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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she’s taking a ‘self-care’ break. Here’s what that means.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress Nov. 6, after ousting 10-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in the primaries. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the 29-year-old democratic socialist who, after months and months of campaigning, recently became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress — is taking a timeout for “self-care.”

The congresswoman-elect said in an Instagram video Monday that she will be spending several days “taking care of me” and asked others on social media for tips.

She then posted a picture showing a packed suitcase, writing that she had decided to drive to Upstate New York and “spend a few days in the middle of nowhere.”

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Ocasio-Cortez wrote in the Instagram video that throughout the campaign, “I neglected myself.”

She said she used to eat well, practice yoga several times a week, and read and write for fun, but “as soon as everything kicked up, that all went out the window.”

“I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup,” she wrote. “We live in a culture where that kind of lifestyle is subtly celebrated as ‘working hard,’ but I will be the first to you it’s NOT CUTE and makes your life harder on the other end (you wake up worse, energy all over the place, etc.).”

Amid stress over mass shootings and other tragedies, sexual assault and harassment allegations, and the deteriorating political climate, it seems more people have embraced the concept of “self-care” in the past couple of years. Numerous studies have emerged showing a connection between “self-compassion” and physical health, illustrating the importance of it.

Jennifer Guttman, a clinical psychologist based in New York and Connecticut, said the purpose of self-care is to “give your brain the opportunity to reboot itself.”

“Self-care is a time when people can do an inventory of what they need for themselves,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post, noting that it may mean catching up on sleep, taking a vacation or spending time with family and friends without everyday distractions. She said that when the brain is overloaded with “noise,” “it can’t work as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Experts say that self-care involves taking time to meet one’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. That means not only eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising and sleeping seven to nine hours each night, but also decompressing by spending quality time with loved ones, catching up on hobbies and doing the things you enjoy, Guttman said.

According to a self-care help guide from the London-based counseling center Harley Therapy, self-care “acts as a barometer of your wellbeing.” The center noted that “if you struggle to take care of yourself either physically, financially, or emotionally, it’s often a sign of a psychological imbalance or issue, such as depression and low self-esteem.”

The guide breaks it down into 10 steps:

  • “Choose the healthier option” — eating a balanced diet and exercising.
  • “Recognise and honour your own needs” — put your own needs first.
  • “Set boundaries” — know your own limits and try to abide by them.
  • “Let go of what no longer serves you” — such as obligatory activities.
  • “Set achievable goals” — set goals, but only ones that you can reach.
  • “Cultivate supportive relationships” — spend time with those who build you up.
  • “Listen to yourself” — set aside personal time to write or sort out your thoughts.
  • “Practise self-compassion” — make a solid effort to accept yourself.
  • “Accept support” — reach out when you need a hand and let others help you.

Guttman, who said she is an advocate for self-care, said people should use their vacation time — but spread it out over the entire year, not take it all at once. She said it’s important to take time throughout the year to “reboot” to stay physically and mentally healthy.

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