Self-care is everywhere you look, with bloggers and Instagrammers promoting it and even brands capitalizing on the you-centered mantra. But what is self-care anyway? Is it a rose petal-strewn bath? An eat-whatever-you-want mentality? An excuse to spend a little extra here and there? Or is it altogether different?
Self-care is composed of all the acts that you do deliberately to nourish yourself. It means treating your mind, body, and spirit kindly and sometimes, it’s recognizing when you need to choose the healthiest option because you know it’s in your best interest.
Self-care should promote peace, joy, contentment, and wellness. What you put into your body, how you speak to yourself, the actions you choose to take or not take all have a profound impact on how well you are feeling and how well you’re able to care for yourself (and others!). It does not need to be “Insta-worthy” to be effective.
Your self-care routine may look completely different from your best friend’s, your significant other’s, and it could even look different from day to day. Some days it may mean staying in and prepping nourishing meals for the week so you know you won’t be in a rush every morning before work. Other days, it may mean a glass of (organic, biodynamic) wine and a bubble bath. You may have self-care that is insta-worthy and you may want to keep it as your own secret. There is no one way to love yourself and take care of yourself.
Challenge yourself to think about what you eat, how you eat, how and when you indulge, as well as how you structure your life in the context of overall self-care. Fall in love with yourself.
Vegetables and leafy greens are a beautiful source of fiber , vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology showed a correlation between nutrient-dense foods and positive feelings. Not only will you mentally feel better with more nutrition, but physically, you’ll be providing your body with the building blocks that it needs to heal and function optimally for you.
From a self-care perspective, gut health is essential to be kind to your mind and body. Research shows that 90 percent of your serotonin is produced there. Serotonin is a chemical that affects your mood, appetite, sleep , memory, and more. Try gut-friendly foods such as fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, high-quality bone broth , and ginger.
Mindful eating is important for your overall health. It helps you tune into your hunger and satiety signals and provides an optimal environment for digestion. Make sure to eat while seated, preferably without any distractions such as the TV or your smartphone, and really focus on each bite. In addition, taking three to five really deep breaths before each meal begins helps incite your parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest), which tells your body that you are safe and can devote all the resources necessary to the magnificent task of digestion.
Learning to recognize what you need at any given moment is a powerful tool of self-care. Before reaching for that [chocolate bar, bag of chips, glass of wine, etc], stop and ask what would really nourish you at this moment. Did you have a stressful day at work? Perhaps what would nourish you in this moment would be a long walk in nature or taking a hot shower to decompress.
Identify the things you enjoy doing, what is fun and happy for you, and make an effort to include that into your life regularly. It does not need to be complicated (perhaps a perfectly brewed cup of coffee gives you joy!) But it does need to be something you look forward to. Can you plan a coffee date with a close friend? Or make a priority to carve out at least 30 minutes every night to read for pleasure.
Taking time to connect to something greater than yourself, whether it’s through meditation practice , prayer, serving others, or keeping a gratitude journal, can go a long way to keeping you grounded. It’s tempting to get caught up in the day-to-day mess that is life, but research has shown that individuals who regularly participate in something bigger than themselves, are happier, report lower levels of stress, and are healthier.
You are the expert on your own self-care. What you need will look different from your friends, family, partner, coworkers, and anyone on social media who tells you otherwise. Your self-care routine will evolve and change as well. Take some time to really meditate on what nourishes you- in body, mind, and spirit. And remember- there is only one, unique you, so don’t forget to appreciate all that you give to this beautiful world around us.
Erica Zellner (she/her) is a Los Angeles-based Clinical Nutritionist and Senior Health Coach with six years of functional nutrition and health experience. She works with everyone, on issues from biohacking optimizers to tackling complex environmental toxicities like mold. She earned her Master’s degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. She also holds her Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and Licensed Dietitian-Nutritionist (LDN) credentials.