Many of us wrongly think that “self-care” is the same thing as being “selfish.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is only when we take care of ourselves that we are able to properly take care of others.

You cannot effectively serve others if your own needs are not being met. You serve the world best when you are at your best physically, mentally and emotionally.  That allows you to have a happy disposition.  It allows you to be your most interesting.  And it allows you to be your most energized.

The best way to take care of yourself is to incorporate self-care into your lifestyle. Self-care needs to be a part of your everyday life, like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast.  Below are some ways to incorporate self-care into your daily routine.  When you take care of your own needs first, then you are better able to take care of those who matter most to you.

Caring for Your Body: It takes motivation to care of your body.  Exercise is work, and eating a salad is not nearly as enjoyable as eating a cookie.  But if you don’t take care of your body, your self-esteem will deteriorate because you won’t be happy with your appearance.  Worse yet, you will be prone to illness.

I don’t particularly like to exercise. I would rather sip a cup of tea and read a book.  However, I like when my clothes fit comfortably.  And I like feeling agile and strong.  So those things motivate me to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, including going to the gym regularly.  They also motivate me to take my dog for a long walk every day, and to do some of my own yard work.  The more I move, the better I feel.

Eating healthy foods is challenging because many unhealthy foods are just so tasty. There is a reason why fast food is popular – some of it tastes very good!  But fast food isn’t nearly as good for you as home cooking.

The only way to develop long term healthy eating habits is to learn how to cook.  Cooking healthy, delicious food is not rocket science. It simply involves finding good quality ingredients, and being able to follow the directions of a recipe.  People like to make cooking sound complicated, but there really isn’t much more to it.  Once you learn how to cook well, you will love your own cooking more than anything you could get at a restaurant.  And you will eat healthier meals in the process.  Moreover, your cooking will be more flavorful than a Big Mac – I promise!

Caring for Your Mental Health: I truly believe that mental health is the most important health issue that we face in our country – and it is the one that is most overlooked.  Some mental health issues need professional treatment and medication.  However, for many of us, we don’t need that heightened level of intervention.  Rather, we simply need to pay closer attention to our mental health, in the same way that we pay attention to our physical health.

Unfortunately, mental health issues aren’t as readily identifiable as physical health issues. It is clear when we have an issue with our bodies.  We may have an illness, or perhaps we have gained an unhealthy amount of weight.  But mental health issues aren’t so obvious.

Some tell-tale signs of mental health issues might be the need to drink alcohol on a regular basis, or to sleep excessively. Perhaps you are too quick to fly off the handle and yell at people.  Or you may find that your behavior is leading your friends and family to keep their distance from you.  All those things may indicate that you need to start taking care of your mental health.

We need to care for our minds as we do our bodies. We need to “feed” our minds with healthy “food.”  That means being vigilant about what we read on the Internet and what we watch on television.  There is a lot of negative nonsense on the Internet, and there is a lot of violent garbage on television.  In order to keep your mind healthy, you have to forgo viewing that kind of stuff.

Instead, fill your mind with positive thoughts. I find that it makes a huge difference to my attitude when I read books by people who are encouragers.  My daughter recently gave me a book called “The Book of Joy,” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  It is a book that is full of wisdom about living a joyful life.  When I read it, I naturally feel more at peace.  I also try to restrict my television watching to comedies, and I try to limit the negative news that I watch.  By feeding my mind with good thoughts, I am able to keep myself mentally healthy and on track.

Caring for Your Emotional Health: Stress, fear, worry and anger are all emotions that sap our energy.  They cause us to behave in a distracted and irritable manner.  And they limit our ability to simply get through the day.

When we are emotionally healthy, we are content and at peace. To achieve that, we need to have both a good attitude and reasonably decent life circumstances.  As adults, we have some control over both.

When it comes to having a good attitude, start by appreciating your life.  Remember that there is someone out there who would love to have your life. For instance, if you don’t like everything about your spouse, trust me, there is someone out there who will gladly take him or her off your hands.  If you don’t like your house or your car, I can assure you that there is someone in a very poor country who would consider your house to be a palace and your car to be the ultimate luxury.

Appreciating and making the most of what you have will make you happier with your life.  So, if you are married, focus on your spouse’s good qualities.  If you have belongings, like a home or a car, be happy with what you have.  Take good care of your things.  If you do so, they will look beautiful, and they will serve you well.  By focusing on what you have, rather than what you don’t have, you can achieve a level of contentment that even the richest person cannot attain.

All that being said, there are times in life when we have to change our circumstances in order to take care of our emotional health. For example, sometimes we have to eliminate people from our lives in order to be at peace.  I have found in my own life that some people are just difficult.  That is just who they are.  No matter how nice you are to them, they will not change because they are fundamentally unhappy people.  You may have someone like that in your life, whether it be a family member, friend or spouse.  It sounds harsh, but there is nothing wrong with eliminating those people from your life.  You are under no obligation to deal with unpleasant people, even if you are related to them.  Your emotional health is more important than any social obligation you may feel toward them.

Sometimes changing our circumstances involves leaving a job which is too stressful. Sometimes it involves moving to some place that is more serene.  Don’t be afraid of change!  I lived in New York City for a number of years, and I never wanted to leave.  But I ended up moving to a more rural part of the country, which I found to be quite beautiful and peaceful.  Ultimately, I was glad to give up the excitement of city living for a quieter lifestyle, which is far less stressful.

Making self-care a priority in your daily life is the most important thing that you can do for yourself.  Remember that you deserve to be healthy and content.  This week, consider ways that you can make self-care part of your daily routine.  You will be happier for it.

(Photo Courtesy of Pexels)

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