What is Self-Care?
Self-care is often associated with scented candles and long baths which can be inviting for some and unappealing for others. Practicing self-care is much broader than this and it's personal so it will vary for each of us. It’s not about indulgence that offers a short-term buzz, but wholesome activities that are meaningful to us and help our sense of wellbeing for longer than just the moment we are doing it.
Self-care involves taking conscious and deliberate action to do things that support and improve our wellbeing. Whatever actions you choose to focus on, self-care works best with practice and sustained effort rather than being a quick fix.
Why Does Self-Care Matter?
Often people tell me they feel selfish for taking time out for themselves. The truth is, we need to be able to take care of ourselves to be able look after others. We can’t give our best to anyone else if we’re tired, run down, stressed or unwell. By practicing self-care, we set ourselves up to feel the best we can and in doing so, we are in a stronger position to give our best to others – whether at home, work or in our social circles.
Self-care is for ourselves. But if focusing on it in this ways makes it feel selfish or negative, then to start with, it can be helpful to consider who else gains from you taking care of yourself.
How to Practice Self-Care.
As with any new habit, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are five key areas of wellbeing that you may like to focus on to help with taking a holistic approach to self-care for a healthier lifestyle.
Our physical and mental health both affect each other. For example, being in pain can impact on our mood and make us feel low, and feeling unwell can cause us to feel anxious about our health. Low mood can cause us to feel tired and lack energy, feeling anxious or stressed can cause us muscle pain and headaches. We can end up in vicious cycles. Practicing self-care for our physical health therefore has broader and more holistic benefits for us than our physical health alone.
Self-care for physical health could involve improving our diet by trying out new recipes, following a meal plan or batch cooking; keeping ourselves hydrated by drinking more water and reducing caffeine and alcohol; or increasing our physical activity by taking regular breaks away from our desk to stretch, walking more, going to the gym or joining an exercise class.
We may focus on doing less rather than more, and so remove things from our activities. For example, we may free up time to create more opportunity for rest and getting into a good sleep routine.
Focusing on our emotional wellbeing involves taking time to notice how we feel emotionally and then taking actions to help improve the way we feel. Self-care for our emotional wellbeing might involve carving out time alone to reflect on our feelings by journaling, talking to someone we trust, working through self-help resources or working with a therapist.
If we're aware of unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, emotional self-care may involve gently challenging these by finding ways to be kinder to ourselves. If we tend to avoid or bottle up our feelings, we may find ways to try noticing and expressing our feelings instead. Or if we are emotionally reactive, we might try to find strategies to self-sooth and reflect before making decisions or communicating our views.
As humans, we are social beings and having a sense of connection and belonging is important for our wellbeing. Self-care for our social wellbeing may include making plans with people we enjoy spending time with; taking time out to connect with loved ones by phone, message or video calls; reconnecting with old friends; or finding opportunities to make new connections with others.
They key thing about this area of self-care is that these are actions we want to take for our own wellbeing, not actions we are taking because we feel we have to.
Being spiritual can be linked to faith or religious beliefs but it doesn’t have to be. It may be linked to our sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, such as the wider community or the planet. Self-care for spiritual wellbeing could include spending time in nature, volunteering for a charity you value, listening to music, taking time to meditate, or going to a place of worship.
All self-care if personal and what you do to look after your spiritual needs will depend on what spirituality means to you as an individual.
This fifth area is about growth and development. We are forever learning and growing and doing this actively has been linked with improved wellbeing through increased sense of achievement, self-esteem and confidence. Self-care around personal development involves taking time to focus on our passions and interests, and maintaining motivation to develop our skills and abilities.
This may well overlap with the other categories. For example, taking a language class may also tie in with social self-care from building new relationships and spiritual self-care from feeling connected to another culture. Pursuing a sport may tie in with physical self-care and possibly emotional self-care too if it also provides you with an emotional outlet or reflection time.
Personalised Self-Care Practices
There are no set rules to practicing self-care and there are no set categories to work with. These five areas are prompts to help you think about how you might like to start incorporating meaningful self-care into your daily life.
Taking this time out for ourselves is an important way to find balance between self-care and our responsibilities, such as work or caring for others. The key to achieving this is recognising and acknowledging that you matter, that you need and deserve this time to support your mental health and wellbeing. Once you start to notice the benefits of intentional self-care, you can start to build self-care habits, however small, that allow you to take regular time to take care of yourself.