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A Self-Care Experiment: What I Learned from a Week of Putting Myself First

By Locke Hughes

Whether you blame the 24/7 news cycle, current political atmosphere, or our iPhone addiction, we can all agree life in the 21st century isn’t exactly a breeze. Women especially tend to get so caught up in our to-do lists and doing things for others that our external obligations often overshadow one of our most important relationships: the one with ourselves.

That’s where self-care comes in. Technically the term describes any activity we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. And there’s no question that it’s important: experts validate the perks of self-care, from boosting your energy to lowering stress.

Google the term, and you’ll find nearly endless lists of relaxing ideas, from taking a bubble bath to buying yourself flowers. On Instagram, a search for #selfcare returns photos of fuzzy socks, steaming cups of tea, and face masks.

But as lovely as it sounds, self-care isn’t always as easy to put into action — as I’ve recently realized. The holiday season was particularly stressful for me this year, packed with personal and professional obligations, all of which took a toll on my body and mind. By the time January rolled around, I was feeling groggy, irritable, and simply drained of energy, no matter how many hours of sleep I logged.

All in all, I felt motivated to take better care of myself, mentally and physically. But I didn’t really want to go shopping for fuzzy socks or draw bubble baths every night. So I set out to delineate specific yet small steps that would constitute my “self-care”’ routine for an entire week straight.

Here are the 5 things I promised myself I’d do—for myself:

  1. Speak to myself more kindly. Stop the negative self-talk!  
  2. Make decisions according to what I wanted to do. This may sound selfish, but as this article explains, this is absolutely essential for us to be fully present for others.
  3. Avoid alcohol, sugar, and gluten (a.k.a. the stuff that makes me feel crappy).  
  4. Exercise every day—but don’t force myself to do a workout I don’t feel like doing.
  5. Stay off social media as much as possible. News of the president’s latest antics, envy-inspiring posts of ski trips, unrealistic body images—the social media shaming never ends. I deleted the Instagram app from my phone so I could only check it on my desktop, which made it a lot less tempting.

Here’s how it went.  

Day 1

Ahh, is there anything more glorious than a Saturday with zero plans? I slept in, went to a workout class, steamed in the sauna at the gym, and showered. I met a friend for a leisurely lunch. Even though I planned to go out that night, I ended up staying in and taking it completely easy. I journaled a bit, watched Netflix, and made dinner for myself. Not exactly a social Saturday, but it was just what I needed at the time.

Self-Care Score (on a scale of 1 to 5): 5

Day 2

Sunday morning started out the same way: slept in, exercised, and made a healthy breakfast. My hometown team was playing in the NFL playoffs, so I ended up heading to a bar to watch the game. Even though I told myself I wouldn’t have any alcohol, I ended up having a couple drinks… and more than a few french fries. But hey, I was celebrating (we won). And I only had two drinks to ensure I wouldn’t regret it the next day.

Self-Care Score: 4 (You gotta live!)

Day 3

Monday morning struggles are real. I don’t know if I didn’t sleep enough Sunday night or what, but I didn’t feel all that awesome starting off the week. Even though all I wanted to do is stay in bed that morning, I practiced having a positive mindset and listened to a motivating podcast. I also made a point to write in my Five Minute Journal app, which makes it super easy to jot down five things you’re grateful for and state your intention for the day.

After work, I skipped the workout class I’d planned to go to. I just wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I stocked up on healthy food at the grocery store and walked on the treadmill in my apartment building’s gym when I got home. Sometimes you just have to listen to your body. I made salmon and veggies for dinner, which is the secret formula for making you feel awesome.

Self-Care Score: 4

Day 4

I tried to keep up the positive mindset, but this week’s weather threw a few wrenches in my plan. Snow forced me inside all day, so I snacked on the least healthy options in the fridge all day long (duh). Also, all the fitness studios I typically frequent were closed, so instead of working out, I went over to girlfriend’s to drink wine. I forgave myself for skipping the workout (no negative self-talk!), but I also realized what an important role fitness and healthy food plays in my mindset since I felt a little off all day.

Self-Care Score: 3 (I blame the snow)

Days 5 and 6

After a little detour, I got back to a clean diet, and even though I caved and re-downloaded Instagram (had to share my own #snowpacolpyse pics), I tried not to spend too much time on it. By the time the streets were cleared the next day, I made it a point to go the hot yoga class after work that my body signaled it was craving. I felt amazing after.

Self-Care Score: 4.5

Day 7

I was feeling better by the end of my week-long experiment than I had in a long time. I did experience a minor crisis at work, which led to some not-so-nice thoughts about myself, but I reminded myself this was really nothing in the grand scheme of things — which immediately helped me calm down. Self-talk really, truly matters.

Self-Care Score: 4

My Major Takeaways

  1. As nice as it is, self-care can make you feel a little disconnected. By the end of the week, I’m not going to lie: I was feeling a little lonely. beyond ready to get back in the swing of a social life. I believe life is about human connection, so I wouldn’t want to isolate myself in the name of self-care.
  2. Life is also all about balance. If you want a glass of wine on a snowy night, go for it.
  3. There’s nothing better than taking the time to get back in touch with yourself, but it doesn’t need to look Pinterest-perfect. Self-care is more than candles, face masks, and bubble maths. It’s about the little things: eating foods that fuel you, exercising, unplugging, and doing the things that help re-energize your body and mind.