How often have you written a daily to-do list and neglected to mention taking baths, spending time with family, or eating a nutritious breakfast with intention before work? These items are often last on the agenda – if they’re included at all. In today’s always-on society, most people rarely make room for “me time.” And if they do, those items are accompanied by guilt. In this case, you might be wondering: What is self care, and how do you achieve it?
Arriving at a self care definition is not as obvious as you might think.
What Is Self Care?
You could define self-care as “caring for yourself.” The World Health Organization’s self care definition is, “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”1
Basically, self care is the practice of individuals looking after their own physical, mental, and emotional health using the knowledge and information available to them.2
What Self Care Is Not
It’s not enough to define self-care, though. It’s also important to know what it is not.
You might think of self care as a self-indulgent act, a luxury afforded only to certain people. It may be perceived as selfish and self-absorbed.3 However, when properly considered, self care usually means “me too,” rather than “me first.”
Although it generally falls outside the health and social care system, self care is the foundation of healthcare.4
However, maintaining self-care is not necessarily easy. Most people nowadays lead very busy lives, work at stressful jobs, and spend too much time with technology to make time for themselves.5
Self care is also not a binary “either-or” decision. Both in the academic world and in the general workforce, you might think that being super-competitive means sidelining self care. However, sacrificing self care for performance isn’t good for your health. Furthermore, high performance and self care are not only mutually inclusive, but mutually reinforcing — and research suggests they often produce long-term success.6
Fortunately, it is neither selfish nor optional to consider your own needs. It is a necessity, and it is responsible. On the other hand, when you don’t make self care a priority, your body, mind, health and emotional state may suffer.7
The Importance Of Self-Care For Your Health
Society has glorified concepts such as “I’ll sleep when I die,” “burning the midnight oil,” and “living every day like it’s your last.” Unfortunately, burning the candle at both ends may lead to negative outcomes for your body and your mind. When you tend to your self care needs, you may be able to ease anxiety and lower stress levels. This, in turn, may help support energy levels, your mood, and your ability to focus.8
Categories Of Self Care
There is more than one category of self care. Each has its own benefits and impact on your ability to live a balanced life.
Taking care of your physical well being is of paramount importance. Physical self care includes:
- Performing physical activity
- Following a healthy diet
- Adhering to a doctor-prescribed drug regimen
- Getting the appropriate, recommended health screenings9
Physical self care also encompasses being adequately hydrated, maintaining a healthy weight, and ensuring that you are sleeping at least 7 hours per night on a regular basis.10
Among the many aspects of self care is emotional self care. Unlike physical self care, it focuses on how to attain emotional well being by getting in touch with your emotions.11 The first step along this path is by making the intentional choice to acknowledge interruptions and disruptions in life, rather than suppressing or ignoring them.12
There are many ways to practice emotional self care. They include:
- Not being too hard on yourself
- Focusing on what you can control vs. what you cannot
- Keeping to a routine
- Expressing gratitude for what you have in your life
- Acknowledging your emotions rather than suppressing them
- Seeking help from a professional when you are struggling13
Along with physical self care and emotional self care, mental self care is one of the most important types of self care.
Mental self care includes doing activities that help reduce your stress levels and declutter your mind. How this is accomplished will vary from person to person. Activities may include reading a book after dinner, practicing a craft, cleaning your home, or going for a walk. Slotting in time for mental self care may be challenging with work, school, or family responsibilities. But it’s vital that you carve out some time each day to care for your mental health. The goal is to achieve a state of relaxation.14
America is the most overworked developed nation in the world.15 Unfortunately, overworking precludes balanced self care, because you can’t live a balanced life if you’re always working.
Practicing social self care is about spending quality time with the people that you love. This encompasses date nights with your spouse, meeting a friend for coffee, or taking a walk along the beach with your children. It also includes talking through conflicts and being open to listening to the emotional needs of your loved ones.16
Spiritual self care involves actions and rituals you can take to strengthen your connection to your higher self. These may consist of:
- Meditating to calm your mind and create space for you to just “be”
- Practicing gratitude by focusing on the outcomes in life
- Taking walks in nature to disconnect from the noise of everyday life
- Attending a group prayer service to foster community and connect to a greater force than yourself.17
One aspect of self care that often gets minimized is financial self care. If you don’t have your finances in order, you may experience tremendous stress and anxiety. Examples of how to alleviate this include:
- Checking your bank balances on a regular basis to avoid surprises
- Creating a manageable plan to pay off debts
- Listening to a financial podcast to educate yourself about your money18
Establish Your Own Self Care Routine
Benefit Your Health And Well-Being With Self Care
Self care is something that actively happens with planning. Establishing good self care involves a regular self care routine. Aspects of this include:
- Getting the right amount of sleep (typically, 7-8 hours of sleep per night for adults)
- Eating a healthy diet made up of nutritious foods and wholesome snacks
- Practicing regular meditation and relaxation exercises
- Exercising and performing regular physical activity, like walking 30 minutes a day19
- Spending time with loved ones
- Making time for at least one pleasurable activity a day, such as watching a movie or cooking
Avoid Personal Barriers To Self Care
It is easy to sabotage self care. To avoid this, you need to become comfortable setting boundaries, including:
- Establishing and observe a “no phone/no device” policy during mealtimes
- Sticking to a policy of not checking work emails at night
- Not attending events you don’t want to go to20
- Not spending time with people who bring you down21
Avoid Medical Barriers To Self Care
Sometimes, medical issues get in the way of proper self care. These factors may include physical limitations due to a medical condition, financial constraints, inability to obtain care, or inadequate social support.22
If you are struggling, seek professional guidance right away. There is absolutely no shame in getting help.
What Does Self Care Mean To You?
Practicing self care is a process that you grow into. Over time, you can learn to thrive in your self care routine. You just need a good self care plan, some patience, and the will to grow.
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