Making You a Priority—Why Self-Care is Necessary for a Healthy and Balanced Life
Taking care of yourself is not optional.
Many of us, when prioritizing our time and assessing our demands and opportunities, put things like exercise, meditation, and communing with nature pretty low on the list. They might feel that they have to take care of tasks that are required or necessary before activities that they might feel are luxuries or are self-indulgent.
But self-care is not “time off” or down time. It is a critical part of living a healthy and balanced life.
Why is self-care important?
A healthy body, a clear mind, and a robust spirit are the foundation for everything we do, and if any one of those elements is lacking, it can affect everything we do. Some aspects of this are more obvious. If we’re physically unhealthy and lack energy, we won’t be able to be as productive as we could be, and we won’t experience as much enjoyment in what we do. The connections between mind, body, and spirit are also important to keep in mind when we engage in self-care. For example, if we’re physically tired, we might be mentally foggy, so staying physically healthy is important for our mental acuity.
Keeping your mind healthy is more than just maintaining its power plant. It’s important to exercise both the body and the mind. There are many ways to do this, but my favorites are art and music. Engaging our creative sides results in the development of new synapses in our brains, which not only help us stay sharp today but also help us maintain healthy brain function when we get older. As some of our synapses deteriorate or disconnect, the new ones we’ve developed through our lives take over and provide an alternative route for brain signals. For more information, see this study.
Among mind, body, and spirit, the latter is often the most neglected. This is notable, as spiritual self-care is arguably the most important of the three. When I think of spiritual self-care, I think of meditation, communing with nature, and my connections to the people I love (my spiritual practices), but for this discussion, we’re thinking of spirituality as anything that helps us understand our connection to the universe. For some, this may involve their relationship with a higher power; for others, it might be their connection with life force; for some, it may be a better understanding of their place in the natural world. All of these contexts, and many others, are appropriate for this discussion. Having a healthy spiritual life provides us with the foundations for a meaningful life and a feeling of purpose on which we can build a truly special and fulfilling existence. It can also contribute toward inner peace, confidence, and serenity, as well as physical health and mental wellbeing. We should never skimp on our spiritual self-care.
Options for Self-Care
Keeping your mind, body, and spirit healthy can be complicated. With so much information available about exercise approaches, yoga and meditation, and spirituality, it can be hard to know where to start. Like any other form of self-exploration, the first step is knowing yourself and what your needs are. Being intentional about where you are physically can help you develop an exercise regime that’s appropriate for you and that keeps your interest. Not being consistent about exercise can happen very quickly if we try to do more than we can or choose activities that aren’t fun (or that we dread). Choose something that (a) you are able to do and do consistently, (b) exercises all your muscles and has an aerobic element for your heart and lungs, and (c) is fun—nothing will keep you consistent like having fun with it, and there are plenty of fun options out there.
Keeping your mind active and challenged is key to keeping it healthy. It may not seem obvious that we have to exercise the mind, but just like the body, if we want it to stay sharp and clear in the long run, we have to keep it working at top efficiency. This doesn’t mean we have to sit down with a math book or memorize historical events. There are many interesting and fun ways to keep our minds active. One of my favorites, as I mentioned above, is creative pursuits. Doing anything creative develops new pathways in our brain as we cover territory that is new to us. This can be music, poetry, art, or anything that gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re an app person, there are many out there that exist to exercise your brain. I’ve tried a few of them; they are both challenging and fun. Learning a new language is particularly good for your brain and obviously has a host of other benefits. Keeping your brain active—it’s a no-brainer!
Spiritual self-care can be hard for many people to grasp, but it is an extremely important part of taking care of ourselves. While there are many options for spiritual self-care, it’s vital to ensure that we’re not just going through the motions—that we actually believe and are totally invested in what we are doing. We can’t make ourselves believe something we don’t, but we can explore options for spiritual self-care to find a practice that resonates with us and that we can engage in with all of our hearts. When thinking about your self-care, don’t limit yourself with preconceived notions or to what is accepted or popular at the moment. Spiritual self-care is all about our connectedness, and that can be expressed in a wide variety of ways. Some of the most common are religion and meditation, but we can also find spiritual energy in our families and friendships—any genuine and loving relationship is a highly spiritual connection, and we can treat it as a spiritual practice—one that can significantly contribute toward our self-care.
Our natural connection
Although it’s sometimes hard to envision it, we are all part of nature. The more we understand and pay attention to our natural selves and our place in nature, the more in tune we’ll be with our surroundings and with the universe. Exploring our place in the natural world is related to mind, body, and spirit, which is why I’m calling specific attention to it as an activity that is vital for self-care. It’s interesting that we as a species began our existence as just another animal that was trying to survive in the wild—learning about plants, becoming aware of weather patterns, and observing the movements of other animals. We were explicitly trying to characterize our place in the rest of the natural world to help us survive and thrive in that world. Now, modern humans are “discovering” the many benefits of communing in nature (see this study) and are encouraged to spend time in natural areas for the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits.
I am lucky enough to have had a father who exposed me to nature (sometimes kicking and screaming) and taught me by example how important that relationship is. I have been extraordinarily lucky to find a profession in which I study nature and our connection to natural resources. I try to be in natural places as much as I possibly can, and it is a big part of my self-care regimen.
There are many ways to take care of yourself, and it can be hard to find a place for it in your life and to develop an approach that works for you. The key is to listen to your body and listen to your heart. Let yourself naturally gravitate toward those practices that resonate with you.
If you build a personal foundation of physical, mental, and spiritual health, you will be in touch with yourself and those around you and in tune with the world.