“Self-care” is the word of the moment in pop-psychology. Although it gets a bit of pushback in some circles (is avocado toast part of your self-care plan?), self-care can be beneficial if it really is self-care and not simply self-indulgence. Genuine self-care is all about establishing healthy habits that improve your overall well-being, whether at work or at home. Summer, with the many changes it brings to people’s schedules, is a great time to consider starting new habits to improve your life.
1. Develop a Routine
If you don’t have a regular routine yet—or if you have one that you’re unhappy with—establish a good one now! There is no better way provide structure to your day, increase your efficiency, and build your momentum. If you find it hard to motivate yourself to do important work, a regular time every day to do it can help you avoid a daily battle with procrastination. And getting important work done early and regularly will keep it from hanging over your head and allow you to enjoy the rest of your day.
Start simple and begin doing a few things daily and strictly to develop the habit. Don’t expect to become perfectly disciplined overnight. A simple daily planner is a great resource when you are first developing a new routine. Write down reasonable daily goals and check them off as you complete them to avoid the constant feeling that something needs to be done. A routine also allows you to schedule some of the mainstays of self-care—mindfulness exercises, self-reflection, and creative outlets.
2. Sleep Well
One of the best places to start a new habit is in how you sleep. In an era of abundant coffee and Internet access, it’s tempting to trade sleep for a little extra work or the easy stimulation of a Netflix binge. But regular and adequate sleep is a key component to physical and mental well-being. Besides the proven benefits to physical health and performance, sleep improves memory, attention, and mood. Setting a strict and consistent bedtime and giving yourself time to decompress and brush your teeth beforehand are important first steps in developing a healthy routine.
3. Take a Break from Technology
Set limits for yourself when it comes to technology. This is one of the places where the difference between self-care and self-indulgence is most clear. Cell phone use and checking email are quick and easy sources of dopamine. You can get a small rush from them that motivates habitual behavior. But unscheduled screentime has a number of drawbacks. It hurts sleep, lowering melatonin levels and shortening REM cycles. It also interferes with your productivity, interrupting important activities and taking your mind off track. An outright fast can have enormous benefits and provide you with some perspective, but, whether you can go cold turkey or not, it’s important to set reasonable limits. Scheduling regular times for email and social media and avoiding screens before bedtime are great places to start.
4. Go outside.
Being indoors and subject to electric lighting constantly disrupts the body’s internal clock and makes it difficult to keep a healthy sleep schedule. Natural light is important to both physical and mental well-being, and walking outdoors for at least twenty minutes a day—preferably in green spaces, whether a local park or a nearby hiking trail—is a great source of exercise that has been shown to improve mood and a sense of vitality. If the summer heat is a concern, schedule time to be outdoors in the cool of the morning or evening. And don’t underestimate the value of a vacation.
5. Make Time for Friends
Real, face-to-face social connection is the key. Being physically and mentally present with other people has been shown to reduce the risk of depression and promote empathy. That’s not to mention that most people find time with friends to be a worthy end in itself. Combine this with other self-care goals by enjoying outdoor recreation with like-minded peers. Ask everyone to leave their cell phone at home and enjoy the sunlight.