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Self-care is vital to your health. Here’s how to practise it

Fit me-time into every day, month and year with this plan.

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Self love self-care woman

Illustration, Frances Cannon.

International Self-Care Day (July 24) acts as a great reminder to take stock of how you’re doing (physically, mentally, emotionally) and to really consider what makes you feel good. The benefits that come from reading, stretching and even eating chocolate extend from your brain to your bones. For some, self-care could mean a long-overdue massage or a pedicure, but it encompasses far more than material goods. It’s doing what’s best for you, looking at what brings you down and responding by doing what builds you up instead. This could be self-reflective activities like walking, meditation, writing and listening to music or by connecting with your friends and family. At its core, it’s about putting your priorities first.

If that sounds easier said than done, these questions may help.

What activities can I do for myself?
“We’re often encouraged to ensure we are taking care of others, but this can take place at the expense of our own self-care,” says Sara Kamin, a Toronto-based psychotherapist. “Self-care helps manage excess levels of negative energy in the body, a side effect of our busy lives.” In addition to adding feel-good activities to your life, consider eliminating those that have the opposite effect, such as spending too much time on the Internet or with people who cause you stress.

What do others want me to do? What do I want to do?
In order to prioritize your needs, you may have to set some boundaries and learn to say no, says Stacey Gorlicky, a psychotherapist and addictions counsellor. “If somebody else says to you, ‘It’s okay to have another drink’ or ‘Stay out later,’ that could go against your intuition and it’s overstepping your boundaries. It’s doing what you want, not what others want from you.”

Do I love and approve of myself?
Ask yourself this regularly. If the answer is no, tell yourself, “I love and approve of myself.” The self-affirmation may make you feel self-conscious at first, but the more you say it, the more you’ll believe it, says Gorlicky.


Related: How to make time for daily exercise


The science behind self-care:
1. Eat some chocolate
A study published in the journal Appetite earlier this year revealed that study participants who ate chocolate once a week or more (but not the white variety) scored better on cognitive performance tests.

2. Read for pleasure
Research from the U.K. last year found that reading for just 30 minutes a week made participants 20 percent more likely to be satisfied with their lives.

3. Scents make sense
In April, British researchers reported that the smell of rosemary essential oil may help people over the age of 65 remember future events and tasks.

4. Hit the mat
American researchers found that 12 minutes of daily yoga — with poses like tree and bridge — can improve bone density in the spine and femur, especially for those with osteoporosis.

5. Don’t forget your feet
In a study published in March, Japanese researchers saw a drop in blood pressure and anxiety levels after participants gave themselves a 45-minute foot massage with a blend of essential oils (including lavender and sandalwood) three times a week for four weeks.

How to fit self-care in every day, month and year:
Daily
 Get enough sleep
 Stretch
 Take a power nap
 Eat healthy meals
 Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths

Every month
 Sleep in
 Buy yourself some fresh flowers or a new book
 Spend quality time with friends
 Treat yourself to your favourite meal
 Celebrate your body – take a selfie!

Once a year
 Take a vacation
 Go to the spa
 Book a day or two off work just for yourself

More:
The world’s best chocolate comes from … Canada?!
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People who eat more fruits and vegetables are happier