Self-care is good. Self-care is necessary. We hear about self-care here, there and everywhere—but what is self-care, really? Self-care is any activity we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health.
Self-care as a massage therapist isn’t something to take lightly. We have a physical job that can take a toll on hand, wrist and finger joints; also, many massage therapists complain of back and neck pain. As with any repetitive-motion job, some preventive measures need to be followed to allow for many years of work.
Here, we will look at what exactly self-care is and I will offer some ideas that you, as a massage professional, can adopt into your self-care regimen.
Why Self-Care is Important
Whether you work in a spa environment or medical clinic, all massage therapists know we help clients with more than massaging their muscles. Being in our best state of body and mind is needed to help the client.
Good self-care provides improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to good relationships with others and ourselves. Yes, the way you feel about yourself matters. When we take good care of ourselves, we can take better care of our clients.
Good self-care is knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves while being subsequently able to take care of others or contribute quality time to family. That is, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t give to others.
Self-Care Supports Your Career
Here are three ways improving your self-care could improve your career as well:
• You’ll feel better. When you feel your best, you do your best work. Feeling good means Increased energy leading to increased productivity. You are a happier person overall when you feel good.
• You’ll look healthy and vibrant. Clients are drawn to self-assured therapists. Clients want to be around motivated, successful therapists. Clients want to listen to goal-oriented individuals. What does all this lead to? Re-bookings! Rebooking clients is the fast track to a full massage schedule. When your schedule is full, you make the most money.
• You’ll have improved confidence. Exercise improves body image, for example. Eating healthy food raises energy levels. Regular exercise and good food combined stabilizes mood. With improved body image, raised energy levels and improved mood, how can you not have more confidence?
Self-care comes in many forms, but what some people try to say is self-care are actually glorified activities of daily living. A hot shower might relax you, for example, but it’s not the same as laying on the massage table for an hour, meeting a friend for a walk or getting up 30 minutes earlier to have time to yourself before the household awakens.
Let’s look at some examples of self-care that could really fill your cup. These ideas are going to fall into four categories: eat better, move more, recover and reflect.
What you put in your body and when you eat has the biggest impact on energy levels. Eat for nutrition and choose food with a purpose. Ask yourself before eating, “What benefits does this food or beverage have for my body?”
Strive to eat all colors of the rainbow daily. Almost everyone needs more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, because they provide the body with essential vitamins and minerals.
Avoid energy crashes and craving by eating regularly. Don’t skip meals if you want to keep your energy level high. Some people eat multiple tiny meals throughout the day and others eat three larger meals.
Eat smart. Aim to eat whole foods (minimally processed) 80% of the time and use sugar and caffeine sparingly. You don’t have to eliminate sugar and caffeine, but use them in moderation as both are false energy spikers. Train your body to crave nutrition instead of sugar and preservatives.
The human body is made to move. Our bodies naturally want to move, even though present-day conveniences make this forgotten. As a massage therapist, we need conscious movement daily for career longevity. Injuries, as well as fatigue and burn out, are less prevalent in therapists who move their body regularly. This includes cardiovascular and strength exercises as well as stretching.
Finding a combination of cardiovascular and strength exercises you enjoy is the key to making them part of your lifestyle. If jogging isn’t your thing, maybe a kickboxing class is. Jumping rope or jumping on a trampoline make great cardiovascular exercises and don’t fall into the typical cardio realm. Think outside the box and do what works for you.
Stretching brings body awareness and flexibility, which maintain good quality of life. Yoga is a popular practice that adds balance and strength to stretching. You can’t go wrong with that.
Giving your body time to recover is as important as having your schedule full of clients. Not only do massage therapists need recovery for your physical bodies, you need mental recovery time too. Self-employed massage therapists wear many hats, and some days take a mental toll. Getting enough sleep helps with both physical and mental recovery. Strive for seven to eight hours every night.
Foam rolling, stretching and yoga are all ways to help the physical body recover.
Finding that stress-relieving activity or place is key to keeping a healthy mind. This may be playing with your dog or sitting under your favorite tree with no one around.
Down time away from the hustle of work and your phone screen is necessary for good mental health. Even if you’re a superior multitasker, your brain needs a break.
Reflection allows for better mental and emotional health. Making time to spend with yourself is important to become clear about what you want, where you are currently and what needs to change. Quite time allows centering which is essential for mental and emotional health.
Carve out uninterrupted time each day to reflect while journaling or meditating. Practice gratitude for the skills you have as a massage therapist and the lives you improve by choosing this profession. Recognize the service your body gives each day so you can see client after client and be grateful for a healthy body.
Show yourself some grace when mistakes are made or goals aren’t quite reached when you’d like. Keep learning and providing your clients with the best possible work you can. We are all a work in progress.
Tips for Success
You may be saying, “This all sounds great Angela, but I have four kids, a massage practice and I don’t know where to begin to add self-care to my busy life.” My answer? Break it down and add one thing. When you’ve got that, add another. Here are four tips for success:
Tip 1: Plan ahead. Actively look for opportunities to practice self-care. Write down workouts on your calendar. Get a work-out buddy. Find a friend to meal prep with so there are nutritious choices of food to take to work for the week. Batch cook so busy weeknights have easy dinners. Tell others about your goals to increase commitment.
Tip 2: Set goals. Challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone. This could look like longer meditations, harder hikes, taking your lunch to work 10 days in a row instead of eating out. A goal could be doing one relaxing activity every day. Write the goals down for increased likelihood of completion.
Tip 3: Take risks. We can’t expect things to change if we don’t make a change. Take a risk with one thing in your self-care. Sign up for a 5K race and plan to be ready to complete the 3.1 miles on race day even if you can’t complete one mile now. Have courage, allow failure and expect success.
Tip 4: Create a “no” list. Identify the things you do daily that don’t serve you. These are the things that take more from your energy bank than they add. What isn’t working for you right now? An example of your “no” could be, No checking social media before 7am or after 7pm. No phones during meals. No more than three deep tissue clients per day.
Download a Free Self-Care Calendar
I truly believe our career longevity as a massage therapist relies on self-care including healthy eating, movement and body mechanics awareness. I made a self-care calendar to get you started. Click here for your free self-care calendar. Enjoy!
About the Author
Angela Lehman is a massage therapist of 25 years turned online educator, promoting fitness and nutrition for massage therapists. She runs The Fit MT. With her kinesiology degree specialized in nutrition, she trains therapists in healthy eating, exercise and body mechanics to prolong their careers. Read another of her articles, “The Fit MT: This is How Gut Health Can Super Charge Your Immune System.”