For many of us, simply caring for ourselves is a counterintuitive and confusing process. We may equate kindness with material goods, and so buy ourselves clothes or goods to quench dissatisfaction; or we might believe an indulgence will make us feel good, and so "treat" ourselves to rich foods or overeat; or we may feel that drinking or drugs will rid us of our anxiety. Indeed, all of our so-called vices originate in our desire to be happy and suffer less, but we are so befuddled and ignorant of what is truly healthy and wholesome that our methods often generate more suffering and problems.
An easy guide to what it means to care and be kind to yourself is to consider the needs of an infant. How would you, as a good parent, treat yourself if you were a little baby? What qualities would you, as your own mother and father, exercise towards your infant-self? Even, (or especially), if you didn't have adequate parenting when you were a child, the following suggestions are easy and loving ways to practice self-care.
1. Feeding yourself wholesome food in the right amounts. Babies eat when they're hungry and stop when sated, and they don't eat junk food. Feed yourself nutritious meals and consider doing your own cooking; what better way to feel special and nurtured than enjoying a home cooked meal?
2. Getting enough sleep and going to bed at the proper time. Babies get crabby when they stay up late, and good parents are very in tune with their child's fatigue levels. Go to bed a bit earlier and don't be afraid to take a nap when needed.
3. Keeping comfortable. Babies need to be the proper temperature; not too hot and not too cold. They need to wear soft and well-fitting clothing. They are upset by loud noises or crowds. Notice your clothes (do you need a hat?), if your apartment is over-heated, and avoid over stimulation by limiting your time in stores, loud bars, or large groups of people.
4. Offering lovingkindness. Infants are regarded with genuine affection and love; everything they do or say is accepted without judgment and with patience and gentleness. Good parents never scream or yell at babies, or criticize them. Instead, they encourage and sincerely wish their child's every happiness, and truly believe that their baby has the potential to be, do, and become everything wonderful and worthwhile. For adults, regular meditation practice can be the way to offer yourself these feelings; Thich Nhat Hanh considers meditation "deep listening" and likens it to a "friendliness" toward yourself. You being with you without judgment and with true concern and regard for your own well-being, is the path to feeling loved and understood in a deep and abiding way.