walk helps to get me out of my head. I generally don’t leave my house without my headphones on, but sometimes I prefer to walk in silence, taking in the world with all my different senses.
Have one empty-schedule day a week
How often does it happen that the weekend arrives and we have absolutely no plans, not even to clean the kitchen or run an errand somewhere in town? Right, almost never. I have noticed that with all the pushing I have done over the years, having an empty day in the weekend where I don’t have to do anything is exceptionally rare. Even when I’m ‘relaxing’, I often still catch myself thinking about all the things I need to do, and I can tell you that having that inner drill sergeant in your head constantly is pretty exhausting. So I now try to have at least one day a week, preferably in the weekend, where I don’t have any plans or any to-do-lists I need to complete. From that emptiness it’s much easier to check-in with myself and my needs again.
What are your favourite ways to practice self-care?