8 self-care resolutions for 2018 from Pittsburgh experts

It’s not just about bubble baths and green smoothies — though those are great, too.

Photo by Cory Morton, courtesy of Alyssa Kuzins
Rossilynne Culgan

Updated Dec. 30

It’s New Year’s resolution season, and perhaps some self-care is on your list — and if not, maybe it should be.

Google searches for “self-care” stretched to a five-year high this year, especially after the election, NPR reported, so we asked some Pittsburgh experts about self-care resolutions you may want to take into 2018.

Here’s the intel from Lauren Hallion, an assistant professor at Pitt who studies anxiety disorders, and Alyssa Kuzins, a Pittsburgh-based yoga teacher who founded The Journal Deck and the Self Care Collective online membership and hosts the Self Care Spotlight podcast.

journal deck 2
Courtesy of Alyssa Kuzins

1. Define what “self-care” means to you.

There’s this idea that self-care is all about taking a bubble bath, going to the gym and drinking green smoothies, Kuzins said. But it’s more than that.

“That’s an aspect of self-care, but that’s not all that self-care is,” she said. “To me, I want people to go bigger and deeper with self-care and really expand what [self-care] can mean for them in their life, so it feels more like a lifestyle not just random things that we are doing.”

Self-care must be a sustainable practice for each individual person, she said.

“You can’t copy and paste someone else’s self-care into your life,” Kuzins said.

For Hallion, the concept doesn’t have to mean indulging or putting yourself first.

“Sometimes taking the time to help someone who is suffering is the best thing we can do for our own sense of wellbeing,” she said. “To me, self-care means actively trying to understand what your needs are in any given moment (note: these are not always your “wants”), accepting that those needs are valid and important and real, and doing your best to meet those needs in a way that’s healthy and fair, both you and to the people around you.”

2. Ask yourself: “What does living in alignment look like to you?”

Especially important for the beginning of the year: Asking yourself what “alignment” means to you, Kuzins said.

“How much are you building your life around what you really want vs. the shoulds and the expectations and the obligations,” she said. “To me, that’s where it’s at. I believe that living a life that’s in alignment with your unique mind, body and spirit — that’s where true self-care lives.

“If you are living for other people — if you’re not following your truth, I say truth with a capital T — three things may happen: You’ll burn out, you’ll freak out, and/or you’ll give up and just go through the motions of life and become apathetic. I don’t want those three things for anyone. I’ve been there before,” Kuzins said. “When you’re living for other people, and you’re living in that misalignment space, you are absolutely not taking care of yourself.”

How to do it?

Get a journal, a notebook, even a scrap of paper and makes some goals — deep goals.

3. Find your tribe.

“Whenever you start talking about living your truth, the big thing that I think is the next hurdle — you can’t do it alone,” Kuzins said.

Find a support system of those who support you — or could support you — in your self-care goals.

“Who is actually supporting me and who can support me in my self-care routine? That might mean you need to make your own personal team,” she said. “Just because you’re a strong woman doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help.”

That could mean asking a friend to keep you accountable for journaling, meditating or working on fitness goals.

4. Rework your morning routine.

Next step: Think about how to begin each day with more self-care and more intention.

Sure, most people can’t meditate for an hour before work every morning.

“But I think if you get honest with yourself,” Kuzins said, “you could probably do something for yourself to take care of yourself and be more intentional as soon as you start your day. Meaning when you get up you’re not getting on your phone, you’re not going straight to your computer, you’re not checking e-mail, you’re not checking social media, you’re not making a to-do list in your brain.”

For Kuzins this looks like: Going to bed a bit earlier so she can wake up earlier and have a dedicated 45 minutes to sit down in the quiet to read and journal.

“Maybe you don’t have 45 minutes. Do what you can do. Be realistic and practical for yourself,” she said. “If you’re thinking I can’t wake up any earlier, you might be able to wake up 10 minutes earlier.”

That 10 minutes could offer a chance to place your feet on the ground, make coffee, breathe, meditate and stretch.

“If you’ve only got 10 minutes, then do something for yourself in 10 minutes,” she said. “It is amazing what a little bit of you time can do for your day. There’s this weird thing that happens when you take time for yourself, it feels like you give yourself time. … Beginning the day with self-care and intentionally to really shift your mindset.”

5. Plan your year around your down time.

“I think what would be amazing is if people starting filling in the calendar with play and pleasure and rest first,” Kuzins said. “I think by starting a calendar planning with self-care, it’s like we’re setting the intention to put it forward first.”

Pick weekends for vacation, time with friends, an anniversary trip, for example, with the recognition of how important it is to rest and recharge.

“I love what I do and I’m extremely passionate about what I do,” she said. “I have to remind myself that my down time is probably still more important than what I do because that down time is what’s going to give me the batteries and the clarity to do what I love. … You can’t give from an empty cup.

“If you’re mindlessly like, ‘Oh shit, I need to book a vacation’ — if your rest and restore is an afterthought, I implore you to rethink your approach to how you are living your life,” Kuzins said. “You filling up your cup should not be an afterthought. It doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve the other people in your life.”

6. Have more by doing less.

For Kuzins, her 2018 mantra: “So many of us fall into this trap and we’re doing, doing, doing. That’s literally my motto: Have more by doing less in 2018.”

The concept comes back to alignment.

“Every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re saying ‘no’ to something else,” she said.

And sometimes, people need to say “no” to get into alignment. Paring things down helps put a focus on intentions.

“We constantly push down people’s throats that they have to do everything,” she said, but a shift is happening. “I think people are becoming more aware of how they spend their time and how important those choices are.”

7. Speak to yourself kindly.

“I think a lot of people have a quite harsh interior monologue,” Hallion said.

People talk to themselves in ways they would never speak to a friend.

“(It’s about) trying to notice what the interior monologue is saying and to try to find a way to be more compassionate to yourself,” she said. “Talking in a way that’s gentle and constructive.”

8. Make time for what’s restorative and healthy.

Whether that’s exercise, healthy eating, finding something that brings a sense of calm or well-being, take even just five or 10 minutes to do that thing, Hallion said. It could even be listening — really listening — to a favorite song or taking time at lunch to step away from your desk and call a friend.