Why starting a self-care routine is so important

Benita Zahn
Benita Zahn (photo by Kris Qua Photography)

Many years ago when the Albany, New York-Tula, Russia sister city program was robust, I traveled to Tula. I was investigating the impact the alliance had on health care in that city. What struck me most was what we could learn about the value of self-care.

In Russia the banya is central. As our guide told me, “First you build the banya; then you build the house.”

A banya is a sauna, but with greater humidity than we are used to in this country. It also incorporates a cold pool or buckets of cool water. First you experience the heat, then the cool and, if you’re inclined, repeat. Sometimes the procedure includes bunches of dried branches and leaves from white birch, oak or eucalyptus that are softened in warm water and used to massage the body.

The result of all this is exquisite care for the body’s biggest organ — our skin. The heat and humidity open pores, stimulate blood flow and help excrete toxins through the sweat. While all that’s going on, you’re relaxing. Your mind clears as your skin experiences a deep cleanse. And Russians do this routinely!

Back here in the States, we rarely make time for our well-being. Instead we wave our jam-packed calendars and to-do lists like badges of honor. But why? How are we served by all this activity?

That question has grown even more important since the pandemic. Mental health is in a spiral. In the U.S., the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company notes nearly six times as many employers report increased mental health issues among employees since the pandemic began, with burnout among the most common.

Despite this we hold tightly to the mistaken notion that self-care is selfish. On the contrary. For starters, selfish means you are taking ONLY for yourself with no gain for others.

SELF-CARE is about ensuring that you are able to give, support and share with others because you are stoking your fire. Like your car, if you don’t put in gas the vehicle won’t go. It’s the same with humans. Not taking time to recharge and refill means you eventually run down. You struggle both emotionally and physically.

But “I don’t have time for me,’’ you insist. Well, if you don’t take time for your well-being, you’ll be forced to take time to recover from illness, even accidents. Not embracing self-care also depresses your immune system, clearly not good during cold, Covid and flu season.

As a certified health and wellness coach, clients tell me they simply can’t “indulge” in self-care. Perhaps the time is at hand to change the paradigm, not only for your personal well-being but to teach the next generation the difference between selfishness and self-care.

Here’s a step-by-step self care routine to get you started:

  • Begin with breath awareness. Breathe in slowly to the count of three and exhale to the count of three. As you do this, focus on the breath. Listen to it. Sense it.
  • Listen to your self-talk and remember that words have power. If you routinely berate yourself in your self-talk, choose kinder words.
  • Take a walk. Nature heals. Don’t think about “stuff.” Be in the moment.
  • Build relationships. Research finds that having just one person you connect with boosts your happiness, and happiness is an underpinning of self-care.
  • Establish a sleep routine and stick to it, even on the weekend.
  • Say no when you’ve got too much on your plate or you simply don’t want to do it. No excuses necessary.
  • Say yes to something that appeals to you or excites you.
  • Put the phone away for a while. Take a break from all the “noise.”
  • Pare down the to-do list so it only includes what absolutely, positively has to be done that day.
  • Give yourself props for what you accomplish, from brushing your teeth to making your bed to adding any of these self-care tips to your day.

In short, be kind to yourself, treat yourself like you would a best friend. If you begin your day with a moment of gratitude for anything that brings a smile to your face and follow that by setting an intention for the day, you’re taking the first steps toward crafting a self-care plan that can last a lifetime. And while you may not be able to find a banya, a warm bath or shower works, too.

Benita Zahn is a certified health and wellness coach working in the Capital Region. Visit benitahealthcoach.com or follow her on Facebook.

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