Manage your stress and save your life: How to prioritize self-care

Feb 22 / Samantha Woods
  • Run for groceries, and don’t forget to get the kids to soccer practice.
  • Oh, and send the rent to your landlord, and make sure you drop them an email about that leaky faucet while you're at it.
  • Make sure you have your to-do list!
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You live a busy life. The world is complicated, and the day-to-day business of survival has gotten pretty rough.

There are a thousand and one things you have to deal with every day. Most people work either full or part-time. You take courses at school. You have a family. You have friendships, volunteer work, church duties, and the general business of adulting.
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Manage your stress and save your life

There are so many things you need to keep track of that I’ll bet you often struggle to attend to your own needs. You focus on keeping yourself alive with food, water and sleep and try to fit in a shower and brush your teeth. You treat your body like a machine and only check in when broken parts need fixing.

This works fine for a while, but it isn’t sustainable in the long run. I know how hard it can be to keep up at work when you have arthritis, for example. My joints say ‘hell no’ to hard floors and standing all day!

And what about your mental health? You may not realize it, but mental and physical health often go hand in hand. If one suffers, so does the other. When you focus on taking care of others and don’t take time to decompress, you risk causing yourself genuine harm.

You may risk experiencing burnout and prolonged stress. This can cause an acute bout of anxiety, depression and even a complete breakdown. You may suffer from physical symptoms such as nausea, ulcers, headaches and insomnia.
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Chronic stress can even damage your heart over time.

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Person holding her head in her hands
Managing stress is very, very important for your sense of fulfillment and well-being. When you seek advice on the subject, many people tell you the same thing: practice self-care. But what does that mean?
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Self-care is easier than you think

Self-care can refer to anything that helps keep you from falling apart in the moment. It’s taking care of yourself before life’s challenges overwhelm you and making your own needs a priority.

Self-care isn’t about bubble baths and pedicures, although that can be part of it. It's about slowing down and taking time for yourself.

If you’re anything like me, I’ll bet you often struggle to find a balance between the things you have to do and the things you want to do. Self-care also involves being aware of your own needs, feelings and emotions.
It can include anything from:
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Drinking enough water
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Taking time for yourself to relax and unwind
  • Engaging in activities that bring you joy
  • Recognizing and acknowledging when you’re feeling overwhelmed
By taking time for yourself, you are replenishing the energy that stress sucks out of you. It's about building a life where there’s room for both work and play, creating time for relaxation.

The key is to ensure that it becomes part of your daily routine. Taking time for yourself is not a one-time thing but an ongoing process that you have to keep up. And that likely sounds stressful in and of itself- another thing you have to add to the list of daily tasks, right? But it doesn’t need to be that way. It's best to start small.

You don’t have to do it all at once. Try adding a few simple activities into your day, such as going for a walk or taking a five-minute break. Try to include little things, like bringing a water bottle with you to work and drinking less coffee. You can try choosing healthier snacks like fruit or yogurt instead of chips.

Self-care isn’t about perfection but about taking charge of your health. It’s about recognizing that, as a person, you are important.

Your health matters. Sacrificing your own mind and body is not a mark of pride, it’s a serious mistake that can hurt you in the long run. The whole point of going to work every day and doing all the running around that you do is to improve your life. But what good is that if, at the end of the day, you don’t get to enjoy it?
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Person smiling while relaxing
It’s important to remember that looking after your own needs is not selfish – it’s essential. Self-care helps you recover so you can cope with life’s challenges. Without it, you might run yourself straight into the ground.

One way to be aware of your needs is to practice something called mindfulness.
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Mindful living course card
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Incorporate mindfulness into your daily life

Person meditating on the beach
Mindfulness is about intentionally being in the present moment and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It’s not about suppressing or avoiding problems but rather finding ways to solve them without compromising yourself.

Mindfulness also helps you stay focused on what you can control instead of getting overwhelmed by the things that are out of your hands. Instead of rushing through your days, mindfulness encourages you to slow down and savor each moment. And it helps you become aware of self-sabotaging behavior like binging unhealthy food or indulging in self-criticism.

Mindfulness can also help with self-compassion. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself, especially in the modern hustle culture. I know, you’re supposed to be on the go and constantly on the lookout for our next opportunity, but at what point do you come to realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?
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Self-compassion teaches that the word ‘no’ is a complete sentence.

Self-compassion helps you accept your mistakes while motivating you to make positive changes in your life. Having compassion for yourself can help you decide when it’s time to take some of the weight off of your shoulders and let things go that aren’t truly benefiting you.
That can apply to things like work, side hustles, schooling, or even making too many commitments to spend time with friends. If you’ve ever found yourself saying ‘yes’ to hanging out when you’re so exhausted you don’t want to leave the house, you know what I mean.

It’s okay to make decisions based around your own care, and to stop constantly sacrificing your happiness for others. You don’t need to cut your loved ones off, but you can decide that alone time to recharge is going to be a part of your routine.

In short, self-care practices like mindfulness can make a huge difference in your quality of life. By slowing down and taking the time to be self-aware, to have compassion for yourself, you can start making better decisions for your health and wellbeing.
Samantha Woods
Author

Sam Woods

Content editor and contributor at YouthStald Coaching. Visit my blog to read more of my articles and stories.
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