Being brought up as a Catholic, Ash Wednesday always involved a trip to church for a special mass. The priest would put the cross on our forehead, made from the ashes of palm branches, blessed at the previous year’s Palm Sunday Service.

Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent in the Christian Calendar which is marked by millions of people in Britain and across the world. Although its date changes every year, it’s always the day after Pancake Day. Traditionally pancakes were eaten to use up rich, indulgent foods such as eggs and milk before the fasting began.

Lent traditionally starts a period of fasting in the Christian church – but it is also observed by millions of people across the world who choose to give up certain foods or habits or demonstrate self-restraint.

How would it feel this year though – instead of depriving yourself of something for the period of Lent – you make a promise to yourself that every day you will do one small thing for your self-care?

Improving my self-care is something I’m really trying to work on and is something I’ve always struggled with. I can easily book myself in for a manicure, pedicure or massage (when we can!) but that’s as far as it goes. I don’t take the time to do anything deeper, even though I know the value of it.

When you’re going through a breakup taking care of yourself and practicing self-care is more important than ever, but for a lot of women it doesn’t take priority. I always talk about the oxygen mask analogy on the planes – unless you look after yourself first, you can’t properly look after anyone else. So if you have people relying on you, then you need to take care of yourself.

Making self-care part of your daily routine is essential for your mental health but research shows that it also helps to increase your confidence and creativity. As well as that, it enables you to experience more happiness, make better decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively.

So why wouldn’t you practice self-care?

Here’s some ideas of what you could try and commit to for Lent. Pick one of them that appeals to you or try different ones depending on what you feel like on the day. Choose something that you think would either make you feel happy or more relaxed.

Try and plan in 5 minutes a day in your diary for self-care. If you tag this on to something that you already do – like brushing your teeth – you’re more likely to do it. Being consistent with it will reap the most rewards.

  1. Practice Gratitude – studies have shown that practicing gratitude regularly, not only improves our cardiac health, but it helps to reduce depression and anxiety levels and gives us peace of mind. Start by listing 3 three things you’re grateful for every morning and make sure you feel the emotion associated with it. At the end of the day list 3 amazing things that have happened. Both of these can be really difficult to do when you’re going through a breakup – but stick with it and you will notice a difference.
  1. Get outside every day – As well as increasing your Vitamin D levels this also helps to reduce stress, boost your mental health and sleep better – all of which are essential when you’re going through a breakup. Try and get outside every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
  1. Get an early night – A lot of women suffer from insomnia when they’re going through a breakup but it’s so important to try and get some quality sleep. Not only is it important for your physical health but it also help to improve your mental health by reducing stress and anxiety and improving your mood. Introduce a bedtime routine and make sure you go to bed and get up at the same time every day – even at the weekends.
  1. Make healthy food choices – Make the time to cook healthy nutritious meals for yourself – you’ll feel so much better. I know how difficult that is if you’re on your own – I lived on cereal for dinner for months after my divorce! Try and view cooking as time for you at the end of the day, instead of reaching for a microwave meal.
  1. Meditate – if you haven’t done this before then start with just a couple of minutes and don’t expect to be perfect at it straight away – it takes practice. Research shows that regular meditation reduces the effects of stress on our body and calms the part of our brain that is responsible for the fight or flight response. Try one of the apps if you’re new to it and they will guide you through it.
  1. Exercise – even if it’s for just 10 minutes a day. Exercising and getting your heart rate up increases the ‘feel good’ factor as your ‘happy hormones’ dopamine and serotonin are released. Choose something you love doing as you’re much more likely to stick to it and you don’t want this to become another chore.
  1. Do an activity that you love – a lot of my clients have lost sight of these things. If you’re struggling – think back to the type of things you loved doing in your childhood or what you did for fun before you were married? Engaging in an activity that you love, and you can lose yourself in, is so beneficial for your mental health. If you’re really stuck get one of the adult colouring books and spend some time on that every day.
  1. Do something for someone else – Yes, I know this seems counter-intuitive, but research shows that doing an act of kindness for someone else boosts our own wellbeing as well as theirs. Try and do one thing for someone else every day and notice how it makes you feel.
  1. Laugh more – there’s nothing like a good belly aching laugh to make you feel better. It’s been tough over the last year with Covid-19 and lockdown. But if you’re on your own, immerse yourself in a comedy film or box set. A trusted favourite of mine is either Sex in the City or Friends or for a film – We’re the Millers. They never fail to make me laugh out loud and feel better immediately.
  1. Say No more – prioritise yourself and say No to something you don’t want to do or don’t have time for. I know this is really difficult for us People Pleasers but we’re not doing ourselves any favours and often we just end up feeling stressed and resentful. Start practicing this, whether it’s at work or in your personal life, and don’t feel like you have to justify your response either.
  1. Come off Social media in the evening – It’s not good for your mental health to be permanently glued to your phone – especially when you’re going through a breakup. It’s too easy to stalk your ex to see what they’re up to without you or to compare yourself to everyone else’s seemingly ‘perfect’ life on-line. Remember people only post the parts of their life they want you to see and all it does by looking is to increase your stress and loneliness.
  1. Take a bath – take some time out for you to chill and relax. Have a bath after work and relax in your favourite bubble bath with some lovely, scented candles. Then get into your PJs and chill for the rest of the evening.
  1. Journal – this can be a really helpful practice to get into, especially if you’re going through a breakup. It’s a way of getting all your emotions out of you so that you can process them and notice patterns. Unless you become consciously aware of your thoughts, you can’t do anything about them to change them or challenge them – and that’s when you stay stuck. Some people like to journal for 5 – 10 minutes at the start of the day as it helps to clear their head before they start work, but do whatever feels right for you.
  1. De-clutter – Research shows that clutter increases our stress levels and therefore the level of cortisol in our bodies which is not good for our health. It also reduces creativity and focus and means it’s difficult to relax. It’s especially important to ensure your bedroom is clutter free if you’re having trouble sleeping. Aim to do 5 minutes of de-cluttering a day or spend some time doing it one weekend – you’ll feel so much better for it and it helps you to take some of your control back if you’re going through a breakup.
  1. Treat yourself – whether that’s buying something you’ve had your eye on for ages or treating yourself to something like a massage. Spoiling yourself and buying yourself something special shows you that you’re worth it. Treating yourself to something like a massage has the added benefit of reducing anxiety and depression and lowering your blood pressure and stress levels.

If you’re not used to practicing self-care, this may not come easily at first and may feel like an effort. But studies have shown that it takes between 21 and 60 days to embed a new habit. Lent is for 40 days, so it gives you a decent amount of time to practice self-care, to see what works for you and to start realising the benefits.

BUT don’t use this as something else to beat yourself up with if you don’t stick to it or you miss a day. Be kind to yourself.