Blog Posts

Self-Care: More Than Just a New Years' Resolution

by Alexandre Fleche, LCSW

There is no better time than January for setting intentions for the year. This is the month you'll likely be confronted with societal messages about getting in shape, eliminating bad habits, or doing things that you've been putting off. From water cooler talk about New Year's resolutions, to solicitations from the local gym, to dinner table conversations about finally cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, there is likely no escaping the push to examine your behavior and make a change. But while all this focus on making changes can at times be overwhelming and unwanted pressure, it is a perfect opportunity to set healthy, positive intentions for yourself.

So, in order to dial back the anxieties around making a new start, and to make positive changes for yourself, set a positive intention to nurture yourself this year with healthy self-care practices. More than just a new-years resolution, healthy self-care practices can be essential to emotional and psychological wellness. Here are some self-care ideas to get you started.

Find something that you know has made you feel great in the past, and schedule it into your weekly calendar. One of the best ways to take care of yourself is to do the things you know make you feel well. This may sound simple, but we often either forget or neglect the things that bring us positive feelings. These can be anything from being around friends, to reading, to learning something new. Have you stopped going for bike rides that used to be a regular part of your routine? Going for a hike? Browsing antiques? If you’re having trouble coming up with something, ask someone who knows you well. And don’t forget to put it into your calendar on a weekly basis, or you may risk not following through.

Get to bed just a little bit earlier than you think you need to, and stick with it. Sleep is one of the fundamental things we need biologically in order to function our best in a number of ways. According to the CDC, 35-38% of adults in the state of Virginia average fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night (considered a short sleep duration). Sticking to a consistent sleep and wake time can help stabilize your circadian rhythm which helps with overall biological functioning. This may help reduce stress and improve mood.

Ditch the glass of wine for a cup of tea. According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol consumption may contribute to disrupted circadian rhythm, block restorative REM sleep, and contribute to some health problems. Alcohol consumption may also be a complicating factor for depression and anxiety, possibly contributing to these issues even at moderate levels of use. Eliminating or limiting alcohol use may help reduce or manage mood problems and lead to benefits in energy and mental sharpness.

Practice gratitude consistently and regularly. Research has shown gratitude to positively affect mood and even increase healthy behaviors. This relatively simple practice may translate to some of the improvements that can seem so difficult to accomplish on their own, like exercising more. To practice gratitude, simply identify three things each day for which you are grateful, and identify what caused those things. Try this practice each night before bed.

Start a meditation practice. When I mention meditation to people, they often respond that they cannot do it or it does not work for them. The truth is, there are many forms of meditation, and it may be easier and more straightforward than it seems. One simple way of practicing meditation is to listen along to a guided meditation. There are many apps out there that offer guided meditation audio, like Headspace or Calm. Another great resource is Tara Brach who provides recordings of her guided meditations on her website for free, and hosts a free meditation Wednesday evenings in Bethesda, MD. Meditation can help calm the mind and decrease negative rumination.

Although making behavioral changes can be difficult, try framing it as making an investment in your wellbeing and setting yourself up for future success. Investments in self-care result in a reduction of stress, and therefore free you up to do more of the things that truly matter to you. Think of what you might be able to do with your renewed energy, like spending time with people you love, doing creative projects, investing in your finances, traveling, or participating in your community.

Journal prompt: For extra motivation to start the year off with good intentions, consider dusting off your journal (or starting one) and make a new entry. Reflect on the previous year and identify three things for which you are grateful and what caused them. In addition, consider one thing (or more) you will do this coming year to practice self-care, and make a plan for how you will do it.