Self-Care All-in-One For Dummies
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It’s well known that you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself, and that statement rings even more true today. You can become calmer, more fulfilled, and more grounded with the help of a variety of self-care practices.

These practices include mindfulness, self-compassion, resilience, fitness, clean eating, stress management, and reduced online activity.

Practicing mindfulness and self-compassion

The practice of mindfulness is foundational to being able to meet yourself with kindness when you suffer or fail or fall short, and there are different ways of harnessing your own natural capacity to be present and aware in a way that supports your commitment to self-compassion.

The most traditional way of looking at mindfulness practice comes in two general forms: formal and informal practice.

  • Formal practice is what people most often associate with mindfulness, in that it is setting aside the time and honoring an intention to systematically sit and meditate, the same way you might set aside a period of time to go to the gym. You practice formally for its own sake, regardless of whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, and without becoming attached to a specific outcome or emotional state. Therefore, you don’t meditate to become relaxed, happy, or even self-compassionate, but to become present to where you actually are.
  • Informal practice is what you can do in your daily life. When you choose to ride the bus mindfully or eat a meal mindfully, or when you have a difficult conversation at work with a degree of mindfulness or self-compassion, you are deploying your resources of mindfulness and self-compassion and thereby strengthening and reinforcing the practice.

You can have an informal practice without having a formal practice, but they dance best together. You practice formally so that the informal practice is easier and more accessible when you really need it in your life.

You practice informally to weave the practice into your routine and to make it a part of who you are and not just something you do. Plus, the more that you find the informal practice to be helpful to you, the more inclined you are to practice formally to develop the capacity more fully.

When you win a race, you want to go back to train harder to win more races. Formal or informal, when you practice, you are tapping into your own inner wisdom and capacity to be mindful and compassionate.

Building resilience by celebrating yourself

When you move into self-doubt and limiting beliefs, you tend to forget the good stuff. You forget your wins, all the times you did feel confident or valued, and the belief that you are indeed capable of success or feeling good. It happens to the best of us.

When the stress response is highly activated, the tendency is to focus on the negative and only the negative. When you make a conscious effort to remember your wins, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of self-deprecation while also better regulating the stress response.

Celebrate yourself every day for big or small accomplishments, recognizing your worth, strengths, abilities, and value. These are some actions you can take now:

  • Keep a separate notebook. Mark down the times when you feel good, victorious, and valued.
  • Note during these times the sources of this feeling. Did the sense of value come from you or from someone or something recognizing you or validating you?
  • Remember the positive. If you notice that your sense of accomplishment or values is ignited because someone else recognized you, focus on the positive feeling and see if you can reframe the situation to feeling valued first and then being happy about the accomplishment.
  • Celebrate with self-loving actions as well as words. Perhaps you buy yourself some flowers or take yourself out to a fine dinner or write yourself a thank-you note or love letter and then mail it to yourself.

Defining what fitness means

Fitness, which some people refer to as wellness, has a lot of different meanings. You can be fit to run 5 miles, fit to hoist 200 pounds, fit to do a headstand in a yoga class or transform yourself into a pretzel.

You can look fit — that is, lean — and not actually have much stamina, strength, flexibility, or balance. Or you can possess all those attributes but still consume doughnuts and soda for breakfast — not exactly a health-conscious diet. It’s a rare human being who is a champ in all respects.

Individuals need to pick and choose which areas of fitness to focus on, the ones that make the most sense for the goals they have and the lives they lead. Still, it doesn’t take that much effort to achieve a basic level of physical fitness in the five key areas: cardio, strength, flexibility, balance, and nutrition.

