Daily Self-Care Checklist

I've been thinking about creating a self-care checklist for a while now. Just for my own self. Not to be selfish, but I honestly think I need one. Of course there are some things I never forget to do. But there are many basic components of maintaining good health that I DO forget. Some of them frequently.

So I thought it might be helpful to make a list of the things I consider most important. The list, of course, is just the first step. As you might have already discovered for yourself, making a list of things to do is only helpful if you 1) consult the list and 2) actually DO the things on the list. For me, it seems to be very easy to skip over both of these crucial next steps.

Nevertheless, since the list has to come before the horse, here it goes:

1) Floss and brush teeth.

I was considering leaving this off the list because this is something I never forget or skip. It doesn't matter how drunk, tired, grumpy, or distracted I might be, my tooth-care regimen is firmly cemented in my routine. Maybe this is the result of having a dentist for a father? Something to think about: your teeth reside in your head, extremely close to your brain. Neglecting any trouble in your mouth, especially an infection, can be a recipe for disaster. Even death. Your mouth health is a reflection of your total health.

2) Drink water. 3-4 liters per day, depending on how much you exercise and sweat. Aim for more, not less.

If you are active or athletic in the least, drinking plenty of water will mean the difference between feeling decent and feeling terrible. Dehydration affects every single system of your body, from your brain to your digestion to your muscles, including your heart. Why make life miserable for yourself? You will feel better in every way when you're well hydrated. You will have fewer aches and pains in both your joints and your muscles. Don't tell me you don't like water! Quit whining and just drink it!

3) Plan healthy meals and snacks AHEAD of time. Know what you're going to eat each day.

Notice I didn't say "eat" healthy meals and snacks. This is because if we do not plan ahead, we might not have healthy food available. We might find ourselves hungry and, God forbid, in front of a fast food restaurant. Make it a daily habit to check your fridge, freezer, and cabinets. Know when you are running low on any basic staples. Keep a grocery list handy so you can add to it numerous times per day. Cooking from scratch, using fresh, wholesome, unprocessed ingredients is best. But when you don't have time for that, at least plan ahead and have something healthy you can grab while on the go. (Because we all have different definitions of exactly what constitutes a "healthy" meal, I'm not going into those details today. I have written numerous blogposts on the subject, in case you're dying to hear more on that.)

4) Take your supplements.

Maybe you don't take vitamins. Maybe you believe in getting all your nutrients from the foods you eat. This is a great goal, except for the fact that it may not be possible. If you grow all your own food, in rich organic soil, supplemented with loads of compost, and you raise all your own animals purely on pasture, and you spend most of your waking hours outside in the sunshine and fresh air, well then maybe, just maybe, you have a shot at this. Most of us do not even come close. Due to the depleted soils in which most of our food is now grown, we are probably deficient in many of the minerals we need. If you avoid the sun, or slather yourself with SPF 500, there's a very good chance you are deficient in Vitamin D. And in the winter, unless you live near the equator, there is no way to get enough Vitamin D through sun exposure. Bottom line: take your supplements daily as an insurance policy.

5) Get enough sleep. 7-8 hours minimum.

Because we are all unique individuals, the exact amount of sleep needed varies from person to person. You might be able to get away with seven hours per night and feel great. But some people really need eight, nine, or even ten hours. Young people who are still growing need more sleep. Pregnant or lactating women need more than normal. As we age, sleep can become more and more challenging. Yet it is absolutely vital to our health. If you are having trouble sleeping through the night, or getting enough sleep overall, you can use naps to help catch up. An entire blog (or book!) could easily be devoted to sleep hygiene and many have been, so read up on the subject if you need help.

6) Walk. Every day.

The more walking, and the less sitting, you do during the day, the better. Moving around, puttering, vacuuming, dusting, mopping, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, anything ambulatory counts. If you are standing still, say cooking or folding laundry, this is still better than sitting. The more you get up and move, the more likely you are to stay healthy and fit. We were designed for perpetual motion. Our bodies are meant to be walking all day long, hunting and gathering. You can't fight your genetic code. So get up and move.

7) Get outside. Every day.

On the inside, we are animals. And animals, like babies, are always happier outdoors. (If you have a crying baby, just try taking it outside. Go ahead. I'll wait.) Looking at landscapes of green leaves and grass is healing and calming for our nervous systems. We were not designed to live our lives inside an office or a cubicle. If you are forced to spend hours on end indoors, make sure you get outside when possible. Eat your lunch on a park bench. Jog with a friend after work instead of hitting the gym. Get some sunshine on your face to boost your Vitamin D while you're at it!

8) Massage, foam roll, and stretch your muscles.

I'm guessing this might be the first entry where you're thinking do what? Perhaps you don't care for your body in this way on a daily basis. Maybe you think massage is a luxury, something someone else has to do to you, something expensive and unnecessary. Maybe you think stretching is for those yoga weirdos who like to contort themselves into painful positions for fun. I'm here to tell you that it's time to rethink your attitude! Because if you are active, giving your muscles a daily massage and stretch session (mine lasts at least 30 minutes daily, sometimes up to an hour) will make every part of your body feel and function much better. If you have tightness, tension, pain, reduced range of motion, cramping or muscle spasms, your body is crying out for this type of attention. Listen to it!

9) Breathe.

Okay. This one is pretty basic. Of course we are all breathing all the time. If you're reading this blog, you're breathing. But my guess is, you're probably doing the absolute minimum when it comes to breathing. Most of us use about a third of our lung capacity most of the time. So what I'm asking you to do, on a daily basis, is practice deepening the breath. Yes, this is more of that weirdo yoga stuff. But taking in more oxygen with each breath will do wonders for your health, and not just physically. Nothing will change your mood faster than taking a deep breath. Take a bunch of them right now and see what happens. Then use this technique the next time someone pisses you off.

10) Smile. Even better, laugh.

Last but not least, putting a smile on your face makes everything better. This is important for you, but also an awesome gift for all the people around you. If you are not feeling it, then fake it till you make it. Sure, pretending to be happy is not quite as good as actual joy, but even the physical act of drawing the corners of your mouth up can make you feel better. Truly. If you need some inspiration, watch your favorite comedians performing stand-up routines on youtube. Or the Comedy Channel. Or borrow some funny movies from the library. It doesn't really matter where you find humor, just make sure you find it. Every day.

That's my daily checklist. Some of these items will happen automatically. But some of them might be a challenge. If you work full-time, plus commute, you might have to squeeze some things in. Or get up a little earlier. If you add something new to your routine and it changes your life, let me know!