If you have spent any time (or like most of us way too much time) on Instagram or other social platforms, you may have heard a little buzzword known as self-care. And if you are like me, something about hearing a Kim Kardashian look-alike expound on the many virtues of the latest lotion and potion during her me-time did not appeal to me at first.

But here me out. Self-care is not just for the Insta-famous, and it’s not simply a fancy way to talk about treating yourself. At Life U, we boast a unique emphasis on health and wellness in harmony with our vitalistic approach to health care. Promoting self-care is a major part of that, as we support healthy habits that start from the decisions of individuals, which can grow into a healthy living movement.

When you are deep into your 10th quarter studying well into the night to ace your Biochem exam or coming off a long shift at work, the idea of finding time for self-care might seem laughable. The All-American drive for constant productivity can make self-care sound, well, selfish. But the thing about burning the candle at both ends is that eventually the candle wax runs out, so in order to keep moving toward your goals, you have to take care of yourself to feed the flame in a constructive way.

Self-care is a relatively general term, encompassing anything and everything that a person does to promote their physical and mental health, from brushing their teeth to reading an engaging spy novel. Ideally, self-care is something that is already somewhat naturally integrated into your daily routines. Yet many of us need some fresh ideas on how to strengthen our self-care muscles, so here are some quick tips to begin that process.

1. It may not put the fun in fundamentals, but it is important to point out that a healthy diet, drinking lot of water and a regular sleep schedule serve as a solid building block for self-care. If these three major physical demands are out of whack, everything else can be thrown off balance.

If that rings true for you, strive to slowly but surely improve these elements of your routine. Switch out a carb on your plate for a green vegetable. Bring a water bottle with you when go out. Consider setting a regular timeframe for yourself in which you get ready for bed and stick to it as much as possible.

2. In the same vein, exercise of some kind is an essential part of self-care. The rule of thumb for an average adult is a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, but the good news is that there are so many fun and creative ways to work that into our schedules.

Renovated in 2020 and located on the ground floor of the Center for Athletics and Sport Health Science, the Life University Fitness Center provides state-of-the-art fitness equipment for all ability levels and fitness experiences. So, take a class, lift some weights, try something new!

3. Now let’s look at some other creative ways to care for ourselves. Nature and nurture appear to be closely aligned, so take some time to appreciate the great outdoors.

Have you ever heard of a forest bath? It won’t require dragging a tub into the woods, I promise. The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” refers to simply walking in an area with trees and deeply inhaling the air. Trees release certain chemicals, like terpenes, associated with the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, it will signal your body to ‘chill out’ and de-stress.

Forest bathing has been shown to decrease measures of depression, according to research published in June 2019 in “Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine”.

4. Breathing is something that is supposed to be natural and easy for all of us, but when life’s worries weigh heavily, it is important to remember that breathing with intention is a necessary tool in our toolbox. There are plenty of helpful breathing methods to try, so be sure to explore and find a few that work well for you. For now, let’s look at one method you can try out today.

Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing exercise that fully engages the diaphragm and increases the efficiency of the lungs. As outlined in an article by Medical News Today, Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” is the practice of actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath.

The benefits of this practice can include promoting relaxation, lowering heart rate, lowering blood pressure and more. It can be a tricky thing to master, but like riding a bike, it can become commonplace.

To perform basic diaphragmatic breathing, follow the steps below found in Medical News Today:

• Lie down on a flat surface with a pillow under the head and pillows beneath the knees. Pillows will help keep the body in a comfortable position.
• Place one hand on the middle of the upper chest.
• Place the other hand on the stomach, just beneath the rib cage and above the diaphragm.
• To inhale, slowly breathe in through the nose, drawing the breath down toward the stomach. The stomach should push upward against the hand, while the chest remains still.
• To exhale, tighten the abdominal muscles and let the stomach fall downward while exhaling through pursed lips. Again, the chest should remain still.

5. Mediation is a useful self-care skill that is beneficial to cultivate. Meditation can help reduce stress, ease depression and anxiety symptoms, and regulate negative thoughts.

The techniques and tools available to you are endless. There are even many smartphone applications, such as Headspace, that can help get you started. As a jump-off point, here is one style of meditation you can attempt.

Mantra meditation is a common style of mediation where you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts. Your mantra can be anything meaningful and personal to you, or a supportive mantra can be found with a bit of online searching.

When first learning to incorporate meditation into your life, setting a short time limit of 3-5 minutes will be helpful in keeping the new experience manageable. Don’t beat yourself up if you become distracted. The journey is far more important than any perceived destination.

Hopefully this short self-care guide has some practical takeaways, but remember that self-care is, by definition, highly personalized. The best thing you can do for yourself is to set aside a bit of time in your day to try new passions and new paths to fulfillment.