Self-care has always been a challenge for me. As a highly empathic person with a Type A personality, I’ve always been able to intuit other people’s feelings and needs easily, and usually end up wanting to jump in and help (read: take over). Not only would I give you the shirt off my back, but I would also give you my shoes and pants and wonder why I was freezing. But what I learned over the years is that when you consistently neglect your needs – physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually – it inevitably catches up with you, and sometimes in very dramatic or traumatic ways, such as illness, divorce, or financial`struggles.

But the good news is that you don’t have to wait for the bottom to fall out to start practicing self-care. The truth is that we prioritize what’s important to us, so there’s no reason why you can’t add yourself to the top of the list! And I understand why we don’t – we live in a world where we are over-worked, over-stressed, and expected to be available 24-7 through our devices. We have jobs (sometimes more than one), families, friends, and financial obligations that constantly push us to do more and be more.

It can often feel selfish or self-indulgent to put yourself first, but it’s actually the opposite. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that you abandon the people in your life. But I am suggesting that by taking care of your needs first, then you have more of yourself available for others. In essence, you have to first put on your own proverbial oxygen mask before you help someone else.

So, what does self-care actually mean? The simple answer is that it’s taking the time to address your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Physical Self-Care

You’ve heard it many times before – your body is a temple and the only vehicle you have to experience this life. So, why not make sure that you feel the best that you can physically by:

  • Nourishing your body with healthy, whole foods
  • Moving your body in ways that you truly enjoy, such as dancing, walking, or yoga
  • Making sure you have a supportive sleep routine (e.g., turn off your devices an hour before bed and have consistent sleep and wake times)
  • Occasionally indulging in foods or activities that bring you joy, such as wine, chocolate, or long baths

Emotional Self-Care

Tending to your emotional body is just as important, if not more so, than your physical body. It’s not just about what you eat, but who you spend time with, what you watch and read, and how you manage life’s stressors. When we neglect our emotional health, we sometimes store unresolved or negative emotions and beliefs in our physical body, which can then manifest as a physical health issue. You can practice emotional self-care by:

  • Finding ways to manage stress, whether it’s journaling, exercising, yoga, therapy, or breathing exercises
  • Creating healthy boundaries with people in your life, including learning to say no to invitations or situations that are unhealthy for you, or by ending toxic relationships
  • Limiting your social media exposure by deleting the apps off your phone, taking a break from social media on the weekends, or limiting your social media contact to a certain time each day
  • Shifting your perspective by starting a daily gratitude practice and writing down or saying 5 things you’re grateful for in order to focus more on the positive aspects of your life

Spiritual Self-Care

Spirituality is about cultivating your relationship with yourself as well as your relationship to something greater than yourself – whether you call it God, Universe, Spirit, or Allah. It doesn’t matter whether you do so through organized religion or a spiritual practice that you create for yourself, as long as you do it in a way that is meaningful to you. Some ways to practice spiritual self-care include:

  • Connecting to nature by going for outdoor walks or sitting by the ocean
  • Starting a meditation practice, even it’s only for 5-10 minutes a day, to sit with yourself in introspection
  • Reading or watching things that are inspiring to you, especially before you sleep so that you fall asleep with positive thoughts
  • Showing yourself compassion for what you have experienced, knowing that you are always doing the best that you can in any given moment