This article was written in collaboration with TOVI's mental health expert, Dr. Lorena Ruci, Ph.D. Learn more about Dr. Ruci here.
In a given day, how many times do you stop to ask yourself what you really need in that moment?
We all have emotional needs that must be met in order to keep us stable and healthy. Your emotional needs might not be the same as the needs of your coworkers or friends, but at the end of the day, we are each responsible for recognizing our needs and working towards meeting them. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves focusing on our duties and obligations to others, which leaves us with little to no time to take care of our own emotional needs.
Think of yourself as a battery - things you do throughout the day for other people, like managing your obligations, taking care of others, and fulfilling what’s expected of you, pull from your battery. When your battery gets low or you run out of energy all together, you don’t have any energy left over to care for your needs. The result? You might end up feeling depleted or burnt-out. You’ll be less prepared to deal with powerful emotions that pop up throughout the day, like stress. You might even get physically ill.
Just like the battery in your phone, you need to recharge. That’s where self-care comes in.
Self-care is, at its core, giving yourself the time to check-in, take care of yourself, and recharge. Taking care of yourself is a part of living a balanced life. When you’re practicing self-care, you’ll have more energy to overcome your own challenges and stresses. You might even find yourself abandoning unhealthy habits you’ve picked up to compensate for your lack of self-care, like emotional eating.
Self-care activities can be meaningful, purposeful, or just make you feel good. Even more important, they are activities that you have no obligation to perform. For some people, self-care activities might not have a visible, external outcome; just engaging in the activity is rewarding and recharging, like reading a book or listening to music. Making time to get more sleep, eating well, exercising, hobbies, or having designated alone time are also examples of self-care. Sometimes, saying “no” to an invitation or request for your time can be the highest form of self-care, because you’re protecting your time, space, and energy.
As self-care has become more mainstream, it has occasionally been misrepresented. Self-care is not indulging in material things, which can actually lead to long-term issues (like financial problems) and make you feel worse over time. Self-care is also not an activity that just makes you feel good in the moment - self-care activities have meaning. Another way to think of self-care is as a buffer zone. Your buffer zone is time and space you’ve set aside for yourself, and it helps you manage the stress and challenges that come your way.
Not sure where to begin?
It’s okay not to be sure of what, exactly, you need. A great way to start discovering your emotional needs is to work on building self-awareness (or emotional intelligence): your ability to reflect on your thoughts, emotions, and actions. We have a more specific TOVI article on improving your emotional intelligence here.
In the meantime, start by asking yourself a simple question (after you get home from work is a great time to try it): what do I need right now? The answer might be sleep, silence, to talk with someone, to decompress, or to disconnect from your phone. Whatever the answer, put aside a few minutes to do that activity. Your mind and body will thank you.
For more information about mental health, check out these other TOVI articles:
Written by Ashley Miller-Dykeman, MA
Ashley is a science communicator and writer with a background in biology (BA, Boston University) as well as bioethics and science policy (MA, Duke University). In addition to writing for TOVI, Ashley is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and a loving dog mom.