  • Cardio fitness: Workouts that get your heart pumping and continuously work a lot of large muscles such as the arms, torso, and legs are known as cardio (short for cardiovascular) exercises. These activities, such as walking, cycling, and using an elliptical machine, improve your heart, lungs, blood vessels, stamina, and, to some extent, strength. Cardio workouts also burn plenty of calories, which can help you lose weight.
  • Strength training: Whereas some men focus on weight training to the exclusion of all other fitness activities (you may meet a buff bodybuilder who can’t run a mile), some women shy away from lifting weights for fear of looking like that buff bodybuilder. Both men and women should incorporate some strength training into their fitness programs.
  • Flexibility: Unlike cardio exercise and strength training, flexibility training — also known as stretching — doesn’t get any glory in the fitness world unless you happen to be a gymnast or a dancer.Most people skip stretching altogether or do a few cursory toe touches and call it a day. That’s because the benefits of stretching your muscles and joints aren’t immediately obvious; being flexible doesn’t make you slender or buff or able to outrun your teenager. So why bother? Because as you age, your joints become less mobile. Maintaining your flexibility through stretching, yoga, or Pilates helps minimize your risk of falling and getting injured while allowing you to continue moving with grace and good posture even into old age.
  • Balance: If flexibility is the forgotten stepchild of fitness, then balance is the ignored twice-removed third cousin. But like flexibility, balance is an aspect of fitness that’s important when you’re young and absolutely essential when you’re not. A good sense of balance helps you move more fluidly and prevents unnecessary falls. Even if you have no aspirations to become a tightrope walker, doing basic balance moves should be more than enough to help you maintain your sense of balance.
  • Nutrition: When you make wise food choices (ahem, that means nixing the peanut-butter cookie in favor of the whole-wheat toast with peanut butter), you have more energy to exercise, and you recover more quickly from your workouts. And of course, cleaning up your eating habits is the key to losing weight.

Understanding how to eat clean

After decades of Americans’ eating processed foods and, not coincidentally, watching their population become more obese, fad diets became more and more popular. But they weren’t successful, because following a really restrictive diet for long periods of time is nearly impossible.

On the other hand, the clean eating lifestyle has become more popular as more people realize how simple it really is. It’s a lifestyle you can live with for the rest of your life. Here are the basic planks of the eating clean platform:

  • Eat whole, unrefined, and unprocessed foods that are low on the food chain. Buy bunches of broccoli, whole heads of lettuce, corn on the cob, cantaloupe, whole chickens, and unrefined grains rather than processed foods, such as broccoli in sauce, packaged salads, canned corn, and lunch meat.
  • Eat a wide variety of unprocessed foods. Today’s markets and grocery stores offer many more fruits and vegetables today than they did a few years ago. Try unusual foods such as passion fruit, salsify, or broccoli rabe. Experiment with unfamiliar foods to help make mealtime more interesting.
  • Avoid artificial substances, including artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners. These items can harm your health by literally becoming part of your body’s cell structure and changing some basic biological mechanisms. These changes weaken your body’s ability to stay healthy.
  • Cut back on sugars, especially processed sugars such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. That means no more soda or other sugary drinks. Your body processes these ingredients differently, and they provide nothing but empty calories.
  • Avoid trans fats and artificial fat substitutes. The trans fatty acids found in shortening, lots of baked products, and snack foods may be behind the skyrocketing heart disease rates in this country, so don’t eat them. Also, they cause unpleasant side effects and no one really knows about their long-term safety.
  • Choose low-fat, not nonfat, dairy products. Nonfat products use processed and artificial substances, such as additives and starches, to mimic the texture and flavor of fat.
  • Choose foods that are nutrient dense. In other words, for every calorie a food provides, it should also provide vitamins, minerals, protein, carbs, fiber, and good fats. Good fats include the fats found in nuts, olive oil, and lean meats, especially seafood. On the other hand, you find empty calories, which are calories with little or no nutritional value, in snack foods, cookies, candies, and soda.
  • Combine protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats at every meal for the most satisfaction. This combination helps stave off hunger and gives you more energy than you get from consuming something that’s sugary or salty.
  • Drink lots of water. Try to drink several glasses of water a day. If you don’t enjoy the taste of plain water, you can also drink unsweetened tea. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your digestive system running smoothly. Avoid drinking fruit juices, because they can be high in sugar and calories.
  • Eat five or six mini meals a day rather than three large meals. Make breakfast your largest meal, with whole-grain cereal or toast with butter or peanut butter and some form of protein, such as a hard-boiled egg. Your other meals need to include protein, carbs, and fat, such as celery sticks with nut butters and dried fruits or sandwiches made with sliced chicken and vegetables such as avocado and tomatoes.
  • Practice portion control, especially when you eat more than three meals a day. Each meal should be about 300 to 400 nutritious calories. Figure out what half a cup of brown rice or other whole grain or fruits and vegetables looks like, because that’s how big a typical serving is.A serving of bread is one slice; a serving of meat is 3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards. With time, eating proper portions will become second nature. Depending on which meal schedule works best for your day, you can adjust the amounts accordingly.

