How to not suck at self-care as an introvert

Confession: I’m terrible at taking sick days.

Some gross proof of this is that time a couple years ago that I ended up with a bad cold and ear infection the night before I was supposed to leave for an eight-month overseas work term. I’d worked myself so hard to keep up my hours at my usual job, say proper goodbyes to my friends, and pack my things that I’d left minimal time to take care of myself.

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This photo “Exhausted” is (c) 2011 leniners and made available under an Attribution Non-Commercial  license.

I ended up having to reschedule my flight for a week later–and believe me, I really needed to use that week to rest.

Yet here I am years later, feeling guilty about calling in sick this morning to a volunteer position. I had to call my dad and then Google search “should I call in sick” before I decided to make the call! There’s a snowstorm outside, and I could barely speak this morning because of my sore throat–but I still feel bad. I mean, I could have just pushed through.

Self-care can be especially important for introverts when our work and personal lives aren’t designed to allow for adequate me time. But we need that time to ourselves to function. So, here are a few tips to make self-care a regular part of your life.

Keep work out of your most personal space

At my old apartment, I couldn’t get WiFi in my bedroom because we were using the open network that came from the high school across the street and it didn’t reach far enough. If I wanted to do any internet browsing–no matter how important or useless–I had to go to the living room.

This was actually great. This important part of my personal life–sleep!–just could not get intruded upon by school or work emails or assignments. Sure, it would have been nice to watch something on Netflix in my cozy space, but the benefits of keeping my work out were greater.

If you’re like most people and have open access to the internet all of the time, keep your laptop out of your room and avoid the temptation to check your email on your phone right after waking up. Give yourself space.

Find someone to stay accountable to

Learning to take care of yourself is like trying to break a bad habit. That’s why you need an accountability buddy. Find someone who knows how to take care of themselves, pick their brain, and use them (with permission!) to improve yourself.

Maybe you can decide on one evening a week where you do a favourite activity, and your partner can check in on you before or after to see if you actually did it. Or, start out doing the activity with them (quiet reading session at a cafe, anyone?) until you get so engaged with it that you actually want to spend your free time doing it–instead of checking your Facebook feed over and over again.

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This photo “A Little Light Reading” is (c) Richard Walker 2015 and made available under an Attribution license.

Make it count

Sometimes I try to prove to myself that I’m a true bookworm by reading some old literary classic. Right now it’s Howard’s End–a good read but not really self-care material. I need cheesy chick lit to really get in my literary comfort zone.

One of the tips a health class teacher gave my class about nutrition was that when you do have dessert, make it your most favourite type of dessert. You’re trying to feed your mental health, not your physical (or intellectual, if that’s a thing) health.

When you put time aside to take care of yourself, plan to do something that gets you excited. Don’t end up doing an activity that everyone else thinks is fun but actually feels like work to you. If you don’t like strawberry cheesecake but eat a piece of it, later you might crave what you really wanted and feel like you can’t have it.

It should be the same if you’re stuck at home from work on a sick day: don’t stress yourself out by trying to do something “productive.” The most productive thing you can do is avoid stressful activities. Too many sicknesses are born out of stress.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some chick lit and peanut butter cookies to catch up on.

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