I recently gave a presentation to a group of mental healthcare workers about the importance of self-care. While this group touched me deeply in just how much they give to society through their important work it also made me aware of the importance of self-care for each of us in all areas of our lives. Looking after ourselves allows us to be able to give more to our work, our families, friends and communities. The old analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask first still rings true.

“offer self-compassion and empathy to ourselves first”

If we can offer self-compassion and empathy to ourselves first, then we have more compassion and empathy to give others. If we look after our own physical health, we have more energy to give our business. If we look after our own emotional wellbeing we have greater capacity to look after our family and friends.

What is self-care? It looks different for different people. Ultimately it is about nourishing ourselves. For some it means going to the gym regularly, eating healthily, going for a long Mourne walk, or not bringing work home in the evening. For others it is taking time to be with family and friends, or dancing and letting your hair down to good music with some good craic. For some it is wild swimming or taking a cold shower every morning. It is about doing things that are meaningful for us and that make us feel good.

It is very easy to put taking care of yourself to the bottom of your priority list so here are some tips and ideas for effective self-care.

What is self-care? Here are some tips and ideas for effective self-care

Self reflection

An element of self-reflection is needed for proper self-care. Get to know yourself better. What do you really like to do? What feeds you? We need to know what supports us to feel better. Journaling can be a good practice to become more aware of ourselves. Record your thoughts and observations in a dedicated notebook. Notice how you feel when you partake in different activities. You might notice that your preferences change over time.

Have fun.

What is it about the activity we do that feels good? I used to go to the gym four days a week and while the circuits were good for my health, the best part was boxing and playing at some gymnastics. Why did I feel so good after these bouts of exercise? It was the co-regulating fun. My nervous system was becoming regulated as I interacted with my gym instructor, we laughed and had so much fun turning cartwheels and boxing round the room. If you don’t fancy boxing try having fun by playing a board game with your family and friends.

Try learning something new.

Our bodies respond well to trying new activities. We feel a sense of satisfaction learning a new skill and it can stimulate different neural pathways. Take a class in dance, crafting, singing, poetry writing, or another adult learning topic. QUB offers many online and in-person subsidised courses as well as the thousands of online courses available.

Say no.

It is all too easy to keep on saying yes when asked to help. It is important to know your own boundaries and when to say no. Saying no can take courage and practice but it ultimately gives you extra time for yourself. Schedule “me-time” into your calendar.

Listen to inspiring podcasts or read a good book

While self-care can sometimes be about rest, it is often just as important to stimulate your brain with new inspiring ideas. Try listening to a few interesting podcasts or read a good book. Giving your mind a break from your everyday work life can be a good rest for your brain.

Take some physical exercise

An obvious self-care practice is to take physical exercise. Try to assess what your body needs. A gentle walk, a yin yoga class or a tai chi class can be as effective for your physical health as a six day a week intensive gym habit. Listen to your body to see what works best for you. Try a few different activities to see what nourishes you best. You might notice that some days you prefer a slower pace and others need something more invigorating.

Enjoy some quiet time

Take time to rest. Try going to bed half an hour earlier. Read quietly in the evening rather than watching TV. Have you tried to meditate? A 10 minute meditation practice before you go to bed or first thing in the morning can help regulate your nervous system supporting your physical and emotional health.

Make self-care a habit.

The hardest part of self-care is often to keep going. The best way to keep up a nourishing self-care practice is to make it a habit. Try to fit small self-care practices into your daily routine and grow from there. Schedule time in your calendar to go for a walk, to listen to a podcast, or go out for a meal.

**This article was first published in Ambition, the Northern Ireland Chamber magazine**