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How to Care for your Mental, Spiritual, Physical, and Emotional Self

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You know how you can tell the self-care movement is making an impact?

Corporations are talking about it, integrating it in their systems, and encouraging their employees to study their own self-care needs. All to improve the corporations’ bottom lines, of course, but if an institutional body historically opposed to the needs of the individual starts touting the benefits of a movement…

It’s probably time to listen.

The thing is, most people aren’t sure how to care for themselves. 

We’ve talked before about how the idea of caring for yourself is only recent, and because it’s new, lots of people think they’re caring for themselves when they’re actually soothing themselves. 

It would be nice if self-care could be innate and automatic — if we could feel what we needed and respond immediately.

And sometimes, it is exactly that simple!

Ever reached the end of rope and thought to yourself, “I need to get up and go for a walk”?

That’s self-care.

But most of the time… our reactionary impulse when we notice we’re upset or off-balance (if we even notice) is to self-soothe. Binge your favorite show. Eat a bowl of ice cream. Go to the bar. 

To avoid acting on those impulses, it’s important to create a self-care plan that encompasses the four quadrants of humanity: the mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional self.

Everyone is different, so everyone will require a different action plan. But we all need to care for all parts of ourselves in order to fire on all cylinders.

Let’s start with caring for our mental selves…

Mental

Think about mental self-care as installing a de-fog machine. Not wiping the windows, but repairing the mechanism itself.

The goal is to sharpen, clear, and fortify your mind.

Try reading a nonfiction book for 15 minutes every day. It doesn’t matter how much you read, as long as you stick to 15 minutes (or longer) and make sure you really understand what you’re reading.

Declutter your space. By organizing your visual experience, you’re encouraging your mental experience to fall in line. 

Clear your head by journaling. Plenty of studies indicate that journaling has a positive effect on not just mental, but overall health. 

Fulfill practical, core aspects of your life that require attention — like creating a budget for your finances, studying for a certification that will advance your career, or taking inventory of your clothing so you can make space in your closet. 

Spiritual

No two people experience spirituality in the same way.

If you’re a religious person, and you’re feeling out of touch and isolated, contact your spiritual director. Your priest, rabbi, imam, sheikh, or whatever your denomination calls a religious leader. Go to confession. Attend a service. Pray.

If you’re not a religious person, you still have spiritual needs (whether or not you realize that’s what they are.) 

Go to a counseling session. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Commune with yourself in the woods — no technology, just you and the verdant living world.

If you can afford to and your schedule allows, go on a spiritual retreat! Retreats are an incredible chance to disconnect from the you that’s developed inside your echo chamber and meet the you that goes wherever you take it.

Physical

This is an easy one, and it’s something most people in the Western world are familiar with.

We’re all fatigued. We’re mostly overweight. We can barely touch our toes. 

Every time you feel stiff, tense, burdened, physically exhausted…

Stand up. Hinge at the waist. Try a few quick exercises. Take a walk. Take a run

Stretch your legs. Stretch your arms. Exercise — even yoga or pilates.

At the very least, engage in your physical world. Touch something cool. Touch something warm. Run your hand against the bark on a tree. Lie in wet grass. 

Take a nap! Maybe you are just tired!

We are physical creatures, everyone. Awaken and stimulate the physical part of you that’s underfed and undernourished.

Emotional

Emotional self-care is probably the most diverse across the board. But essentially, this is the kind of care you need when you feel embroiled, frustrated, disconnected, or need reflection time.

If you play an instrument, play it. If you don’t play an instrument, play whatever’s around you — drum on the pots and pans, harmonica with a blade of grass.

Be creative. Paint your flower pots. Dye your bedroom curtains with a natural dye. Color in a coloring book. 

Focus on positivity — write down on a notepad five things that happened today that made you smile, or would have if you weren’t feeling so low. Practice positive self-talk

See a therapist! Practice stream-of-consciousness venting with a close friend. Unravel your thoughts about a complicated emotional event through journaling your reflections.

There are as many ways to perform self-care as there are personality types.

Try to listen to yourself — is your body begging to move? Have you thought about the same event over and over and you’re not feeling any better about it? Have you felt alone under the big, wide canvas of the universe lately? Are you unable to focus on tasks that are required of you?

Figure out the kind of care you need and brainstorm ways to provide that care for yourself. 

Just make sure that it brings you closer to healing and wholeness, and doesn’t distract you momentarily from the pain you’re feeling.

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