By Katie Rahn, MusicWorx Intern
“Make sure you’re practicing good self-care!”
A common phrase that we are all too familiar with, repeatedly told to us by our professors, colleagues, family members and social media… but do we know what it actually means?
Self-care isn’t all about bubble baths, face masks, and indulging in chocolate cake once you’ve hit your breaking point. Self-care is about truly taking care of yourself each and every day so you can feel and do your best, even when you’ve endured the most stressful week of your life.
As an intern in the helping profession (i.e., therapy, healthcare, nursing, etc.) and a recently graduated college student, I’d like to share the tips and tricks I’ve picked up in recent years for effectively taking care of yourself. Get comfortable, take the deepest breath you’ve taken yet today, and prepare to learn the essential components of self-care.
Self-care isn’t selfish.
In fact, taking time to take care of yourself is the healthiest option for you and the people you interact with on a daily basis! It seems too common for us to feel guilty for taking time to take care of ourselves amidst our busy schedules, but the truth is, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others.
Self-care isn’t just for you; it’s for the people around you, too. If you’re feeling burned out, your interactions with friends, coworkers and clients are not going to be as positive or as beneficial as they would be if you were feeling energized and recharged. In my internship, for example, I have experienced an enormous difference in my music therapy sessions and typical work day, solely based on my own wellbeing at that time.
During the parts of my internship when I am regularly exercising, eating well, getting enough rest, and taking time to engage in a hobby or activity that fuels me, I find it much easier to be present during my work day. I have the energy to take on a long day, and have the mental clarity and positive mindset necessary to assess my clients and implement interventions that will benefit them most. When I neglect my basic needs and self-care is placed on the back burner, I notice that I feel greater fatigue throughout the day and I am not able to be as present as I need to be for my clients and friends.
Am I still able to get the job done? Most of the time, yes… but I am definitely able to increase my productivity, success with clients, and personal fulfillment in my daily life when I am charged up and ready to go. I not only feel better when I take care of myself, but I am able to do my work better.
Self-care is more proactive than reactive.
When I was in my senior year of college, a professor of mine taught me a lesson that I would never forget. Since my first day on campus, every faculty member and upperclassman I knew kept repeating this concept of “self-care” and its importance during times of high stress. Having been in college for a little over three years at this point, I thought I had it all figured out. I was getting tired of people telling me about self-care over and over. I knew what self-care was… or at least I thought I did.
During midterms week, I pulled a few all-nighters in a row to study and finish projects by their deadlines. I was so exhausted that I began to feel ill because I had overworked myself so much. I hadn’t missed many, if any, classes at that point in the semester, so I figured it would be in best “self-care” practice to not go to class that day so I could catch up on sleep, instead. I emailed my professor ahead of time to let him know, crawled into bed, and slept for a few hours.
I woke up feeling slightly more rested and little less stressed, but opened up my email to find my professor’s reply. He mentioned that self-care is preventive; something that you do to maintain a healthy wellbeing so that you don’t end up forfeiting your responsibilities later on due to feeling burned out. His wise words helped me begin to understand what “self-care” actually means, and my understanding has continued to grow since then.
While we tend to kick our self-care routine into high gear following traumatic events or periods of high stress, we must remember to be proactive and practice daily self-care so we don’t feel as if we’re drowning when these times inevitably occur. The little things we do every day make the biggest difference. Even after reading this email from my professor, I thought that practicing self-care was too difficult and decided that I didn’t have time for it. Self-care felt impossible, but it turns out that I just wasn’t looking at it the right way.
Self-care is attainable for everyone.
Yes, that’s right; even for you! A common misconception about self-care is that our schedules are far too busy to possibly fit in any time for ourselves. Here’s something that might be helpful to hear: Self-care can be something you do 5-10 minutes per day. It can be something you do before bed, while you’re in the car driving to work, between assignments, or during a meal. Even taking a moment to breathe can make all the difference, as long as it is intentional, and works for you.
