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How to practice self-care

It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when the outside world demands so much. Self-care may seem like another item on your never-ending to-do list, but it’s an investment that pays off in every area of your life.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” says Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “Look at self-care as an investment in yourself rather than one more thing to do. The most successful people in the world understand the value of investing in themselves. The more we invest in our self-care, the more we have to offer the world as parents, executives, spouses and friends.”

Self-care is also good for your body.

“Self-care is health care,” says Buttimer. “When your stress levels are too high, you won’t be able to recover from or prevent illness as easily as someone who practices self-care to relieve stress.”

What is self-care?

Self-care is about more than fitness and nutrition: It includes mental, emotional, spiritual, relational and environmental health.

“Some people think, ‘I ran two miles and ate kale today,’ but that’s not enough to have optimal well-being,” she says. “Self-care encompasses all areas of wellness.”

How to practice self-care

Journaling. Buttimer teaches journal writing at Cancer Wellness and says research shows journaling can help alleviate mental, emotional and even physical suffering. “People who journal on a regular basis also go to the doctor less often and are less likely to contract a cold or the flu,” she says.

Counseling or coaching. Working with a counselor or a life coach can help you address deeper questions about your well-being and support you as you learn to practice self-care. 

Spirituality. “We know from positive psychology research that people who are content with their spiritual lives are happier and healthier,” she says. “For some people, spirituality means going to church, temple or ashram. For others, it’s spending time in nature.”

Reflection is part of self-care

Buttimer says it’s crucial to take time to reflect and ask yourself deeper questions while journaling, talking to a counselor or coach, or practicing spirituality. These questions can include:

  • Do I feel well?

  • What makes me feel well?

  • Do I feel peaceful?

  • What brings me joy? Meaning? Purpose?

  • Am I happy?

“The answers to these questions are unique,” she says. “There is no one-size-fits-all.”

Buttimer adds, “It can be scary to ask these questions because the answers can be inconvenient and require change. As humans, we like comfort zones and habits, even if those habits cause suffering. It can feel easier veg out and binge-watch television than sit and reflect at the end of the long day. But the effort of reflection is worth it.”

Perhaps you need to get out of a toxic relationship or meet with a coach to develop coping strategies for stress.

“Deep inside each of us, there is wisdom that knows exactly what we need to be doing — if we will stop and listen,” she says. “If we are overextended and overstimulated, we won’t know what we need.”

Self-care when life feels too hectic

If the thought of self-care feels overwhelming, remember this: A little goes a long way and every little bit counts.

“One reason people don’t get started is that it feels so overwhelming,” says Buttimer. “Try two minutes of journal writing, one minute of reflection and one minute of meditation. It’s just like with exercise – start with just five to 10 minutes and work your way up. This helps you create a habit of self-care.”

Learn more self-care tips from Cancer Wellness experts.

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