There are all sorts of views on what self-care is and what it looks like. (For instance, in this piece, several clinicians share their diverse thoughts.) According to art therapist Kim Ottinger, LPC, “self-care is anything that allows you to take a moment to appreciate yourself and your life.” Self-care sustains us when we’re stressed, she said.
It might “manifest in the form of an activity, an attitude towards yourself or others, a belief, or an action.”
What does self-care mean to you? How do you define it? What activities make up your self-care routine?
Whatever your definition, you might want to add Ottinger’s five simple, helpful practices to your days.
1. Listen to your body.
“Your body holds incredible insight into your needs,” said Ottinger, also a sensorimotor psychotherapist who specializes in a psychospiritual approach, anxiety and millennials in the Washington D.C. area. It holds the material we’re less conscious of, she said. The key is to tune in.
For instance, you might sit for five to 10 minutes and notice any pain, tension or types of energy, she said. “Maybe you feel tightness in your chest. In tuning into that tightness, you begin to have an awareness of how anxious you have been about that test coming up.”
You might feel sensations in your feet, an urge to take action on something you’ve been procrastinating on, she said. Or you might feel a twinge of fatigue in your back, suggesting you need to add more rest into your routine, she added.
2. Show appreciation.
According to Ottinger, because our society is driven by achievement, we tend to fixate on the next task in order to reach yet another outcome. However, “taking care of ourselves means focusing on gratitude for the wild ride of life that we are on.”
She encouraged readers to take time out of our schedules for “appreciating ourselves, our hard work and the gift of being alive.” How can you appreciate yourself? How can you appreciate your efforts? How can you appreciate the miracle of your breath?
3. Find your flow.
“Flow is that place where you forget your surroundings and feel that Zen-like feeling, getting lost in the present and enjoying the process of creation,” Ottinger said. She likened it to meditation, because both boost mood, problem-solving and overall contentment.
What activities put you in a place where everything else dissipates and you’re completely focused on what you’re doing? For instance, this might be anything from reading to running to cooking to playing with your pet, she said.
4. Connect to your artistic side.
You also might find a state of flow with such activities as creating art, dancing or singing. Ottinger suggested unleashing our inner child by trying finger painting or sidewalk chalk, or taking photographs of natural surroundings.
One of her favorite artistic activities is painting on coffee filters. “Let go of needing it to look a certain way, and just fill the coffee filter with colors. The neat part of this combination is that the watercolor can feather and expand easily creating a tie-dye effect.”
5. Cultivate positive beliefs.
This also is an activity that engages your creativity. Using whatever materials you like, draw or paint an image that relates to a positive belief you’d like to have about yourself, Ottinger said.
“This could be ‘I am good enough’ or ‘I have limitless love’ or ‘I am connected to everything and everyone.’” For instance, your image might be abstract or symbolic. It might be an image of you when you have this belief, or what it’s like to be in that mental or heart space, she said. After you’re done, keep your image in a visible spot, so you can get inspired.
This week, try the above activities to see if they help you take compassionate care of yourself. After all, self-care is filled with the things that nourish you. If these activities don’t, make a list of activities that do — and make sure they make it onto your to-do list.
It doesn’t matter how small the activity seems. Self-care in all forms and flavors is powerful. As Ottinger said, “make little steps toward caring for yourself, and notice how the energy changes in your life, both your internal and external world.”
Potter in her studio photo available from Shutterstock