Self care has become such a buzzword lately. To be honest, it’s not just a 2020 thing. Self care has been thrown around rather lightly for years now. However, I think it’s with good reason: it’s important! Taking time to ensure your own needs are met is crucial to ensure you’re able to continue functioning, not just at peak performance, but any performance level during times of stress. Which, let’s be honest, is most of the time for most of us, 2020 or not. Daily self care sets the stress-baseline lower, so that when stressful situations come up, you’re not already at a 9-out-of-10 stress level. You have more capacity to deal with life in a functional way. So, yes, self care is good and important.
However, self care is more than just the self-indulgent world of Korean face masks and impulse shopping. I think you know that by now. But then what else is it? My favorite way of identifying self care rituals with my clients is something I learned from Dating Coach Amy Young which she calls the “Sacred 6.” There are two important parts of this process. First, it’s important to define what are rituals in your life that meaningfully make you feel better. Second, you create a set of rituals that you try to do every day, or at least a few times a week, not just when you’re feeling overwhelmed. So here we go.
Step 1: Define Your Daily Self Care List
It’s great to think about self care habits in 4 different categories. I like to think of it in a matrix, which is handy, because then you can fill it out:
|Feels good||Feels bad|
|Is good for me||Group 1||Group 2|
|Is bad for me||Group 3||Group 4|
This matrix helps you think about all the different behaviors you can have in the day. For example, drinking a cup of black coffee in the morning could go in Group 1 (good for me and feels good) because coffee has a lot of antioxidants, it’s a calming quiet moment for yourself, and it’s delicious. I’d even put eating 1-2 squares of good dark chocolate in Group 1 for similar reasons.
Then Group 2 might be things like going for a run, meditating, or organizing your apartment — anything that you don’t necessarily enjoy in the moment but has a meaningful positive impact on how you feel afterward. Now, in the long run this Group 2 stuff might make its way over to Group 1 because you develop some positive associations with it, but anything you know is good for you that you tend to avoid goes in Group 2 for now.
Group 3 could be things like eating a whole pizza, binge drinking with your friends, or calling up someone you know isn’t really good for you just because you feel lonely. These are choices that might feel good in the moment, and we’ve all definitely done this when we’re in a funk, but long term these actions don’t actually make you feel better. You can do them on a Friday or a Saturday night, but they don’t make going back to the office any easier on Monday.
Finally is Group 4. Things that you don’t enjoy and honestly don’t have any positive impact on your life. Calling your toxic friend who belittles you. Burning your hand on the stove. You get the idea. We’ll get back to this last group later.
So here’s the action. Take some time, make your own matrix.
Step 2: Make a Plan
Here’s where it gets good. Look at Groups 1 and 2. Come up with 6 things from those groups that can become your “Sacred 6” as Young calls it. Six things you can do (ideally) daily for your self care. These are 6 small moments where you know you’re taking care of yourself every damn day.
How do you choose? My recommendation is to identify things that have the biggest positive impact on your mental health, which probably means a lot of stuff from the tricky Group 2, to be honest. For example, here’s my Sacred 6:
Wake up early and work out first thing in the morning.
Group 2. I honestly don’t like waking up early, and working out that early in the morning is hard. My body is sore and sleepy. Bed is warm and usually the cat is cuddling with me. But if I don’t work out before work, I often find I don’t have energy to do it in the evenings, and I love knowing I did something great for myself before most people are even awake. It sets me up for a good day and makes me feel super productive before it’s even 7am.
Group 1. This one kind of goes without saying because I work out every morning, but even mornings where I had to skip the gym for some (God-forsaken) reason, I still shower. I also will shower sometimes at the end of a day or when I’m in a bad mood because the warm water, the rhythm of it, coming out all clean and cozy, just makes me feel better.
Group 1. I love my morning coffee. As I mentioned earlier, I skip the sugar and creamer, so I think this gets to fall in Group 1. Great start to the day.
Group 1-2. It depends on the weather really if I want to go outside or not, but I always feel better if I get out of my apartment, move, and breathe real air. Even if it’s just for 15 or 20 minutes in the rain or freezing cold.
Tidy up your apartment.
Group 2. I’d really rather not. I’d rather sit on the couch or go straight to bed. But taking 10-15 minutes in the evening to wash all the dishes in the sink, put things back where they belong, etc gives me a sense of calm.
Go to bed early.
Group 1-2. This is one of those things that has moved from Group 2 to Group 1 for me. When I say go to bed early, I mean really early. My husband gets up around 4am most days, and I get up around 5 or 6, so he and I go to bed no later than 8:30 most nights. Which is crazy. Who does that? We do. I like getting a few minutes to tourture him with cuddles (apparently I’m very warm) and connect with him, and also ensure I get enough sleep so waking up early isn’t totally miserable.
And there you have it folks, my Sacred 6. These are things I know I have to do to make sure I can move through my day without losing my mind. For some of my clients their list includes daily meditation, cooking dinner, or taking the dog for a walk. The point is, these are things you can do for yourself every day, and then of course pick some of the less practical ones to sprinkle in when you’re in real need of some next-level daily self care.
Next action? Make a plan for your Sacred 6. What are they, when will you do them, how will you make sure you always have time, etc.
Again, I really enjoy the matrix approach, where it’s not just what feels good in the moment, but how will you feel after they’re done. Bonus, points for removing as many things from Groups 3 and 4 from your life all together.