Chances are, you’re distracted while reading this. You’re running on a constant underlying level of anxiety while scanning through the never-ending to-do list in your head.
I see women of all ages with a variety of life responsibilities every day in the office, and I’ve noted a common theme — we’re all stretched thin and stressed out.
Often we’re so busy focusing on the needs of others that we tend to put our own health on the backburner and forget to take care of ourselves.
My grandmother overlooked symptoms of uterine cancer because she was so busy caring for others and didn’t want to be a burden to anyone else.
She ultimately passed away less than a year after her diagnosis, and her unnecessary death was a huge factor in my decision to become an OBGYN and help women be healthy in all aspects of life, including self-care.
But self-care — which has become an overused expression as of late — isn’t about eating chocolate, drinking wine or visiting a spa.
While it certainly can include indulging in favorite treats and activities geared toward being pampered, self-care should embody small daily — if not hourly — acts of mindfulness and paying close attention to your body’s needs.
Here are a few simple steps for better self-care.
Move: Perhaps you can’t fit in your full desired workout every day, but you can get moving. Walk during your lunch break. Dance while you brush your teeth. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Stretch while you sit at your desk. Your body will thank you for these little additions to your activity level.
Stop: Take 5 to 10 minutes when you first wake up or before you go to bed to do absolutely nothing. Sit or lie down, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Clear your worries from your mind as best you can. This can make for a refreshing start to the day or “reset” at the end of it.
Eat: Make one small change to your routine diet. If a frozen pizza seems like the only meal you can possibly prepare, that’s fine. But try to eliminate one frozen pizza night (or whatever your biggest “bad food habit” equivalent is) each month. Add breakfast if it’s a meal you’ve always avoided — it’s easy to eat a banana on the go. Replace chips at lunch with fruit or veggies. Skip dessert. Most important: Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t try to starve yourself, and don’t eat for other reasons.
Hydrate: Give your body the water it craves! Keep a bottle of water with you as much as possible, and refill whenever you can. If you need more flavor, there are lots of sparkling-water and water-flavoring options.
Vent: Certainly don’t complain all the time, but make sure not to bottle up your thoughts and emotions. Call your mom or your best friend. Talk to your partner. Some people benefit significantly from seeing a therapist; even if there’s not one specific issue or event to discuss, sorting things out with an unbiased person can do wonders.
Compliment: Say three positive things about yourself every morning. Keep track of compliments others give you, rather than brushing them off or being self-deprecating in response, and say them to yourself (ideally while looking the mirror).
Smile: Do one thing every day for the sole purpose of your happiness. Run, cook, read, look at animal pictures on the Internet, play an instrument, watch your favorite show. Do whatever it is that helps make you uniquely you, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Modify: Life can lose its luster when we become stuck on autopilot in a strict routine. Wear a bold outfit. Take an alternative route on your daily commute. Try a new recipe. Listen to a different radio station. Mix it up!
Conquer: I’m sure you still remember that never-ending to-do list. Take a good look at it. Each month, complete one task — either a big need or a big want — that’s been on there for far too long. You’ll gain a sense of control and minimize that helpless feeling that can come from being overwhelmed. Do it!
Rest: Please get your shuteye. Studies continue to reveal the detrimental effects of insufficient sleep. Although it may seem laughably impossible to ever achieve the recommended amount of sleep (7 to 8 hours nightly), ease toward that goal. Identify the little time-wasters in your day that you can eliminate so you can fit in a power nap, go to bed earlier or sleep in a little longer.
You can’t do everything. That’s okay. No matter what your social media feeds may suggest, no one gets to have a perfect, balanced life all the time. Do what you can when you can. That’s all you (or anyone else) can ask of yourself.
Dr. Erin Stevens sees patients at the Edina location of Clinic Sofia, a local OBGYN clinic known for its personalized approach to women’s health care. She’s a member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.