By: Cindy Tsai
Are you feeling stressed and exhausted? How often do you take time for you? Here are the five best principles to practice self-care in a sustainable manner.
1) Make time to focus on the now.
You’re busy. You have a lot on your plate. You’re a good person who wants to help everyone else. You feel stressed and exhausted, but tell yourself you can catch up on rest later.
If this is you, please take a moment to pause and take a breath right now. I want you to pay attention to your toes, yes, your toes. Can you feel them? What does your left third toe feel like? Is it warm or is it cool? Is there any tingling or is it dull?
Okay, that was an exercise in mindfulness to help bring you to the present moment without judgment. Know that when you are replaying the past or worrying about the future that may or may not happen, you are not paying attention to what’s happening right now. But the now is all we truly have.
2) Stress is like caffeine, it needs to be managed carefully.
In my years working as a primary care physician, I saw many patients who came in for their annual physical because they had to “check it off” their list. They were constantly busy, going from one thing to the next, never taking a moment to pause.
They would reassure me that they’ve “always been like this” and that it wasn’t a problem. Until it was. Because inevitably, our batteries run out of energy if we don’t recharge them.
When we are under stress, the body is focused on producing cortisol, the stress hormone, to fuel various organs to create more energy so that we can keep going.
Now, stress often gets a bad rap, but it’s actually necessary to help us get through acute events. The problem is when stress is chronic and ongoing, it doesn’t give our organs a chance to rest and recuperate. You don’t want your heart to be beating out your chest or having sweaty palms all day. You end up with less energy reserves and over time, and this inevitably leads to exhaustion, burnout, and health crises. I don’t want this to be your story.
3) Prioritize your own well-being in order to take care of others.
It’s tempting to defer self-care because you’ve been doing fine. Or maybe you feel guilty taking time away from your family. I always remind people that we all have a threshold and everyone’s level is different. You may have been doing fine for fourteen years, but at some point, something has to give.
This is why I am so passionate about sharing the importance of self-care. Self-care is not selfish, it’s necessary. It’s an active process to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to recharge your batteries and fill your cup so that you can always be at your best.
You’re putting your oxygen mask first so that you can help others. When you have a full tank, you have more reserve and more to give. You can then show up as the best version of you in all aspects of life.
4) Practice self-care, your way.
Self-care looks different for everyone and the most important thing is that it works for you, whether it’s taking a leisurely stroll after dinner or enjoying your coffee quietly in the morning before checking your email or social media.
Take a moment and think about the last time you felt really calm and at ease. What were you thinking? What were you doing? How long has it been?
But did you know that you can experience calm and ease right now? Even in the midst of chaos, without splurging on a vacation getaway? Because the feeling of ease comes from your thoughts that everything is fine and nothing has gone wrong. Our thoughts about our circumstances determine our experience in the world.
This is why mindfulness practices are so helpful, because they help you see exactly what is actually going on without a filter. When you are present, you can question and explore what is or isn’t serving you. You are not judging or resisting what is. You are open to your experience.
5) Be your own best friend and have your own back.
When you believe in yourself and have your own back, you are taking care of yourself. When you are confident and trust your own abilities, you know you can handle anything and create your own calm in any circumstances. When you realize that true validation comes from within, you will live a richer life, because everything you do is because you get to and want to, not because you have to.
You are here because you have gifts and talents to share and make the world a better place. Give yourself permission to take a break and do something for you.
Don’t forget, you are amazing, just as you are, in this very moment.
Cindy Tsai, MD is a board-certified physician, mindfulness teacher, and life coach who helps high-achieving professional women go from chasing what’s next to loving what’s now.