Managing stress by accentuating the positive

When you think of reducing your stress, most often you think of ways of eliminating, or at least minimizing, the negatives in your life.

However, creating a lifestyle that is truly stress-resilient means not only eliminating the negatives but also finding and building in positive sources of satisfaction and pleasure, called stress buffers, that compensate for the negatives you haven’t been able to eliminate.

Stress buffers include a wide range of activities, involvements, and commitments that bring positive feelings to your life. Complete the following quiz to determine whether your lifestyle is providing you with the stress buffers that are important in helping you resist the negative effects of stress.

Respond to the following statements with “very much,” “so-so,” or “not really.”

  • I have family I can rely on when I need to.
  • I have friends I can talk to when problems arise.
  • I have friends I enjoy spending time with.
  • I have hobbies and/or interests I enjoy.
  • I look forward to certain activities during the week.
  • I get satisfaction from the work I do.
  • I find my life satisfying and involving.
  • My spiritual beliefs give me support and comfort.
  • I enjoy meeting new people.
  • I like trying new things.
  • I take a vacation regularly.
  • I enjoy nature and the outdoors.
  • I frequently do things that are fun.
  • I have an adequate income.
  • I do things for others who are less fortunate.

Living a lower-tech life as part of your self-care

Think about it: You have 168 hours a week. That is it; no one gets more. If you sleep an average of eight hours a day, that leaves 112 waking hours a week, and when you spend just three hours a day online (21 hours a week), that is about 20 percent of your weekly waking time on a screen.

Three hours is on the low side. Let’s say you’re closer to 40 hours a week or about six hours a day, which means that nearly 40 percent of your available waking time is spent on a screen — how can that allow for all the other valued aspects of your life? The question you should ask yourself is whether that is what you want to be doing with your limited time.

Instead, you can create a lower-tech living plan — not simply a list, but a plan that includes things you like, things you love to do, and the people you like to do them with. Time is limited, and the internet can eat what time you have without your even realizing it.

The way to live with less tech is to practice living life without it, or at least without as much of it. Start small, and try these tips:

  • Practice taking a walk, walking your dog, being in a waiting room, waiting in a line, sitting and just thinking, or having a meal or a cup of coffee without your phone. Try to pair fewer activities with your phone, tablet, or laptop, and consciously look for opportunities to do it differently. This will feel odd at first, but remember when smartphones first came out; initially it felt weird to have them out in public.
  • When you sit down at night to watch a movie or TV show, resist the temptation to look up every actor or obscure fact, order an Amazon item, or do a social media check-in on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Focus on one task or activity at a time.
  • When you go to bed, leave your phone charging in the other room. Buy an alarm clock. You’ll sleep better.
  • Consider leaving your phone in the car when you meet your family or a friend for dinner. Consider never having your phone out when eating or socializing; this conveys a mixed message to whomever you are with — that you are physically there, but not fully present.
  • Turn your smartphone screen to black and white (gray scale); this makes it less appealing and will quickly cut down your phone use. It’s an easy setting change (yes, you may need to look online to see how to do it for your model).

These are hard things to do; they feel strange at first. However, if you don’t practice creating some space and some distance from your technology, it will continue to envelop your life and eat up much of your time. It’s not all or none — any change is a positive change.

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