I don’t know about you, but 2017 was a LOT to deal with.
From the wild political antics that scroll across my computer daily, to the devastating natural disasters seemingly every other week – all of the noise made me realize it can get really hard to distance yourself and take a break – even for just one moment.
There’s been a lot of talk about “self-care” lately. Perhaps you have seen Instagram photos of your friend’s toes poking out of a bubble bath, or seen someone tweet “#treatyoself” before diving headfirst into a pound-sized bag of M&Ms. You may have even snapped that photo of the brownies you made yourself. There’s no shame – we’ve all been there!
But self-care is something much deeper than just taking some time off to color in a coloring book, or ordering that extra side of fries with your dinner. Self-care is listening to yourself and your needs, and doing what’s best for you in that moment, to make tomorrow just a little bit easier.
A quick word of warning – sometimes listening to your own needs is really, really hard. Sometimes, it’s cleaning out those storage boxes in your closet because you know you’ve got your ex-partner’s sweater and you’ll never actually wear it/repurpose it/burn it in a bonfire in your backyard (just me?). Sometimes, it’s signing up for that sign language class and committing to going every week, even if it’s right after work on a Friday afternoon. And sometimes self-care might actually be that bubble bath, and those brownies, and that bag of M&Ms. What’s most important is taking time to intentionally recognize what part of your self needs that care, and listening to it.
Judaism has always been a major proponent of self-care, even from ancient times. Nearly everyone has heard the great Hillel quote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words, if you aren’t taking care of yourself – heart, mind, body, soul – who will?
With all of that in mind, I wanted to provide a few simple tips to ensure you give your whole self the self-care you may need. All of these tips are author-tested and Judaism-approved.
Add something small but meaningful to your routine so it becomes habit.
“Customs are more powerful than laws.” – The Talmud
I’m the first to admit that when it comes to routines, I love them – but I’m terrible at them. I’ll write down in my planner and add to my phone calendar that I’m going to go to the grocery store EVERY Saturday at 8am. I’ll feel so accomplished, and “adult” and take pride in myself. Three weeks later, I’ll wake up at noon for the third Saturday in a row, and order pizza two hours later since there’s still no food in the house. *Womp*
But, despite this example, there’s actual proof that adding a small task to your routine can eventually turn into a helpful habit. So, consider a tiny to-do and start working it into your schedule. Last year, I started going to bed in my gym clothes and packing a bag with work clothes before going to sleep. At first, it felt silly. But, I then realized that by waking up in gym clothes and having everything else ready to go for the day ahead, I had no more excuses and simply started going to the gym. By the time I realized that I am infinitely happier on days I’ve worked out, I no longer felt weird going to sleep in exercise shorts and a tank top. It’s a reminder that I’m going to have a better tomorrow because of what I’m wearing to bed tonight. It’s a little note to myself, that I care about my mental and physical health.
It doesn’t have to be a life-changing, schedule-altering routine change. Simply commit to reading for an hour on a Sunday morning, when you’d otherwise be watching Netflix. Or, download an app like Duolingo or TED, so you have something educational to learn from on those long Metro commutes. Make a standing lunch date with a friend at your job instead of always eating at your desk. Little, simple everyday changes can have a huge impact on your life in the long run.
Do something kind for someone else.
“I do not want followers who are righteous. Rather, I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad.” – Rabbi Menachem Mendel
Sometimes, the best way to clear your head is to focus on something that has nothing to do with you. What better way that to do this than by helping out a fellow human? There are so many places in DC that are actively looking for volunteers to help our community grow and thrive. Check out this blog post for local volunteering ideas.
Also, doing something kind doesn’t just mean volunteering. Bake a cake for a friend who’s going through a tough time at work. Call your aunt who adores you, but you forgot to talk to until she sent you a Hanukkah card. Write a handwritten letter to your best friend about that time you both did that thing and it was SO FUNNY – and send it in the mail. A little kindness goes a very long way, not only for the person you’re giving the kindness to – but also for yourself. It’s contagious!
Find a cause you believe in and do what you can to support it.
“I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” – Rabbi A.Y. Kook
During the last year, I watched many disheartened friends slowly discover a new passion or cause that they felt strongly about, and then jump headfirst into helping out. For one friend, it was calling representatives in Congress to voice dissent or support on certain issues. For another friend, it was hosting themed “parties” where attendees donated a certain amount to a charity that the party was themed around. (i.e. a Red-Cross themed party where there was “blood” punch and cupcakes with the iconic logo.)
For me, personally, I started researching discussions in my area about the causes I cared about most and attending when I could. Slowly, that blossomed into me going to workshops and conferences, and moving from attendee to presenter. Even though I’m not donating money I don’t have, or committing time I can’t promise, I feel like I’m genuinely making a difference. This sense of fulfillment has done wonders for personal happiness and health!
“The loving man rewards himself.” – Proverbs, 11:17
Okay, I know I poked a little fun at the idea of treating yourself earlier. But, I can’t deny the healing habits of pampering yourself! I say, have the cookie. Wear the silky pajamas. Do something nice just for you. Treating yourself can mean a full-day shopping spree, taking yourself on a date to a your favorite museum, a trip home to surprise your Bubbe, or a scenic hiking adventure through Rock Creek Park. My favorite thing to do is to buy the five-dollar flower bouquet from the man outside of my Metro stop on the way to work. They’re always fresh and beautiful, and light up my windowless office cube.
Reminding yourself – in a tangible way – that you’re worth the cost, time, and energy to be happy is an excellent way to keep that thought in your head all year long.
I hope you enjoyed these few ideas on how to take care of your whole self this upcoming year. If you have any other great self-care tips, please post them in the comments below. I hope you have nothing but happy and healthy days ahead in 2018!
About the Author: Alannah Johnson is part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a born-and-bred New Englander who now calls both DC and Central Florida home. She is one of the many folks who moved to the District for school, and just never left. She has worked in higher education for nearly a decade. She loves dedicating time to “studying the soul of Judaism,” which ranges from reading books on comparative religions, to attending a different Friday night Shabbat service location for thirteen full weeks. When she isn’t watching the “Swedish Chef” videos on YouTube, she’s probably scribbling in a journal while waiting for a bus in the rain.