I’ll use myself as an example. Internship, just like college and working in the professional world, is extremely busy and stressful. Of course I love what I’m doing and genuinely enjoy everything I have learned throughout my experience, but moments of stress and fatigue are naturally difficult to manage.
Throughout my internship, I have intentionally decided to make self-care a priority. I have been getting 8+ hours of sleep per night, eating healthy, and drinking enough water throughout the day almost every day (a reminder that we are all human, so there will be a few days that don’t go according to plan, and that’s okay!).
Physical activity is a form of stress relief that I enjoy. In the beginning of internship, I was able to exercise five nights per week. When my schedule began to shift and assignments piled on, I no longer had the time to dedicate an hour to exercise. What I did have time for, however, were smaller changes throughout my day that could still help me manage my stress. I now make the most out of each car ride, where I take about 5 minutes to do a body scan and a mental check-in, just to see how I’m feeling at this point in my day. A few questions I ask myself might be: “Am I feeling tension anywhere in my body? What might that tension mean? How do I feel after that session I just had? Are there any emotions or thoughts that I need to recognize and/or release?” Once I’ve taken this time for some mindfulness and reflection, I usually like to listen and sing to my music, a.k.a. music that I enjoy and don’t use in my work with clients.
Providing this intentional space for myself makes all the difference, as it doesn’t take much time out of my day, and it works for me. The key to attainable and sustainable self-care is finding what works for you.
Self-care is different for everyone.
While mindfulness in the car is something that I find helpful, that might not be something that feels good for you and what you need. Some of us are lucky enough to know what we need right away, while some of us may need to try a few things out until we find what is right for us. Both are okay. What matters most is that you’re intentionally making self-care a priority, and you’re open and willing to finding what works for you.
I found a wonderful resource that lists fifty ideas for practicing self-care, a great guide to discovering what might work best for you, individually. I also want to share a few quick self-care practices that friends, colleagues and supervisors have shared with me that you might find useful:
- Focus on your breathing for one minute a few times throughout your day. You can even set a timer for this one to keep yourself on track, and set an alarm or reminder on your phone for specific times throughout the day that work for your schedule.
- Take a walk outside. Most of the time, our jobs or classes take place indoors which leaves us deprived of sunshine and fresh air for the majority of the day. Take a 5-minute walk to clear and reset your mind.
- Reflect on your day, how you’re feeling, or what you’ve accomplished. Sometimes getting your thoughts out on paper can relieve some weight off of your shoulders.
- Do a short mindfulness exercise. Take one-three minutes to find a quiet place, put your headphones in with your favorite calming instrumental music, and focus on the present moment. Try to not let yourself think about any stressors or items on your to-do list.
- Create art. Take 5 minutes to draw, scribble, sing, play an instrument, or express yourself in any tangible way that feels comfortable for you.
- Having a difficult time focusing on self-care? There’s an app for that! Countless apps exist for guided mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation. A few structured apps include Headspace, Calm and Simple Habit which specializes in short exercises for busy people. Relax Melodies is also wonderful for providing customized soothing sounds and music for yourself while you engage in your preferred self-care activity.
Self-care takes practice… and patience
Be patient with yourself. Remember that taking care of yourself isn’t always easy, but it is attainable and sustainable for everyone, and everyone is deserving of self-care. It will take time to find the modes of self-care that work best for you and your schedule. It will take diligence to intentionally implement self-care in your day to day life. It will take practice to get used to having self-care strategies as a part of your lifelong routine, and it will take patience with yourself to make it all happen. Your version of self-care won’t always be perfect, and that’s okay, too.
When we neglect self-care, we tend to burn out quickly. Remember to use self-care as a way to keep yourself balanced and fueled each day so that you may continue to shine your own light on the ones around you.
“Carve out and claim the time to care for yourself and kindle your own fire.”
– Amy Ippoliti