When I ask someone about what they did this week for self-care, all too often I hear first silence, and then “well… I got a pedicure this week!” Let me say this once: A pedicure does not count as self-care. Instead, it is a higher level of self-maintenance.

Deeper self-care, the kind that I want to talk about here, is about honoring our deeper needs, our deeper dreams and all that brings us closer in alignment with our true self. Oy! So you can start to see how a pedicure, while very enjoyable, may only take us about halfway there.

The question then becomes: what is that self-care, that brings us closer to ourselves? For the most part that answer is as unique as you are, but some things hold true universally.

1) Create Space to Decrease Anxiety

Is it only my to do list, or is yours growing bigger every day too? Many days, I feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. But let’s face it, something has to give. Some of the items on the list have to stay, such as laundry, feeding the kids and paying the rent. But consider each single day as a new opportunity to carve out some space and time for yourself, where you don not have to think anything, do anything, and most importantly where you do not have to be anyone but yourself. Sitting still so you can notice your inner workings is self-care at its most basic. Only when we can hear, feel, sense what is going on inside of us, can we then make decisions on how to lead our lives with authenticity.

2) Movement Decreases Stress

To balance stillness, we also have to move. I do not mean that everyone has to go outside and start training for a marathon, but to take care of our body we have to move and to take care of our mind, we have to move. Consider movement a way to lubricate anything that gets stuck. If the joints are squeaking and the muscles are tight from lack of exercise, movement will soften things up, will strengthen your container and make you ready to take on the day. Interestingly enough, movement does the same thing for our mind. Becoming more active also can reduce anxiety and depression by way of balancing out the nervous system.

3) Better Breathing Calms the Nervous System

The first thing that happens when we come off balance, physically or emotionally, is the breath. Try it! Stand on one leg, now lift up onto your toes. Where did your breath go? Did you hold your breath? That same principle applies to when we come off center emotionally. This is a very natural reaction, created to keep us safe in dangerous situations, however in the long run, this becomes detrimental. Focused, relaxed deep breaths can activate our parasympathetic nervous system, basically the part of our nervous system that is in charge of calming everything back down. When we become more in tune with our breath, we become more in tune with ourselves and are able to better, more effectively, regulate when stress hits.

4) Get Out of your Comfort Zone to Find Your Confidence

Taking care of ourselves means making sure that we learn, we grow, we change. The only way we can do that is by playing outside of our comfort zone. When we remain in our comfort zone, while it’s cozy and comfy in there, it doesn’t challenge us to try new things, so we simply continue to plug along the way we always have. Every time we step out, take ourselves off balance (remember, breathe!), we learn something new about ourselves, whether we fail or succeed. Pretty cool, right?

5) Creating Boundaries Helps you find Your Voice

This is the big one. Do you say “yes”, when you have a voice inside that says “no, I don’t want to”? Do you over-commit yourself until there is no room in your schedule for your own needs? If that’s the case, and I suspect at some point or another in life we have all done this, it’s time to re-evaluate your boundaries.

Remember that overwhelming to-do list we talked about in #1? Setting healthy boundaries and learning to say “no” to things will quickly decrease the size of it. Boundaries are your way of ensuring that you have enough time and energy to practice #1-4.

True self-care takes time and dedication to yourself. This means, it takes time, which we have to actively and consciously schedule into our day. “But I don’t have a minute to spare in my day!” I trust you are correct. Your schedule is full of commitments, one more important than the next. Some of them will have to go, if you truly want to take care of yourself. Why? There are only so many hours in the day. Schedule the absolute “musts” first, then self-care (enough sleep, silence, movement, stepping out of your comfort zone etc.), then fill in the rest. If you end up finding a lot of resistance around this concept, ask yourself this question: “What stops me from feeling that I deserve to take care of myself?”