Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.Full Bio
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How much do you know about practicing self-care?
If you're a busy woman (and who isn't?), chances are you might know about it—but do you actually practice it?
All bets are off. After all, we have so many priorities, and for many of us, self-care comes way down on that list.
Maybe you're thinking, "self-care means self-indulgent." Or perhaps you're feeling guilty—or selfish—for even thinking about it.
But it's not. Just as you're instructed on a plane to put on your oxygen mask first, it's imperative to take care of yourself, otherwise you won't be much good to anyone or anything else. We need to nourish our body, our minds, our souls.
Self-care is not about taking bubble baths or sitting on the couch and eating bonbons. It's not about escaping to a spa. So, instead of thinking of self-care as indulgent and unnecessary, think of it as your defense against burnout.
You need to create a peaceful world for yourself and put a smile on your face.
And here are some tips that will do it.
Build strong relationships. Just as a bad relationship can lead to stress and negativity, a good one can be a huge stress buffer and can improve your physical health in turn. There's no surprise that researchers find that people who have weaker social ties suffer from poorer health. And if you laugh with your friends, that's even better: While you're doing it, your stress hormones are decreasing, and your immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies are soaring. Endorphins are also being released, those chemicals that make you feel good all over.
Consider before reacting. That doesn't mean you should hold negative feelings inside. But, before you react (which is so easy to do when you're peeved), do what we do for our kids: Give yourself a time-out—time to regroup and reconsider. Ground yourself by counting to 10 or doing some deep breathing. If that doesn't cut it, do something physical. Go out and take a walk or exercise hard, if need be. Those endorphins that are produced are natural mood-busters. Chances are, you may see things differently.
Give your mind a break. We are so over-stimulated that it's no wonder it can be hard to focus and feel totally overwhelmed. Sitting quietly with no distractions can put you in the here and now, rather than the past or the future. It's an amazing way to decompress and center yourself.
Prioritize sleep. Don't buy into the chest-thumping "I can get by on very little sleep" attitude. Sleep is not an indulgence but a necessity, and most of us don't get enough of it. The average adult needs seven to nine hours each night. Skimp on it and you sacrifice your well-being, health and happiness. Stick to a regular sleep schedule, practice a relaxing bedtime ritual, watch your caffeine and alcohol intake and keep your bedroom cool and dark.
Set realistic expectations. It's OK to set goals, but if you're not being realistic, you set yourself up for feelings of frustration and failure. Look at what you've accomplished, not what you haven't, and take time to feel good about it. Don't take disappointments personally; instead take it as a learning opportunity to reevaluate, regroup and re-strategize.
Take time for the things that really matter. It's easy to let things drop when we feel pressed for time. Take a moment to figure out the things that bring you joy—and fit them into your life, even if it's just for a few minutes. Productivity expert Laura Vanderkam says to "treat your priorities like a broken water heater." In other words, if it's important, you'll manage to find the time. Time, she says, is highly elastic. You may be surprised at how much time there really is when you let go of unimportant things and put your priorities in their place.
Learn to say no. If you're a people-pleaser, this might be especially difficult. After all, you hate to disappoint someone else or seem uncaring. But by always being the agreeable, cooperative one, you set yourself up for a cycle of people expecting you to always be there for them—and that's impossible. Some tips: Be firm and direct; consider a compromise; buy yourself time by saying, "Let me get back to you." And be honest with yourself about what you really need and want.