Sometimes it’s best to help yourself first.

August 19, 2019

Photo: Getty Images

This story originally appeared on realsimple.com by Wendy Rose Gould.

Practicing self-care isn't about staying at a bougie hotel for the weekend, purchasing an all-new wardrobe, or opting for two desserts instead of one. The art is much more internally nourishing than that, and one that takes some time to get the hang of given our propensity to put others before ourselves.

Related: 30-Day Self-Care Challenge

"A sustainable self-care practice is about creating moments within each day, week, month, season, and year to practice the kind of meaningful self-care that makes you feel healthy and joyful in mind, body, and soul," says Shel Pink, author of Slow Beauty, a book on mindful self-care. "When practiced over time, these small rituals add up to a healthier and more joyful life."

If you're not quite sure where to begin in your self-care journey, the simple suggestions we've outlined below will help you set off on the right path forward.

1. Be Self-Compassionate

The first step in practicing self-care is learning how to be self-compassionate. "Pay attention to your self-talk and speak to yourself the way you would to someone you love. If you notice your self-talk isn't loving, catch it and try again with care," says Zereana Jess-Huff, a marriage and family therapist for ReThink My Therapy. Sometimes this can be difficult, but the key is to identify triggers and to reframe your approach when necessary. Jess-Huff notes that working with a therapist can help you eliminate negative self-talk if it's a recurring issue that you can't seem to tackle on your own.

2. Get Enough Sleep Every Night

"We're a chronically sleep-deprived society. We now know that the vast majority of the population requires a full eight hours of sleep per night for both short-term and long-term good health, and we also know very few people get it," says Alex Lickerman, MD, author of The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness. "Many adapt to six to seven hours of sleep and feel basically OK, but studies show the risk of Alzheimer's, dementia, and heart attacks rises sharply even with 30 to 60 minutes less sleep than our bodies need."

Instead of only focusing on setting an alarm to wake up, Dr. Lickerman also suggests setting one to go to sleep. To figure out a good bedtime, start with when you need to wake up and count back eight hours.

3. Keep a Gratitude Journal

It's easy to lose sight of positivity, especially when work and personal stress seems to be at its height. In these moments, writing down the things you're grateful for can help you feel better.

"Even in the midst of a crappy day, reminding yourself of gratitudes-whether it's the sun, a productive meeting at work, a special moment with child, or simply that your day is over and tomorrow brings a fresh start-can reframe the day," says Jess-Huff. "The more you practice gratitude, the more it becomes a natural part of your life."

4. Meditate

In addition to eliminating negative self-talk, sleeping enough, and writing down the things you're thankful for, meditation is another excellent way to practice self-care.

"A consistent meditation practice can be life-changing. It's even been scientifically proven to reduce stress, increase feelings of empathy, improve focus, boost the immune system, and slow the signs of aging," notes Pink. "To start, I recommend using [apps] to access a variety of different styles of meditation to see what works for you."

Related: 6 Meditation Apps to Help You Keep Your Cool All Day, Every Day

5. Nourish Your Body

Have you ever grabbed a bag of candy, devoured most of it, and then felt terrible, both mentally and physically, for hours after? Breaking this negative pattern and reframing the way you view food is an excellent way to practice self-care. While it's perfectly OK to indulge in treats sometimes, viewing food as fuel that nourishes your body and then consuming things that make you feel good is important. "Willpower is the wrong mental force to maintain any long-term behavioral change. Instead, figure out how to control your environment," Dr. Lickerman says. Maybe that means keeping healthy snacks prepped and ready to devour, not shopping when you're hungry, and opting to split dessert at a restaurant instead of keeping a box of candy in the house.

6. Give Yourself a Daily Self-Massage

A "treat yourself" moment doesn't have to involve spending lots of money on a full-day pampering session at the spa. Instead, you can opt for a self-administered massage, says Pink. She recommends the Abhyanga massage technique, which is part of the Ayurvedic tradition. Other options include a simple hand or foot massage given to yourself, or a DIY neck massage. You can find lots of YouTube videos and articles with great pointers.

7. Learn to Say No

Many people struggle with setting appropriate boundaries with others, which often leads us to commit to things even when we'd rather not. This may not seem like a big deal, but Dr. Lickerman notes that an inability to say no often leads to resentment and even anger outbursts. It can also make you feel like you're not living your own life, or that you're living your life according to others' whims, which can make you lose sight of your own needs and desires.

"Many voices in your head may push you to say yes when you really want to say no, and the chief among these voices is the one that tells you that you risk being disliked if you say no," Dr. Lickerman says. "You must learn to tolerate the anxiety that saying no likely brings. Once you learn to do this, you'll discover people don't dislike you for it. In fact, they'll likely respect you even more."

8. Enjoy Some 'Nature Bathing'

Nature bathing is simply the practice of spending deliberate time outdoors to appreciate the living Earth around you. "Seek out daily opportunities to be in nature. Walk in the woods, go for a hike, walk along the beach, do some gardening, anything in nature that resonates with you will do. Expose yourself to the beauty of nature and reap the benefits," Pink says. "Immersing yourself in nature calms the central nervous system, elevates your mood, and increases energy levels. The effects of the benefits are felt for hours and days post-immersion."

This article originally appeared on realsimple.com

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