Practicing Meaningful Self-Care Through Mindfulness

As we continue to work toward cultivating a loving relationship with ourselves, let's consider how mindfulness can play a role in the process.  We speak often of the value of mindfulness here - it's an extremely powerful tool for improving so many aspects of our lives. It also goes hand in hand with building and sustaining strong, positive relationships.

When we care for someone, we are mindful of them - their likes and dislikes, their dreams and fears, their happiness and needs. Being mindful of the other person in these ways allows us to care for them and nurture our relationship well.  But do we consciously practice this same degree of mindfulness in our relationships with ourselves? 

When you are living in tune with your mind and body and caring for yourself well as a result, it will shine through in the way you approach the world and the gifts you offer to others. If you're wondering where to start, here are three small ways in which using mindfulness can help us tune into what we truly need and help us facilitate more loving, restorative self-care practices.

Be mindful of how different foods and drinks make you feelIndulging in a treat, whether it's a rich latte or a decadent chocolate dessert, can often feel like a luxurious form of self-care in the moment. And it's true that occasional indulgences can be a healthy part of enjoying life. However, we can sometimes fall into the trap of categorizing a certain food or drink as a "treat" without realizing that it takes a negative toll on how we feel after indulging.

Everyone's body is different. One person may be able to eat a bowl of ice cream and feel great afterwards - but for some, the dairy and sugar can wreak havoc on energy levels, mood, and skin. This is just one example, but the application goes for all kinds of foods.

Next time you indulge, pay special attention to any signals your body gives you afterward. Are you still just as pleased with your decision to indulge 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour afterward? If so, that's great! But if not, whether the repercussions are physical or mental, you may want to seek out a different indulgence that both tastes good in the moment and leaves you feeling positive afterward. Truly caring for yourself means prioritizing your needs holistically, not just doing whatever feels good in the moment but later brings results that hurt your body or stress your mind.  

Be mindful of which activities drain you and which ones recharge you. Just like we can fall into the habit of associating certain foods and drinks with indulgence, it's also easy to classify certain activities as inherently "relaxing" without giving much thought to how they affect us specifically.

Have you ever tried to spend the day "relaxing," doing things that are typically associated with rest - maybe lounging around your home, watching a movie, or trying to take a nap - only to find that you felt antsy, distractible and anything but relaxed? It may be that you just needed some additional time to calm your mind (we all have trouble "shutting down" at the end of a long week sometimes), but you may also consider the possibility that this kind of idle down time might not be a nourishing form of self-care for you. Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all formula, and what's relaxing for one person may be frustrating for another.

I, for example, don't enjoy pedicures because it makes me uncomfortable to have someone I don't know touch my feet. A lot of my girlfriends think this is strange, but I don't mind; we just laugh about it. I've become mindful enough of my likes and dislikes to understand that this isn't a relaxing form of self-care for me, and that's just fine. True self-care means being in tune enough with yourself to recognize what works for you.  

Be mindful of how much you have on your plate and how long you've been going without a break.

If there's one thing I've learned in my adult life, it's that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I still have to relearn this lesson from time to time, but thankfully I'm becoming better at mindfully listening to my body and intentionally slowing down when things get crazy. Self-care means noticing and responding when your body says "Hey, we've been doing a lot lately - we need to slow down a little." This can be difficult for many reasons.

For those who are Type-A and driven, acknowledging the need to slow down or take a break can feel like weakness. But this view is short-sighted, as it prioritizes pride over true long-term productivity. We must learn that we ca be both driven and mindful, and recognize the need to replenish ourselves in order to function at our best.

Even those who don't consider themselves Type A can easily fall into this trap - if you're a creative vision-caster with a passion for your work, you may be so engrossed in your projects that you don't even perceive your need to slow down. When we're caught up in the adrenaline of bringing a new vision to life or seeing a dream come to fruition, our feel-good emotions can sometimes override our bodies' subtle attempts to say "Excuse me, I need some rest!" But if we keep pushing without any mindful reflection on our physical and mental state, we may be setting ourselves up for a crash.

Even (or especially) when things are going great and you feel like you're crushing your goals, remember to check in with yourself. Preventative self-care is so much easier and more enjoyable than a forced stop because we've pushed ourselves too hard for too long and suffered a crash as a result.

Friends, we hope these ideas have helped expand your concept of what self-care can look like for you, and given you some ideas on how to find out. 

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