An image of a woman making a thumbs-up signal with one hand and a thumbs-down signal with the other is used to illustrate the concept of prioritizing self-care, which can often be challenging and confusing.

A New Year. New beginnings. New Year’s resolutions. Great intentions to make this year the best year ever. We engage in the same thoughts and list-making every year—and then watch as January plans fade away. How can 2023 be different? How can we, maybe for the first time ever, commit to prioritizing self-care and well-being?

Prioritizing Self-Care: Make it Personal

There is no shortage of ideas, dreams and hopes in our hearts and minds. The moment we seriously think about it, however, we are often torn between the desire to take better care of ourselves and feelings of guilt or fear of appearing selfish if we, indeed, invest time and money in activities that support our self-care.

According to G.M. Godfrey et al., in “The experience of self-care: a systematic review,” “self-care has been defined quite simply as the set of activities in which one engages throughout life on a daily basis.

“Examining this ‘set of activities’ more closely, we see that a number of activities encompass a person’s attempts to promote optimal health, prevent illness, detect symptoms at an early date, and manage chronic illness,” the authors added. “Engaging in self-care is a process involving being aware of self, acquiring knowledge, and taking responsibility for meeting needs at whatever level they are presented.”

As massage therapists and health care professionals, we support our clients as they learn how to take better care of themselves. We focus on helping those we work with feel great in their skin and selflessly give of ourselves so others can recharge, relax and find relief from their pain and suffering.

We are experts in giving great advice on wellness and self-care and we light up when a client tells us how much better they feel under our caring hands. The truth is that we seldom follow our own advice, that all too often we are not walking the talk and prioritizing self-care. Our individual needs stay on the back burner and secretly we suffer from a lack of our own care and attention.

In order to shift our perspective and embrace the true value of self-care, the words of Parker Palmer, from his book “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation,” offer a different approach. In his writings, he shares that taking care of oneself is not selfish.

Rather, it is good stewardship of the one gift we each have been given to share with others: ourselves. This seems to be especially important for those who work in professions that focus on caring for others, including massage therapy.

Have you ever looked at self-care in that light? In Palmer’s opinion, self-care serves us and our personal well-being, but it also creates ripples of inspiration, connection, compassion and, ultimately, peace and well-being into our communities.

Coming alive for ourselves, honoring our needs, and taking good care of ourselves in body, mind and spirit make us suddenly live what we preach; and by doing so, we inspire those around us to do the same. And isn’t this what we truly aspire to?

Prioritizing Self-Care: Find Time

Even if we agree with all that has been said and we nod our head that it, indeed, would be the right thing to do to take better care of ourselves, there is, however, a pitfall waiting around the corner: the issue with time. We simply don’t have the time to take care of ourselves, get a massage, exercise, eat better, take a walk, sleep longer, take a nap, etc. Does this sound familiar?

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, does it really take so much time to create and follow a health and wellness routine? Or is it a convenient excuse that helps us hide behind the mantle of busyness, behind the badge of overwhelm and stress that many of us carry so proudly?

Victoria Moran, author of “Younger by the Day: 365 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Body and Revitalize Your Spirit,” challenges this idea of not having enough time to put ourselves first. Rather, she shares the view that one needs to understand that taking time for oneself should be valued as much as caring for others.

In line with the quote by Parker Palmer, she also emphasizes that taking care of ourselves is truly not self-centered, but rather an investment into the well-being of us all, of our whole families and communities as we honor our bodies, minds and spirits.

Ina Boellinhaus et al. also support this opinion in their article, “The role of mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation in cultivating self-compassion and other-focused concern in health care professionals,” published in Mindfulness, as they state that, “therapists and other health professionals might benefit from interventions that increase their self-compassion…. this may strengthen their relationships with clients, reduce the chances of empathetic distress fatigue and burnout, and increase their well-being.”

