How to Nourish Your Spirit Through Self-Care

Making time for yourself is a major step toward becoming happier and more productive

Bebe Mills at Wrightsville Beach.
Bebe Mills of the Duke University School of Nursing was practicing self-care with this walk on Wrightsville Beach last summer. Photo courtesy of Bebe Mills.

One of Bebe Mills’ favorite things to do is take a morning walk on a beach.

So when her son snapped a photo of her one morning during a family vacation, her feet in the Wrightsville Beach surf, she was exactly where she wanted to be.

In the photo, the text on Mills’ burgundy shirt is hard to miss.

“I’m not selfish,” the shirt reads. “It’s called self-care.”

Asked about the shirt choice, Mills said it was no accident that she wore the shirt – given to her by a family member who is a counselor in Charlotte – on one of her treasured morning walks.

“To me, any time that you’re able to find time for yourself, find time for your family, find time to do what you want to do, that’s self-care,” said Mills, director of student services at the Duke University School of Nursing.

Mills has become a champion of self-care, stressing the importance of the practice to colleagues and even buying a few of the T-shirts for some co-workers.

With the often-stressful and busy winter holiday season approaching, it’s important to avoid neglecting your wellness. There are resources through Healthy Duke to help, but as Debra Loban, a counselor with Duke’s Personal Assistance Service, points out, embracing the concept of self-care is a worthwhile step.

“To me, self-care is a regular practice, not just maintenance, of nourishing yourself,” Loban said.

Here are a few things to know about practicing self-care.

You need itFor Kara Bonneau, director of the North Carolina Education Research Data Center, exercise is part of her self-care plan.

Loban often reminds people that, while the obligations of work and family are important, so too is addressing your own needs. Overworking can deplete your energy and focus.

“People get so bogged down in the demands of their life that self-care takes a backseat,” Loban said. “It’s the last thing they think of.”

Life’s stresses can consume your mental, physical and emotional energy if you let them. But experts such as Loban, point out that carving out time to slow down and devote time to something that makes you happy, even in small doses, can brighten your mood, help you be more focused and lessen the prospect of burnout.

It’s whatever you need it to beSpending time with companions, both four-legged and otherwise, can be a great way to squeeze in some self-care. Clinical Nurse Dan Roach demonstrates.

Bebe Mills has worked at Duke for 19 years. She said she devoted a lot of time to her job early on, but when her son was born in 2007, the shape of her life changed. He was born with an unhealthy liver and eventually required a transplant, which Mills provided by giving up a portion of her own.

The episode left Mills feeling overwhelmed.

Since then, she’s consciously woven moments of self-care, both large and small, into her life.

She takes strides to her spiritual well-being by serving at her church, Raleigh’s St. Matthew Baptist Church, where she is the superintendent of Sunday school.

She works on her physical well-being by taking short walks in the morning. She addresses her mental well-being by savoring quiet moments, such as solo trips to the grocery store or time at home.

In preaching her message of self-care, Mills uses herself as the example, illustrating the point that self-care comes in many forms. If it makes you feel good, feel healthy and feel satisfied, do it.

“You just do you,” Mills said. “Do the things that help put you in a better frame of mind. It could be reading a book, it could be anything. You don’t have to follow the status quo when it comes to self-care because only you know you.”

Make time for itFor many, such as the Office of Communication Services' Paul Figuerado, self-care involves taking a moment to relax.

Loban points out that self-care doesn’t have to come in large doses. A 10-minute walk, an hour in a massage chair or a weekend at the beach can all be energizing. The important thing is that you find the time to do something for yourself.

To help make it happen, Loban suggests clearing time in your daily routine to devote to nurturing activities. She also said incorporating healthy behaviors into other activities – such as doing a few simple exercises while watching TV – is an effective way to squeeze in self-care.

“If you look for natural openings, they don’t always come,” Loban said. “That’s why I look at self-care like a prescription for health. When you have a health issue and the doctor gives you a prescription, you don’t really argue with that. You just say ‘That’s what I’ve got to do.’”

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