Switch off your phone and commit to a day of self-nurture. Sharon Parsons explains why it’s time to put yourself first.

Self-care. It’s the wellbeing phrase of the moment, taking both column inches and social media by storm. ‘Self-care’ saves on Pinterest have increased by 537% in the past 12 months, while on Instagram, the hashtag has over 2.8 million posts. But self-care is more than just an online fad, say therapists and psychologists. ‘Self-care is anything that inspires you and makes you happy. Any activity that’s like making a deposit in your energy bank means you can cope better when life forces us to make those inevitable withdrawals,’ says yoga teacher and chartered psychologist Suzy Reading, author of The Self-Care Revolution (Aster, £12.99).

For some of us, that might be taking the time to go to a yoga class or play the piano; for others, it might be a swim or forest hike, or creating a nourishing supper. It’s a deeper, more meaningful approach to looking after yourself than that 1990s catchphrase, ‘me-time’; today’s self-care pillars are about valuing yourself and helping your mind and body recharge, particularly if you have been through a period of stress or change. And, says Neil Shah of the Stress Management Society, we need to let go of any guilt attached to taking time out. ‘If we protect our own health and resilience, we’re in a much better position to care for others. It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask before helping your fellow passengers.’

Research from the Office of National Statistics found women spend considerably less time on hobbies or leisure time than men, because any ‘free’ time is taken up with housework, chores and childcare. Not surprisingly, that results in feeling depleted, tired and resentful. ‘Look at yourself from others’ point of view,’ says clinical psychologist Linda Blair. ‘Would you rather spend time with a stressed-out martyr, or someone who’s relaxed and fun to be with? It’s only by allowing yourself a break that you can replenish yourself – so do it!’

While there’s a plethora of ‘healing’ holidays on offer, the good news is you don’t have to go anywhere to enjoy a restorative break. Planning a self-care ‘staycation’ can help you ring-fence the time to recharge and nurture yourself, and act as a mental reset going forwards. Nadia Narain, co-author of Self-Care For The Real World, (Hutchinson, £16.99) agrees. ‘It doesn’t have to be a huge, overwhelming exercise,’ she says. ‘Self-care is more about taking small, achievable steps. Spend just a few hours doing something that’s only for you – it’s all about letting the good things in your life grow.’ Here’s how to do it:

Your self-care staycation plan

First, set a time frame. Planning how you’re going to spend your staycation means it won’t get filled with other ‘stuff’, like putting away that pile of laundry. If you find it difficult to schedule downtime, make an appointment with yourself. On your phone... or better still, in the diary. Then stock up on candles and fresh flowers – anything that promotes relaxation – and go shopping for some nourishing food (see our recipes, below).

See this as an opportunity to step away from technology. This isn’t a punishment; it’s one of the most nourishing things you’ll do. If you’re feeling anxious about not getting back to people, warn them you’ll be out of contact, and set your out of office. ‘Our phones are the first thing we look at in the morning, and the last thing we check at night,’ says Neil Shah. ‘It has the same effect on the brain as an addiction, and you’ll feel infinitely better if you switch off all your devices for a while.’

Approach your staycation as an opportunity to explore which self-care practices work for you, says Suzy Reading. ‘One of the reasons why it can be hard to define self-care is that everyone’s needs, interests, preferences and goals are different, so what one person finds nourishing differs from another and even our own needs will change over time. The most effective kind of self-care is an individual and proactive approach, a bespoke response to the needs of your head, heart and body.’

Yoga is the perfect exercise for a self-care day; it reduces stress, helps you relax and boosts your mood, so plan a restorative yoga session as a central part of your staycation, whether it’s a class on YouTube (we love Yoga With Adriene), or actually going to that drop-in class you’ve been meaning to try. Linda Blair also underlines the importance of spending time on a creative, immersive activity – playing an instrument, gardening, painting, crafting or writing. If you can’t think of an activity that will enable you to lose yourself in concentration, she recommends thinking about what you loved doing as a child. ‘That’s the point in life when you were most yourself, so the creative pursuit you enjoyed then is the one to reconnect with now,’ she says. Research has proved that these ‘flow’ activities are calming and boost positive emotions.

The power of plants and flowers to lift our spirits is well-documented and well-researched, so make a commitment to plant something. A large pot of sweet pea seedlings will grow rapidly and provide a riot of colour; sunflowers or poppies sowed directly into the soil will grow quickly and easily. Just one hanging basket or a few pots along a window ledge can boost your mood significantly. Plus, watching them grow will always remind you of the importance of taking care of yourself.

Actually sleep! A new study conducted by sleep neuroscientist Professor Jim Horne suggests that most of us are sleep deprived. It can be hard to quiet a busy mind, but a short meditation (try Apple’s Calm app), a hot shower and a good book will relax you and help you indulge in some shut-eye – whether that’s a power nap or an early night. If you’ve carved out time for self-care, sleep is a crucial part of that, says Suzy Reading.

Daily self-care strategies: 

Get ahead

Get up a little earlier than usual: ‘Having just 20 quiet minutes alone can be meditative, creative or simply provide a chance to gather yourself,’ says self-care writer Nadia Narain.

Work/life balance

During your working day, go for a walk, eat lunch away from your computer and celebrate little wins, such as finishing a tricky task.

Get creative

‘Do something creative you love every week to reconnect with the energy and happiness it engenders,’ advises clinical psychologist Linda Blair. Try joining an art class or writing group.

Switch off

Buy a proper alarm clock rather than using your phone. ‘That will stop you automatically looking at the stream of Twitter, emails, etc., as soon as you wake up,’ Nadia says. Equally, train yourself to turn everything off at night...

Take a deep breath

Remember to breathe. When we’re stressed, we take shorter breaths, leading to a poor exchange of oxygen and CO2. Concentrate on breathing slowly to reduce stress levels.

The litte things

Incorporate micro-moments of self-care into your day, says chartered psychologist Suzy Reading: a sweep of lipstick, a spritz of perfume, listening to a favourite song.

Nourish yourself with our self-care recipes:

Apple pie overnight oats - make the night before for an easy, energy-boosting breakfast.

Kale chicken Caesar salad - this light, protein-filled lunch is packed with punchy flavours.

Store cupboard spaghetti - no need to go shopping. Tinned sardines and tomatoes = comfort in a bowl.

Soothing chai cocoa - a warming drink before bed.

 

About the author

Sharon Parsons