While most of us know we should prioritize “self-care,” we tend to put it at the bottom of our to-do list. We sometimes believe we’ll get around to it when we have time and sometimes even feel guilty about taking time for ourselves when there are so many other people we need to take care of. Failing to prioritize self-care, or feeling guilty about it, can lead us to disregard our personal needs, run ourselves ragged, and fray our mental health. So, instead of calling it “self-care” let’s consider calling it “required maintenance.” 

In order to protect your mental health as a birth professional and a care professional, you need to make required maintenance a part of everyday life. You can’t support others if you aren’t supporting yourself. But how do you move required maintenance to the top of your to-do list?

To make your required maintenance more manageable, try choosing values-based activities, taking baby steps, and using habit-stacking. 

  • Choose values-based activities that will feel rewarding and fulfilling.

Many people think watching TV is self-care. While this may be a nice escape from adult responsibilities, it is rarely fulfilling because it likely doesn’t fit your values. Your mental health thrives when you are doing things that feel important to you and it flounders when you aren’t. Required maintenance starts with choosing values-based activities that make you feel good.

To identify your values-based activities, think about what is really important to you. What do you want to make time for? What energizes and excites you? Try thinking about how you would spend your ideal day. You can even Google a list of values and then think of activities that would represent and embody them. If, for example, you value creativity, make a list of creative projects to explore. If you value community, look for opportunities to become more involved in your communities (neighborhood, city, organizations, friends, family, etc.). If you value learning, brainstorm ways to engage in learning new skills, information, or even a new language!

  • Take baby steps that will feel achievable and realistic.

Prioritizing your required maintenance can be a tall order, but it’s almost impossible if you’re expecting big changes overnight. Lower your expectations, take baby steps instead of giant leaps, and consider the fact that “good enough” is better than doing nothing.

The key to baby steps is to stay focused on things that take just a little time. Make your goals achievable right-here-right-now. If you value learning, read one chapter from a book instead of deciding to read one book each month. If you value being more present and mindful, do a 3-minute guided meditation instead of expecting yourself to sit in silence for 20-minutes. If you value confidence, write one affirmation note to yourself instead of a stack of affirmation cards. If you value nature, go outside for a walk around your yard instead of a hike at a nature preserve.

  • Use habit-stacking to incorporate required maintenance into your daily life.

Habit stacking is when you add a new habit on to an already existing habit. You increase your likelihood of success with your new habit if it is associated with one that already exists. 

For example, if you want to try 3-minutes of guided meditation to be more present and mindful, turn on the meditation after you shower but before you leave the bathroom. Meditating for 3-minutes after showering is much easier to remember than a vague goal of meditating “sometime today.” You could even habit stack on both ends of a current habit! Maybe you do a 5-minute workout, shower, and then a 3-minute meditation. Suddenly you have your own ritual for required maintenance!

Other examples of habit stacking could be… 

  • Reading one chapter from your book before bed
  • Going for a walk right after dinner
  • Calling a friend on your way home from work
  • Stretching for 1-minute before you put on your shoes
  • Reading your affirmation sticky-note aloud whenever you open the fridge
  • Journaling one page before you leave work for the day

In order to support others, you need to support yourself and your own mental health. It’s required, not optional. Set yourself up for success by choosing values-based activities, taking baby steps, and using habit stacking. You’ll be relieved to find that being on the top of your own priority list isn’t so hard after all.