I invite you now to take a deep breath and let the importance of taking care of yourself for the well-being of everybody in your life, including you, sink in for a moment. Self-care is essential to living a healthy and balanced life; and you are called, yet again, to make caring for your own needs a priority.

Prioritizing Self-Care: 5 Things to do Now

But how, you ask? Where to begin? Let us get started as we are reflecting on our lives at the beginning of this New Year, pondering where we are and where we want to go, how we want to grow and expand, and how we can take better care of ourselves.

Here are 5 suggestions for self-care resolutions to consider:

1. Receive Regular Bodywork Treatments

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect: 7 Steps to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love,” suggests that receiving a massage at least monthly is beneficial for reducing emotional and physical stress. Addressing the inner critic that makes you worried about this indulgent use of your money and time, she adds, is not selfishness but rather a way one must take care of oneself to be available to help others.

This seems to be a repeated message from those who write about self-care. Receiving a professional massage—or any form of bodywork—will help you be more balanced and effective as you allow yourself to benefit from your own medicine.

2. Check in with Your Body Mechanics

Taking really good care of our bodies should be a top priority for all massage therapists. To avoid repetitive stress injuries and cumulative trauma disorders, be mindful of your body positions when you work on a client and often check in with your stance, the angles of your wrists, and the proper alignment of your hips, shoulders, neck and head.

Use your forearms and elbows, when possible, to give your wrists and fingers a break. Treat your body as a cherished friend; listen to any aches and pains as messages to take better care of yourself; and make necessary adjustments to stay more relaxed and aligned.

3. Give Yourself a Thumb Massage

Did you know there are 35 muscles which move the fingers and thumb? Out of these, the thenar eminence muscles are mostly the cause for the thumb pain we often experience.

Taking good care of your hands and giving yourself daily thumb massages, extending to the wrist and forearm, will help release stress and tension. Your overworked muscles will thank you as you use your massage skills and your loving care not only on your clients but also on yourself.

4. Watch your Physical, Emotional and Mental Diet

Watching your diet is not only restricted to the foods you eat but also includes everything else you take in on a daily basis. In order to take good care of yourself, start monitoring your thoughts and become aware of how you talk to yourself, what beliefs you hold and whether you are a dear friend or fierce enemy to yourself.

TV programs and information we take in through social media as well as other sources can also burden us. Stay clear from everything that creates additional and, often unnecessary stress, by being choosy about what you watch and to whom you listen, as well as how and where to spend your time.

5. Set Good Boundaries

According to Dana Gionta, PhD, MFT, clinical psychologist, coach and co-author of the book “From Stressed to Centered: A Practical Guide to a Healthier and Happier You,” boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and altogether a healthy life.

Setting and sustaining healthy boundaries means knowing and understanding what your limits are, an essential skill for exercising good self-care.

Prioritizing Self-Care: Pay Attention

Ultimately, many of us are here to make a difference in the world and be of service in our own unique ways. As much as we are willing to give to others, we are also a profound part of this equation, very much deserving of our own care and attention.

If we can achieve a balance of giving and receiving, we experience more harmony, ease and peace in all areas of our lives. By finding that sweet spot between taking care of our own needs and those of others, many struggles may ease up quite naturally and a new zest for life can lead us into new beginnings and exciting adventures.

Sometimes, the most difficult step of creating New Year’s resolutions is choosing which area of your life to focus on, which routine to pick, and then sticking with it.

Please consider the thoughts and suggestions presented in this article as inspiration and encouragement for you to design your own unique plans that will help you in prioritizing self-care, wellness and a healthier lifestyle this New Year.

Andrea Winzer

About the Author

Andrea Winzer, M.Sc., LMT, BCTMB, holds a master’s degree in ecology. For 10 years, Winzer has been working with people in various roles (Professional Certified Coach, spiritual counselor, interfaith minister and bodyworker), helping them work through and heal their pain and suffering on emotional, mental, physical and spiritual levels.