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For many of us, self-care is seen as almost a pie-in-the-sky concept — something that sounds nice in theory, but amid work demands, kids’ schedules, household chores, and other obligations could never realistically have a place on our to-do list. Throw in a global pandemic and all the stress, worry, and disruptions that have come along with it and it seems even more unimaginable to prioritize rest, exercise, and pleasure for ourselves.

Women in particular habitually put the needs of others before their own and are socialized to view self-care as “selfish” — they often feel guilt for taking that time for themselves.

But the thing they often forget — and that is critical to remember — is that the best caregiver is a healthy caregiver.

Think about it: How do you feel after a week where your only movement has come from errands, you haven’t eaten a single vegetable, and you’ve barely slept because your mind won’t stop racing?

Now, how about a week where you fit in three workout sessions, ate balanced meals, and prioritized a de-stressing bedtime routine to set yourself up for a restful seven hours of sleep? In which scenario do you feel like you’d be better equipped to care for others?

Furthermore, those who don’t regularly exercise or eat healthy meals have an increased risk of chronic health problems. Stress itself can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and cellular inflammation, the origin of chronic disease. A buildup of cortisol (our primary stress hormone) can cause our organs to malfunction, the immune system to break down, and accelerate aging in our bodies and brains.

And then there are also the mental-health ramifications, which so many people are already battling right now. Neglecting self-care can make you more anxious, exhausted, unhappy, and resentful, and can cause you to be less receptive or compassionate with your partner.

Self-care is far from selfish. It’s actually quite the opposite: By valuing your needs and taking care of yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of others.

So, how exactly do you do that when you can’t just ignore life’s other obstacles and realities? Start by reviewing and appropriately arrange your priorities, take it one step at a time, and enlist support — and then find ways to also involve your family.

Self-Care Self Evaluation

Many people have the misconception that self-care is all about bubble baths and massages. While we wouldn’t discourage either, self-care encompasses so many other aspects of your well-being. Try focusing on three areas where self-care is critical: exercise, nutrition, and emotional health.

To help you get a baseline for how you’re doing with your self-care now — and to spark ideas for ways you could improve — reflect on your answers to the following questions and see which steps you could slowly begin incorporating into your routine.

Exercise

Do you struggle to find time to work out?
Take a step: Have a few quick, go-to workouts you can do in a flash, like this 6-minute sweat workout or this 30-minute cardio challenge.

Do you often find yourself making excuses for why you can’t fit in a workout?
Take a step: Reserve your spot in a group fitness class and add it to your calendar, or sign up for regular sessions with a trainer (in person or virtual) for added accountability.

Do you spend the majority of your day sedentary?
Take a step: Add in short walking breaks or try squeezing in mini workouts. Or, set alerts throughout the day to do reps of some sort of body-weight movement, such as lunges or squats.

Do you know what kind of movement makes you happy? How regularly do you do it?
Take a step: If you’re unsure, discover whether workouts or exercise programs might be better for you, which group fitness class may be right for you, or which activities you could enjoy based on your personality type. Then, try it!

Nutrition

Do you consume primarily whole foods or lean more heavily on prepackaged meals and snacks?
Take a step: Set aside some time to plan and prepare meals for your week — a little effort ahead of time can save you time later. Try some new healthy recipes to discover staples to add into your rotation.

Do you often find yourself short on time and skipping meals or choosing something quick but less than optimal?
Take a step: A shake can be as nutritious as a whole-foods meal and blended up in about 5 minutes. The LifeCafe is also a great option for healthy grab-and-go meals for the whole family.

After you eat, do you feel full and energized, or sluggish with digestive upset or renewed hunger an hour or so later?
Take a step: Make sure your meals are balanced with high-quality protein, healthy fats, and fiber, and you’re choosing foods that work best for your body. If you’re unsure, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a nutrition coach.

How often do you sit down with family or friends and have a leisurely meal, taking the time to enjoy your food and company?
Take a step: Chewing your food slowly will not only allow you to appreciate it more, but also aid in digestion. Try some of these tips for better family meals.

Emotional Health

How much sleep do you tend to get at night?
Take a step: Aim to keep set sleep and wakes times that allow you to get seven to 8.5 hours of rest. If you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress, try these strategies.

Do you have any go-to techniques to turn to in times of stress or anxiety?
Take a step: Try practicing some deep breathing or other anxiety-relieving strategies and see what feels soothing to you.

How often do you ask for support from others?
Take a step: If you could use help with childcare — or just want to give your kids a little self-care too — Life Time is offering distance learning support camps, kids classes, drop-off care, basketball, swim lessons, and more for options for safe fun — and a break for you.

Do you take time each week to do something simply because you enjoy it?
Take a step: Relax with a massage, at-home spa day, good book, or great podcast — whatever feels fulfilling to you.

Healthy Together Time

Because alone time isn’t always possible, it’s helpful to engage in some healthy actions where you can include your family. Consistency and structure can also be calming during these times of increased stress, so we recommend setting aside an hour or two several times a week where all family members can look forward to doing something fun together. Consider the following ideas.

Molly
Molly Schelper

Molly Schelper is a content manager at Life Time.

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